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Rolex Explorer II reference 16570 'Polar dial'

Although initially not a hugely successful model, the Rolex Explorer II is another watch that epitomises Rolex designs; a watch created with a purpose in mind, as a tool to be used in the field, but such features indirectly attributing to its iconic, recognisable aesthetic and beauty along with a symbol of status today.

Rolex Explorer II 16570 'Polar dial'
Rolex Explorer II 16570 'Polar dial'

History of the Explorer II


The first, original release watch was the reference 1655, also commonly known as the ‘Steve McQueen’, and was released in 1971. The Explorer II was a watch which was created for that – exploring, and in particular a set of features that would lend to the exploration of caves by speleologists. The Explorer II featured a 24 hour hand with a 24 hour fixed bezel so the wearer could tell AM and PM if they were exploring caves in the dark, however, the watch is not a dual time zone watch as the 24hour hand is fixed or coupled with the hour hand. The watch had a date. The 1655 featured a 39mm case, an Oyster bracelet, a cal.1575 movement and was finished in stainless steel.

Rolex Explorer II 1655 'Freccione'
Rolex Explorer II 1655 'Freccione'

 The 1655 was replaced in 1985 by the reference 16550 which brought about some notable changes to the watch. The 16550 moved to a 40mm case and introduced a sapphire crystal. The dial had an update bringing it more in line with the rest of Rolex’s range of sport watches whilst introducing a white dial option alongside black. The watch received the cal. 3085 movement, which allowed the 24 hour hand to be set independently which made the Explorer II now a true dual time zone watch, whilst the 24 hour bezel remained fixed.

Rolex Explorer II 16550
Rolex Explorer II 16550 (image: The Watch Club)

In 1989, Rolex brought about another update to the Explorer II bringing about the third generation in the reference 16570. The watch retained everything from the 16550 with only a few upgrades. The watch was now using the cal.3185 movement, the dial layout remained the same, however, the hour markers had black coated surrounds instead of white gold which was previously used. The white dial version of the 16570 took on the name ‘Polar Explorer’. The watch was in production until 2011 making it the longest production Explorer II we have seen yet.

A closer look at the 16570

Rolex Explorer II 16570 'Polar dial'
Rolex Explorer II 16570 'Polar dial'

The Rolex 16570 is everything at its core that we associate with a 5 digit, neo-vintage sport Rolex. The 40mm case has very familiar geometry, with a 47mm lug to lug measurement and 12.2mm thickness dropping it into what many consider the sweet spot for a sport model watch. It features polished case sides, brushed lug tops and lug chamfers as seen similarly across the range of sport models from this era. Earlier 16570’s featured drilled lugs and hollow end links before moving to solid cases and fixed end links, though through a short transitional period where drilled lugs were seen with solid end links.

Rolex 5 digit sport model lug chamfers
'Lug chamfers'

The 78360 bracelet is decidedly Rolex from this period, featuring a Fliplock clasp and polished sides on the links. Of course, all 16570’s before around 1998 sported tritium dials signed ‘Swiss - T <25’, before moving to luminova signed ‘Swiss made’. The 16570 featured the cal.3185 movement, verified by a ‘wobbling’ 24 hour hand when moving the hour hand via the quick set function, before moving to the cal.3186 movement for a short period at the end of the 16570’s production run.

Rolex Explorer II 16570 crown

On the wrist?


The size and proportions of the case make this watch a perfect sport model for many. The bracelet is light with the smaller sized crown proving more comfortable than a Submariner. The white dial in particular allows the watch to pop, while remaining quite casual and sporty thanks to a slightly quieter smooth edged bezel and Oyster bracelet. The contrast of dial to black hour markers, coupled with their large size, allows for great legibility of the watch. With the current market values of these watches, they really present a lot of watch and features for the money.

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