My first Rolex was the Explorer II, which I got in 1985 after my graduation from high school. The reason for selecting this Rolex model and not the more Classic Submariner was the fact that I felt that the Explorer II had some of the things I was looking for. It was a real tool watch, but at the same time it was still a classic dress watch that could be worn with a suit. This Explorer II was my only watch for the next 18 years - I didn't feel that I needed any other watch - this was just perfect. Never had any reason for complaint or missed any features.
The Explorer II reference 16550 was introduced in 1984 after the less popular model 1655 (Explorer II ref.1655 from 1971 to 1984), which in Rolex term was very different from any previous Rolex model. The Introduction of the 16550 was beside a major update of design also the introduction of the independent hour hand, sapphire crystal and quick set date.The period of the 16550 was only a short period from 1984 to around 1988 where the latest reference 16750 was introduced. This watch is almost a copy of the Rolex GMT - but instead of rotating bezel it have a fixed bezel. The reason for a Explorer II watch for cave explorers is somewhat mystic as the normal GMT watch could give same information. The 16550 was also the first Rolex tool watch beside the daytona to come in two dial colors, either black or white. The white 16550 has become much sought after - being called the cream Explorer II, because the white dial color over time has been seen to turn into a more cream color. The black version of the 16550 is less popular and has yet to demand any high prices, where as the cream 16550 has reached a price level of more than 10US$.
My first Rolex love and still the watch I would like to follow me to the end. I have yet to find any Rolex watch that have the same qualities. First the EXP II is the a true tool watch - who other than Rolex would produce a special watch for Cave explorers! The fixed bezel and the 24 hour hand would allow cave explorers to check if it was 7 o'clock in the morning (0700) or 7 o'clock in the evening (1900) by checking the 24 hour hand.
My Explorer II (model 16550 black dial) is from 1984. It was my daily watch for the better part of 20 years before I got my next Rolex (the Sea-dweller 16600). I like that the Explorer II is not as usual as the Rolex sub and can be used together with formal wear. For me the Explorer II brings the best from two worlds - seen as a tool watch it is in the top together with the sub, and seen as a dress watch its also like a nice date just that will go with suit.
- Launched in 1984 in two dial colors. Black and White. Depth rated to 100m (330 ft). Crown guards. Twin lock crown. Swiss T < 25 printed on dial
- White dial had white gold hours markers.
- Black dial had white gold hours markers.
- Early 16650 had a bezel where the black color of the 24 hour markers easy was removed.
- White 16650 has been seen in two dial variations - rail dial and non rail dial.
- Black 16550 has been seen in both Non Rail and Rail dial configuration. Some information is that the black 16550 is more rare that the white 16550 - but this is only speculations
The Rolex Explorer II - The "unknown" Sports Rolex
It was therefor in place to make a side by side picture of his 1655 and mine 16550 to see the change in looks for this iconic watch.
Somehow I feel that the Explorer II lives the life of the unknown - it think that the buying ratio of rolex sub vs rolex exp II is like 10 to 1.
From my view the Exp II is way underrated - For me it is still the watch to keep - my Rolex subs, gmt, etc will be long gone before I part with my initial love - the Rolex Exp II.
So here you go - pictures of the "underrated" Exp II watches.