Rolex Explorer 2 Review: A True Utilitarian Rolex Timepiece

When you are looking for a watch that you can wear under the toughest conditions, you are probably not looking for a Rolex. However, if you are in the market for one of the toughest luxury watches available, today’s Rolex Explorer 2 review is for you.

After all, it’s a timepiece that’s designed for cave divers and spelunkers. Although not many of you will be using this watch for exploring dark caves, it’s still a watch that’s rich in history.

Among the Rolex collection, the Rolex Explorer II has always been some sort of oddity. It’s not as popular as the Submariner or Datejust but it’s still going strong even after 45 years of production.

With that said, let’s take an in-depth look at the Explorer II ref. 216570 a.k.a. the Polar.

Rolex Explorer 2 Review: At a Glance

The Rolex Explorer II is a relatively quirky offering that added plenty of character to the Swiss luxury brand’s stable. Before we go to a detailed Rolex Explorer II review, let’s first check out its key specs and features.

Model:

Rolex Explorer II

Reference no.

216570

Model case:

Oyster, 42 mm, Oystersteel

Oyster architecture:

Monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown

Material:

Oystersteel

Bezel:

Fixed, 24-hour graduated

Winding crown:

Screw-down, Twinlock double waterproofness system

Crystal:

Scratch-resistant sapphire, Cyclops lens over the date
Water-resistance: Waterproof to 100 metres / 330 feet

Movement:

Perpetual, mechanical, self-winding

Caliber:

3187, Manufacture Rolex

Precision:

-2/+2 sec/day, after casing

Functions:

Centre hour, minute and seconds hands. 24-hour display. Second time zone with independent rapid-setting of the hour hand. Instantaneous date. Stop-seconds for precise time setting

Oscillator:

Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring

Winding:

Bidirectional self-winding via Perpetual rotor

Power reserve:

48 hours

Bracelet:

Oyster, flat three-piece links

Clasp:

Folding Oysterlock safety clasp with Easylink 5 mm comfort extension link

Dial:

White, Highly legible Chromalight display with long-lasting blue luminescence

Certification:

Superlative Chronometer (COSC + Rolex certification after casing)

First Impression

Take note that the 216570 White Dial is the new and improved version of the Rolex Explorer II 16570. There are actually two dial versions of the 216570: white and black (pictured below). While I am a big fan of black dials, I went with the white dial since it somehow looks better than the black version.

My first impression is that the watch maintains most of the essence of classic Rolex timepieces but has been reworked to appeal to contemporary collectors. Perhaps the most obvious change is the 42mm case diameter. In comparison, the original Rolex Explorer 214270 was only 39mm.

It’s one of the largest models in the Rolex catalog.

Purists and traditionalists will surely prefer the smaller 39mm but as an outdoor tool watch, the size increase is more than welcome.

The white maxi dial is another standout with its boldness and superior legibility – perhaps it’s boldest among other Rolex sports watches. The glossy white dial has markers with black surrounds. It is an instantly striking dial with somehow more of the signature Rolex attention to detail.

The construction looks to be on-point and while I’m not too keen on wearing it to explore cave systems, it feels like it would serve me well even if I choose to. It looks and feels like a true tool watch and noticeably less luxurious.

The Polar White Dial

The Polar white dial is a masterclass in contrast. The Chromalight markers and hands sit perfectly against the white background, and the bright orange 24-hour GMT hand adds a perfect contrast to everything that’s going on.

In case you don’t know, the 24-hour hand enables the user to keep the time for two different time zones. In addition, it will also let you know if it’s day or night, very useful when you are down in a cave.

Rolex Explorer 2 Review Chromalight
Rolex Explorer II Chromalight

As mentioned, the Rolex Explorer II features top-notch legibility. After all, it’s a watch designed for very low-light environments or at night. Based on my tests, the proprietary Chromalight coating does a great job of providing long-lasting readability.

Plus, it looks amazing when the blue luminescent coating is activated.

The black surround around the oversized markers and stubby hands is another great detail that completes the overall look of the Explorer II. I have always been a fan of the Cyclops lens so it’s a nice cherry on top as far as the dial goes.

The Rolex Explorer 2 is bigger and bolder which is what you want for a heavy-duty tool watch.

