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Introduction to Rolex Explorer

A silver Rolex watch with a black face and silver accents.

Simplicity and consistency have been key to the success of the enduring Rolex Explorer watch. Born in the 1950s to commemorate one of humankind's greatest achievements-and instantly recognizable thanks to its iconic dial punctuated with 3, 6 and 9 Arabic numerals the Explorer is a cult favorite. Pre-owned Rolex Explorer watches are also appealing because they can still be purchased at relatively affordable price points in the secondary market.

Rolex Explorer


Rolex has always looked to the outside world to test the performance of its watches in real-life conditions. For example, Rolex equipped the 1953 British Mount Everest expedition with Oyster Perpetual watches as the crew attempted to climb the highest point on earth. On May 29, 1953, the expedition succeeded when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay became the first men to reach the summit of Mount Everest.

To celebrate the milestone achievement, Rolex introduced the Explorer later that year, built as a robust stainless steel watch to withstand punishing environments. The black dial was furnished with large Arabic numerals at 3, 6 and 9, accompanied by an inverted triangle at 12 and batons for the rest of the hours. The hands and hour markers were coated in luminous material for optimal legibility in the dark. This particular dial-style with the trio of numerals is now referred to as the Explorer-style” dial, regardless of what Rolex model it is found on.

Black Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer watch face with white markings

Early Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer references include the 6150, 6350 and 6610, all made in the 1950s. The Rolex Explorer 1016 made its debut towards the end of that decade and went on to become the longest-running reference in Rolex Explorer history.

The launch of the Explorer 14270 in 1989 ushered in the modern era of the collection. The follow-up model came in 2001 in the form of the almost identical-looking Explorer 114270.

2010 marked a major design shift for the Rolex Explorer with the introduction of the ref. 214270. Unlike all the other 36mm Explorer models that came before it, Rolex equipped the Explorer 214270 with a larger 39mm case.

The Explorer's

James Bond Pedigree

Ian Fleming, the author behind the famed James Bond literary series, wore a Rolex Explorer ref. 1016. The watch was on display for five years at the National Watch & Clock Museum in the early-2010s before it was returned to his family.

A black leather Rolex watch with a white face and gold accents.

Rolex Explorer Timeline

Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay become the first climbers confirmed to reach the summit of Mount Everest

Explorer watch introduced to celebrate successful Mount Everest ascent
Pre-Explorer ref. 6150

Ref. 6350 becomes the first Rolex watch with the Explorer name on the dial
Pre-Explorer ref. 6150

Ref. 6350 becomes the first Rolex watch with the Explorer name on the dial
Explorer ref. 6610
Explorer ref. 1016
Explorer ref. 14270
Explorer ref. 114270
Explorer ref. 214270
Explorer ref. 214270

Explorer Design,

Features and


The Explorer 1 is one of Rolex's most recognizable designs because it has remained remarkably consistent over almost seven decades. Regardless if it's a Rolex Explorer 36mm or 39mm, all standard models have the following features:

Stainless Steel

Stainless steel round Oyster case with a screw-down crown without crown guards

The back of a silver Rolex watch.


Black dial with large Arabic numerals at 3, 6 and 9 o'clock, an inverted triangle at 12, and batons for the rest of the hours

A black Rolex watch face with gold accents.


Mercedes-style hands coated with luminous material

Black, white, and red watch hands.

Time-only functionality

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Automatic movement

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Rolex recommends that its watches be serviced at least every 10 years. However, a watch may require more frequent maintenance if worn daily in harsh conditions.

Like all Rolex watches, the Explorer's winding crown must be screwed into the case before taking it underwater. However, due to age, vintage watches are no longer considered water-resistant and therefore should never be exposed to water.

Rolex has improved the Explorer model over the decades with enhancements in materials, performance and design details. This lineage of the Explorer can be segmented into three main categories.

Silver Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer watch with white face

Explorer Categories

A silver Rolex watch with a black face and gold accents.

Vintage Rolex Explorer Models

  • References 6350, 6150, 6610, 1016 36mm cases
  • Acrylic crystals
  • Glossy black dials with gold-colored text (often referred to as "gilt dials")
  • Painted radium luminescence
  • When Rolex phased out using radium in the mid-1960s, the Explorer ref. 1016 was updated with matte black dials with white printed text and tritium luminescence
A silver Rolex watch with a black face and silver accents.

Discontinued 36mm Explorer Models

  • References 14270 (Caliber 3000), 114270 (Caliber 3130)
  • 36mm cases water-resistant to 100 meter Sapphire crystals
  • Glossy black dials with 18k white gold applied numerals
  • Except for 3, 6 and 9, all hour markers are filled with luminescence
  • While early examples of 14270 used tritium, Rolex switched to Luminova/SuperLuminova in the late-1990s
A black Rolex watch with a black face and silver accents.

39mm Explorer Models

  • Reference 214270 (Caliber 3132
  • 39mm cases water-resistant to 100 meters
  • Sapphire crystal
  • Glossy black dials with 18k white gold applied numerals
  • Chromalight luminescence
  • The first batch of Rolex Explorer ref. 214270 watches have non-luminous 3, 6 and 9 markers and a shorter handset (referred to as Mark I dials by collectors)
  • In 2016, Rolex updated the 2142170 dial to include lume-filled 3, 6 and 9 markers and a longer handset (referred to as Mark II dials by collectors)

Rolex Explorer Value and Collectability

With a retail price of $6,550, the new Rolex Explorer 39mm is the least expensive sports watch model in the company's current catalog. Similar to the brand's other stainless steel sports watches, used Rolex Explorer watches don't lose much value in the secondary market and in some cases can even increase.

A used Explorer 14270 watch from the 1990s is typically the cheapest Rolex Explorer for sale in the pre-owned market, with prices starting around $5,000. However, there are some rare "Black Out" Explorer 14270 variants with black enamel-filled 3, 6 and 9 numerals that are exceedingly collectible and much more expensive.

As expected,vintage Rolex Explorer models are popular with collectors. Prices typically start above $10,000 and can easily reach more than double that for well-preserved models. However, especially rare variations such as ref. 1016 with white dials (nicknamed "Albino") or ref. 6350 with honeycomb dials are valued much higher.

Silver Rolex watch with black face and silver markings

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