Ever been there?
Is this watch the best choice?
Does it have everything I'm looking for?
Is there such a thing as the perfect watch?
I think there is. In fact, I think I just bought it.
What's the watch?
It's my second Rolex: the Explorer I with the 39mm case and steel bracelet (reference no. 214270 Mk2.)
And WHY, you ask, do I think it's the perfect watch? Read on…
First of all, let's take a look at the history of the Rolex Explorer. There's a lot of misinformation out there about this watch, so let's bust some myths.
Rolex Explorer History
The Explorer was the result of 20 years' research in extreme conditions. Rolex started sending watches on Himalayan expeditions in the 1930s, long before Hillary and Tenzing conquered Everest. The aim was to create the ultimate mountaineer's tool watch that could survive the roughest conditions, keeping perfect time at -50°C (-58°F) with 70% less oxygen than at sea level.
Myth: In 1953, Tenzing Norgay wore a Rolex to climb Mt. Everest but Sir Edmund Hillary wore a Smiths watch.
Reality: Hillary wore two watches – a Rolex on one wrist and a Smiths on the other – and endorsed both.
Myth: Hillary and Tenzing wore Rolex Explorers.
Reality: They wore Rolex Oyster Perpetuals that were specially adapted for harsh conditions. These watches did NOT have the classic black Explorer dial. They were only prototype for the Explorer, which Rolex launched later that year.
Beginning with the 1989 model (reference no. 14270), the Explorer became a more versatile casual to formal watch. Its face was given white gold markings and the distinctive 3-6-9 dial. From this point on, the Explorer had all the criteria of the perfect watch.
But what ARE those criteria? What qualities must a watch have before you can call it perfect? And does the Explorer have any downsides? Keep reading and judge for yourself…
The Explorer has Rolex's Superlative Chronometer certification. This means it's accurate to -2/+2 seconds per day after casing, which is over twice the required accuracy for a chronometer.
It features a self-winding movement caliber 3132. These Rolex calibers are considered the most accurate on the market. The movements of your body power this watch and it has a power reserve of 48 hours. A Parachrom hairspring, which is far superior to an ordinary one, controls its speed. It's ten times more precise in case of shocks, resistant to extreme temperatures, and unaffected by magnetic fields and gravity. In other words, it keeps perfect time under any conditions.
The Explorer's middle case is crafted from a solid block of corrosion-resistant 904L steel. The case back is hermetically screwed down, which means that only Rolex watchmakers can open it. The movement also contains Paraflex shock absorbers, giving it 50% more shock resistance.
#3. Waterproof Casing
The Explorer's Oyster case is guaranteed waterproof to 100 meters. The Rolex Oyster case was the world's first waterproof watch case. Its screw-down winding crown is double-waterproofed with the Twinlock system – one sealed zone inside the tube and one inside the crown.
You can wear this watch with almost anything, except perhaps a tuxedo. It's slender enough to slide under a dress shirt cuff but it would look just as good with a polo shirt and jeans. Its simplicity also makes it easy to pair with different straps.
The iconic black 3-6-9 dial with a triangle at 12:00 was designed for legibility, but it also makes a powerful style statement. Its numbers, hour markers, and hands have long-lasting and quite attractive blue luminosity. The smooth bezel and clean lines make it look elegant but functional. Very fitting for an explorer's tool watch.
Rolex watches may be modern status symbols but they can also carry a stigma. They're seen in some circles as gaudy and loud – as though the wearer's only goal is to show off his wealth. This watch avoids that stigma thanks to its smaller size and understated look.
The Explorer's design is very simple. The lack of a date window or other extras makes the dial look more clean and balanced. It was created for reliability – fewer bells and whistles means fewer things can go wrong.
The Explorer has a very comfortable 904L steel bracelet with an Easylink rapid extension system that lets you increase the length by up to 5mm. This is useful when your wrist expands after a workout or in hot weather. Many owners even sleep in theirs.
#8. A Storied History
It’s not just the Everest connection with this watch. It's also the REAL ‘James Bond watch’. Ian Fleming wore one and Bond wears one in the books, where it’s affectionately referred to as the ‘Oyster Perpetual’ even though it matches the Explorer's description. Other famous Explorer wearers include Steve McQueen, Bryan Ferry, and Don Draper of ‘Mad Men'.
The Explorer's crown is easy to unscrew and has only two positions: one for winding, the other for setting the time (my first Rolex – the Yachtmaster – has three). A stop-second mechanism stops the hands so you can set them precisely to the second.
Since it’s a Rolex, it’s not cheap. But it’ll last your whole life and beyond, easily becoming an heirloom. The Explorer is one of the cheapest Rolexes to buy new and probably one of the best value Rolexes on the used watch market. It retains its value quite well.
Convinced that it's perfect? Not everyone agrees with you, I'm afraid.
The Rolex Explorer's Downsides
The cost of this gem is probably more than half the world's average salary. I'm well aware of that. I also realize that this watch's cost disqualifies it as the perfect watch in many people's minds. But it is a luxury watch and an exquisite work of art.
#2. A Boring Choice?
To me, the explorer is far from boring – but quite a few people have told me that they think it is. With no date (so you miss out on the Rolex cyclops lens), no revolving bezel, and no extra hands or time zones, the Explorer is not very recognizable as a Rolex. For some that's a plus – it's subtle rather than ostentatious. For others, it's a dealbreaker simply because it's too plain.
An Explorer might not be the right watch size for you. 39mm is too small for some wrists, although the bracelet and the large footprint of the Oyster case make the Explorer look bigger. On the flipside, purists find it too BIG. The original Explorer was only 36mm and some purists believe that increasing its diameter ruined its classic proportions.
#4. A Lack of Elegance
To some, the current Explorer (model 214270 Mk2) looks sportier and less elegant than its predecessor (Mk1) due to its fully-lumed numbers and longer, thicker hands. But many think that's an improvement – a lot of people found the Mk1's hands too short.
#5. Functional Issues
The lack of nonreflective treatment on the Explorer's crystal makes the dial harder to read. It's an odd choice for a watch whose single most iconic feature is its ‘ultra-legible' dial design.
So there you have it. The strengths and drawbacks of my perfect watch.
What do you think? Is there a single perfect watch for every man? Of course not! Every man has a different set of boxes to check and a different list of dealbreakers. Does the Explorer check all of your boxes? Is it guilty of any of your dealbreakers?
Have I given you a few things to think about if you're in the market for a new watch yourself?
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