The Robust Case

The Rolex Explorer II was first released back in 1971, and since then it has gone through numerous makeovers over the four decades. It was designed for extreme resistance and this is mainly due to its robust case.

Of course, there’s the 904L stainless steel that makes the case which measures 42mm in diameter and a thickness of 13mm. While I don’t have the largest wrist, the 42mm diameter is more preferable to me than the 39mm of the previous Explorer.

For reference, the Yacht-Master II is 43mm and the Sea-Dweller Deepsea is 44mm.

Just like with the previous generations of Explorer, the watch is fitted with Rolex’s signature twinlock screw-down crown. This adds a fair bit of waterproofness to the watch and should be able to handle a few splashes. Just make sure you don’t wear the Explorer II for diving.

In classic Rolex style, the watch features sapphire crystal on the front and a solid case back on the back. The 24-hour bezel is made with fixed stainless steel with a satin brush finish. However, the bezel is more prone to scratches. I would have loved it more if it instead had ceramic inserts like on the Rolex Submariner.

However, the brushed finish of the bezel does look great.

The Oystersteel Bracelet

The Explorer II uses the signature Oyster bracelet made in 904L steel with three links. Looking closely, you’ll see that the center links of the bracelet lack polish. This is, of course, a conscious design choice for a more “tool-like” look. However, the sides are polished which adds an interesting twist to the bracelet’s aesthetic.

As you might expect, the bracelet’s construction feels very solid and it comes with the Folding Oysterlock safety clasp with Easylink system. This enables the user to extend or shorten the last link by 5mm increments which is useful for achieving a great fit.

While the Glidelock fine-adjustment extension found on watches like the Submariner is the superior system, the Easylink is useful for adjusting the short and long positions. This allows you to easily adjust the bracelet in case of weather changes.

Timekeeping

Rolex Explorer 2 Review 3187 Movement
Explorer II’s 3187 Caliber Movement

Of course, you can’t have a Rolex Explorer 2 review without talking about the movement. With that said, the Explorer 2 is powered by the automatic in-house calibre 3187.

The movement features a paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring with a 48-hour power reserve. For the price, I was expecting a better power reserve than 48 hours. Having to reset the watch after two days of not wearing it does get old pretty quick.

The blue Parachrom hairspring provides the much-needed resistance against magnetic fields. Plus, it adds a good deal of durability to the watch which is crucial for the type of environments the model is designed for. Even with extreme temperature changes, the Explorer II will remain ticking accurately.

The 3187 won’t blow anyone’s mind when it comes to aesthetic but that’s no big deal since you’re getting a robust solid steel caseback anyway.

Like with all Rolex Perpetual movements, the 3187 is a certified Swiss chronometer with -2/+2 sec/day precision performed after casing.

Pricing

The Explorer II 216570 Polar is about on the same price range as the Rolex Submariner. However, if you can get a pre-owned Explorer II, expect to pay a little more than a no-date Submariner and a little less than a date Submariner.

It’s no entry-level watch like the Rolex Air-King but it’s certainly an affordable option if you’re looking to get into the Rolex rabbit hole. Due to its not-so-massive popularity, you won’t find an Explorer II that sells for over the retail price. Basically, you can just walk up to a Rolex shop right now and later come out with the watch on hand.

This isn’t the case for other popular Rolex models like the aforementioned Submariner where the cost is driven up by demand.

As far as resale value goes, this luxury steel watch offers a rock-solid resale value. However, it’s not exactly a fly-off-the-shelves sale when compared to other popular Rolex models.

Should You Get the Rolex Explorer II?

To wrap up this Rolex Explorer 2 review, we put in the verdict if this watch is worth the investment or not.

The Explorer II is a somewhat a forgotten model that’s lost in the sea of Submariners, Day-Dates, and Daytonas. This is quite a shame especially when it’s one of the few unashamedly utilitarian Rolex timepieces.

I love the big and bold display with a throwback design to the vintage Explorer. However, Rolex made some excellent updates that make it more appealing for fans of contemporary timepieces. It looks great, especially with the Polar white dial and offers legibility for days. In terms of comfort, the watch sits comfortably on my wrist so I have no complaints.

It’s also perhaps the toughest and most robust Rolex watch that I’ve owned. More than anything, it’s a tool watch and a great one at that.

