Rolex. A Stainless Steel Wristwatch with Date and 24-Hour Indication
Model: Explorer II
Cal. 1575 automatic jewelled movement, black matte dial, luminous baton numerals and triangle at 12, outer minute divisions, luminous hands, center seconds, luminous central 24-hour orange hand, magnified date window at 3 o’clock, stainless steel circular case, bezel with 24-hour indication, protected screw down crown, screw back, stainless steel Rolex Oyster bracelet and deployant clasp, case, dial, and movement signed
In 1953, an expedition led by Edmund Hilary and John Hunt successfully climbed to the top of Mount Everest, wearing Rolex Oyster Perpetual wristwatches. Rolex capitalized on this success, producing the “Explorer” model later that year.
In 1971, Rolex introduced the evolution of the Explorer model, the Explorer II. Given the reference number 1655, this model featured a central hand and specially engraved bezel for 24-hour indication. It also included date indication, was officially certified as a chronometer, and depth rated to 330 feet. The Explorer II was advertised as being for speleologists, who were prone to losing all notion of time including day and night orientation during their expeditions below the Earth’s surface. With the 24-hour bezel and central orange hand, the wearer would be able to tell if it was AM or PM. Early examples featured a straight seconds hand and orange 24-hour hand, but starting in 1974 a luminous circle was added to the seconds hands and in 1975 the 24-hour hand was painted bright red. However, many examples produced after 1975 feature orange hands, having faded from red to orange.
The Explorer 1655 would become associated with actor Steve McQueen, which increased awareness and demand. However, Steve McQueen never actually wore an Explorer – he often wore a Rolex Submariner. It is interesting to note that while the 1655 is most often associated with Steve McQueen, it was actually advertised as the choice watch of Jean-Claude Killy, the Olympic skier who is associated with Rolex’s triple calendar chronograph models!
Even though the original Explorer models were popular, the Explorer II was not as popular at the time, and production ceased in 1985. As with several Rolex “tool” models that were targeted for a specific audience, the Explorer II over time became more desirable amongst collectors. Today, the model is sought after for its distinct appearance with orange hand and history as a tool watch created for underground explorers. The present example features a dial with beautifully patinated luminous numerals, which compliment the deep orange hue of the 24-hour hand.