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A Review of the Rolex Explorer II: Info, History, Reference Numbers, and Nicknames

When Rolex unveiled the Explorer II, it was built specifically for spelunkers with several notable features handy for exploring caves.

The Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655 made its debut in 1971 with a stainless steel 40mm Oyster case, fixed bezel, and steel Oyster bracelet. The black dial includes 24 luminescent markings, in addition to luminous center hands. Furthermore, there’s the iconic orange arrow-tipped 24-hour hand, which in conjunction with the 24-hour bezel, is a day/night indicator—ideal when spending time in dark caves. There’s also the date window at 3 o’clock magnified by the Cyclops lens. Powering the Explorer II ref. 1665 is the Caliber 1570/1775. The Rolex Explorer II ref. 1665 is also known as the Freccione (Italian for arrow) or the Steve McQueen Rolex.

In 1985, Rolex introduced the Explorer II ref. 16550 with plenty of changes. The revamped dial—now available in black or white—includes just 11 luminescent indexes, along with the Mercedes-style center hands and a long thin red 24-hour hand. Moreover, a sapphire crystal replaced the acrylic one. The Caliber 3085 sets the 24-hour hand independently from the center hands, thus offering a second time zone indicator rather than just day/night. White dial versions of the Explorer II carry the nickname “Polar.”

Rolex began manufacturing the Explorer II ref. 16570 in 1989 and continued to do so for two decades. Aesthetically, not much changed except for the inclusion of black index surrounds on the white dials. Early models ran on Cal. 3185 while later ones had Cal. 3186.

On the 40th anniversary of the model in 2011, Rolex presented the current Explorer II ref. 216570 boasting a refreshed look. The Oyster case now measures 42mm and the famous orange 24-hour arrow-tipped hand is back on the black and white dials.

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