The Rolex Explorer II is not the kind of watch that I would recommend for first-time Rolex buyers but it sure is an imposing addition to any luxury watch collection.

Rolex Air King Review: A Design Departure or a Fresh Take on a Classic?

One of the most common criticisms about Rolex is that their watches tend to look the same. To some extent, there’s a truth to this sentiment and it applies to both Rolex’s historical timepieces and contemporary models. However, Rolex’s meticulous consistency is what made it one of the largest luxury brands in the world.

Therefore, many people are caught off-guard when they see something as unorthodox as the Rolex Air King.

Today, we’ll take a long hard look at the Rolex Air King. The Air King is widely considered to be the Swiss luxury brand’s entry-level pilot watch but is it worth the entry-level price tag?

Let’s take a look.

Rolex Air King Review: At a Glance

As mentioned, the Air King is the least expensive model in the Rolex line. For this review, we’ll focus on the Rolex Air-King ref. 116900 model. But first, let’s see the key specs and features.

Model:

Rolex Air King

Reference no.

116900

Model case:

Oyster, 40 mm, Oystersteel

Oyster architecture:

Monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown

Material:

Oystersteel

Bezel:

Smooth

Winding crown:

Screw-down, Twinlock double waterproofness system

Crystal:

Scratch-resistant sapphire

Crown:

Screw-locked, two gaskets
Water-resistance: Waterproof to 100 metres / 330 feet

Movement:

Perpetual, mechanical, self-winding, with a magnetic shield to protect the movement

Caliber:

3131, Manufacture Rolex

Precision:

-2/+2 sec/day, after casing

Functions:

Centre hour, minute and seconds hands. Stop-seconds for precise time setting

Oscillator:

Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring

Winding:

Bidirectional self-winding via Perpetual rotor

Power reserve:

48 hours

Bracelet:

Oyster, flat three-piece links

Clasp:

Folding Oysterclasp with Easylink 5 mm comfort extension link

Dial:

Black, Highly legible Chromalight display with long-lasting blue luminescence

First Impression

Rolex Air King Review Featured

The Rolex Air King is perhaps the most confusing Rolex I’ve ever owned.

It’s worth noting that the original design of the Air King was very simple and in some ways, a very purist Rolex. I mean it has no date aperture, it comes with a water-resistant case, chronometer, and a screw-down crown. It had the most essential Rolex elements without the distractions.

However in 2016, Rolex released an Air King version (reference 116900) which was a significant departure from the original design.

If you are familiar with the old Air King design, you’ll find the new design to be quite extroverted. The rather unorthodox design is mainly seen on the dial. The new Air King’s dial is uncharacteristically colorful and is somewhat busy when compared to other iconic Rolex models such as the Submariner and Datejust.

I must admit that the 116900’s overall look takes a bit of getting used to. The old Air King’s popularity was mainly attributed to its simplicity and robustness. I have to say that Air King still has those qualities with an extra touch of personality.

However, as with any drastic changes to time-tested Rolex designs, to say that the latest Air King is polarizing to timepiece collectors would be a severe understatement.

The Polarizing Black Dial

It’s hard not to agree that most of the confusion about the Air King lies with its satin black dial. The new Air King retains the black dial but with some strange design elements introduced.

First off, the dial features applied, Arabic numeral markers with the familiar Rolex Explorer layout. The Arabic 3, 6 and 9’clock markers are fitted in polished white gold, and the 12 o’clock marker is an inverted triangle which is also fashioned in white gold. The rest of the dial’s layout takes a strange turn as the rest of the hour markers go from ‘5’ to ’55’, only interrupted by the Explorer layout.

While this is a layout that divided many fans, I personally like this design as it reminds me of a cockpit indicator. Some people may not like the layout but it certainly looks like a pilot watch for the most part. With that said, legibility is excellent with its bold and unapologetic dial. The addition of the Chromalight lume makes readability a non-issue even in dark environments.

Another noteworthy departure is that the Rolex name is printed in green font and the familiar Crown logo is printed in yellow. Above the 6 o’clock sits the stylized Air King text with the Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified text below. I have to admit that I was taken aback by the logo designs but they certainly grew on me.

