The Rolex Explorer is significant in the world of wristwatches. It’s pared down simplicity hides it’s unique design details; the clean readable dial, no date indicator, ‘Mercedes’ style hands, Arabic numerals and markers, the 36mm case, non-hacking* movement and 18,000 beats per hour.
It is known as a ‘tool’ type watch and was specifically developed for explorers, most famously used by Sir Edmund Hillary and other members of the successful 1953 Everest Expedition, in addition to numerous expeditions after 1953.
Left to right : model 6150 Explorer (1956) with gilt dial, and the model 1016 Explorer (1966)
Another famous patron was Ian Fleming who wore an Explorer whilst writing ‘On Her Majesty’s Secret Service’ (1963) hence it appears in the novel as Bond’s timepiece cum occasional knuckle-duster. Interestingly, in the film of the novel George Lazenby sported a Submariner rather than an Explorer, pictured below.
Model 5513 Submariner (early 60s) with gilt dial and large indexes on the tracking (1966)
With such a pedigree of heritage, style and performance, it’s hardly surprising the allure of the Explorer continues today with renewed vigour among collectors and fashionistas alike. These days they are not worn so much by explorers on mountains, but rather for strolling along smart Mayfair avenues.
* Hacking/Non-Hacking refers to the feature of a movement whereby the second hand can be stopped for the exact setting of the time. Originally a military term, a hacking movement is one that stops the second hand when you pull the crown to the time setting position. A non-hacking movement doesn’t do this.
Words Roy Luckett / photos Nic Shonfeld