Like it or not, this enigma of a dial is what gave the Air King its distinct identity.

The Milgauss Case

If you think the shape of the Air King’s case is familiar, it’s probably because it reminds you of the Rolex Milgauss case. Well, the Rolex Air King 116900 uses the same Milgauss case which means that the watch is protected from magnetic fields.

Both the case and the bracelet is made from the signature 904L grade stainless steel and boasts a stunning satin finish. However, it’s worth noting that the Milgauss’ bracelet features a PCL (polished center link) bracelet while the Air King is all satin.

The Air King case has a thickness of about 13mm which is roughly the same thickness as the Omega Speedmaster. While it might be a bit too thick for some people, the Air-King never felt bulky or unwieldy. It’s safe to assume that the thickness is due to the anti-magnetic shielding.

As you might expect from a Rolex timepiece, the Oyster bracelet and folding Oyster clasp provide the much-needed ease of use. The bracelet is noiselessly smooth and operates reliably. I have no issue with comfort as well and it’s like wearing silk instead of steel. It’s a fairly hefty watch but Rolex did a good job with weight distribution. The signature Easylink adjustable extension links go a long way to ensure an excellent fit.

It never felt that the Air King is weighing me down.

The Air-King Movement

Rolex Air King Review 3131 Movement

This isn’t a Rolex Air King Review without talking about the movement. With that said, the Air-King is powered by the self-winding mechanical movement, the Caliber 3131. Again, this is the same exact movement used not just for the Rolex Milgauss but for the Rolex Explorer as well.

The movement operates at a frequency of 28.800 vph with a 48-hour power reserve. As mentioned, the movement is protected from electromagnetic fields. The inclusion of the blue paramagnetic Parachrom hairspring adds further magnetic protection and toughness to the watch. This pretty much ensures that the watch will be precise and reliable even when you’re on a flight.

Like with most Rolex models, the Air-King promises -2/+2 sec/day precision. The Caliber 3131 movement may not have the same fanfare as with the new Chronergy escapement, it’s a solid movement that offers good precision and some nice features.

Pricing

As I have mentioned earlier, the Rolex Air King is the brand’s less expensive model. It just edges out the updated 39mm Explorer in terms of affordability.

So is the Air King worth the entry-level asking price?

In my opinion, the Air King is as close as you can get to a proper Rolex sports watch. If you are looking for a darn good pilot watch with the signature Rolex polish, then this watch is more than worthy of its price tag. Would I go as far as recommending this for would-be first-time Rolex owners?

Well, that’s a bit of a tricky question.

While the old Air-King is considered a classic, the Air King 116900 looks nothing like the original design. For all extents and purposes, the Air-King is a handsome watch. However, it doesn’t really scream Rolex. I imagine that most people who are looking to own their first Rolex is aiming to buy into its heritage.

With its enigmatic design, the Air-King looks nothing like your classic Rolex. However, it does have the iconic Rolex polish and reliability.

In its current price point, the Air King is not worth the entry-level price if you’re looking to own a traditionally designed Rolex. On the other hand, those who are looking for a Rolex watch with plenty of personality, I highly recommend this watch – it’s practically a steal.

Should You Get the Rolex Air King?

We conclude this Rolex Air King review with our verdict.

To be quite honest, the Rolex Air-King Reference 116900 didn’t really make me excited at first. However, the more I look into it, the more endearing it gets. It’s a watch that’s all about risk-taking and needs to catch your attention. While we celebrate Rolex for the brand’s reliability and consistency, the Air King reminds us that it can still venture far from its comfort zone.

The Air King is also a fairly versatile piece that can cater to a wide range of needs. I have worn this watch from sportier activities to dressier events. It looks great, wears comfortably, and offers excellent reliability. Legibility is also on-point and remains true to the spirit of the best pilot watches.

The Air King is clearly targeted towards younger users who are turned off by the classicism of the Oyster or the omnipresence of the Submariner.

Many collectors have turned up their noses with the idiosyncrasies of the Air-King but I think its polarizing aspects are its greatest strength. This is a Rolex that dares to stand out from the rest of the crowd.

Is the Air King too much of a departure from a classic? Or is it a fresh take on a classic? Regardless of what we think, you really can’t fault the Air King for being dull and boring.