WatchTime spent some time with the 2010 model of Rolex’s classic Oyster Perpetual Explorer — a watch originally made for a Mount Everest expedition and recently revamped with a larger case and new caliber. Click here to read our test of the watch from the magazine, along with original photos by Nik Schölzel.
The 1950s were a decade of adventure. Mankind strived to conquer nature, to descend to the depths of the ocean’s trenches and to climb to the peaks of the world’s tallest mountains. The first mountaineers reached the summit of Annapurna, more than 26,000 feet above sea level, in 1950. Edmund Hillary climbed Mount Everest, the world’s tallest peak, in 1953. Seven years later, the bathyscaph Trieste descended to the planet’s deepest point: the bottom of the Marianas Trench, more than 35,000 feet below sea level. It should come as no surprise, then, that the decade also saw the debut of two Rolex watches tailored to adventurous pursuits: the Submariner divers’ watch and the Explorer expedition watch, both in 1953.
The first Explorer watches were provided as tools for the successful Everest expedition of May 1953. Rolex released a modified version of the Explorer later that year, with a black dial and painted-on luminous indices and numerals, which made it more legible under all lighting conditions. This model was designed to live up to the promise implicit in its name, by satisfying all the requirements of expeditions and other adventures. The Explorer underwent more improvements over the years and, beginning with the 1989 model, it was also designed to be more luxurious. Its indices and numerals have been made of gold since then, although there is still luminous material inlaid into the indices.
The latest version of the Explorer, launched in 2010, has a bigger case: 39 millimeters, versus the previous model’s 36 millimeters. It also has a new type of shock absorber, along with an in-house, Parachrom hairspring and a new Oysterlock folding clasp. (Click on photos for larger images.)
The watch’s new size is just right: the dial’s proportions look good in the enlarged case. But the narrow and somewhat short hands don’t quite fit into the otherwise pretty picture. The minute hand is especially problematic: the one on the previous Explorer extends all the way to the minute circle, but the tip of this one falls quite a long way from it. However, except for this flaw, the design is excellent and the watch’s classic look is easily recognizable.
With gently curving lugs and a broad bezel, the case looks as though it had been poured into a mold and hardened into a single unit. All surfaces, with the sole exception of the upper side of the bracelet, are polished. As with nearly all Rolex watches, the flat, sapphire crystal rises above the plane of the bezel, but its perimeter is beveled to deflect the force of a blow. Rolex’s crown-shaped logo is laser-etched into the crystal at the “6” as proof of the watch’s authenticity. Additional anti-counterfeiting details include the letters of the name “Rolex” engraved into the metal flange around the dial, the Rolex logo at 12 o’clock and a serial number at 6 o’clock.
The crystal has no nonreflective treatment, which would have improved the legibility, but the rhodium-plated and slightly curved gold hands (with a Mercedes-logo-like circle on the hour hand) clearly contrast with the matte black dial. The rectangular indices for the hours are filled with luminous material, and a large luminous triangle at 12 o’clock provides orientation for reading the time in the dark, although the rhodium-plated digits 3, 6 and 9 have no luminous coating. The rhodium-plated numerals on the previous model were filled with white, non-luminescent paint, giving the dial a more harmonious appearance and improving its legibility in low light. The hands and indices of the new model gleam brightly in the dark, thanks in part to the new Chromalight luminous substance, which debuted on the Sea-Dweller Deepsea and is now also used on the Explorer. Unlike on that watch, however, it glows in the traditional, pale green hue rather than a blue one. The luminosity lasts a very long time: the dial remains easy to read even after 11 hours in total darkness.
The new Explorer is very user-friendly. The crown is easy to unscrew and has only two positions: one for winding; the other for setting the time. A stop-seconds mechanism stops the balance, immobilizing the hands for easy to-the-second setting. The line under the Rolex “crown” logo on the winding crown marks it as the Twinlock type, which helps make the watch water-resistant to a depth of 100 meters.
The Explorer’s Oysterlock safety folding clasp is distinguished by its ease of operation. A gentle tug with a fingernail opens the protective bow; a second tug on the front part of the clasp triggers a lever mechanism to unlock it. The Easylink lengthening system is very practical, too: concealed inside the clasp is one half of a link, which can be pivoted out without changing the appearance of the bracelet. This five-millimeter extension can be a welcome addition when your wrist expands after a workout or in hot weather.
Top-quality craftsmanship is also evident in the bracelet. Like the clasp, it has a completely satin-finished upper surface and polished flanks, which ensure that it perfectly matches the case. However, compared to the big 39-mm-diameter case, the bracelet tapers to a rather narrow width at the point where it joins its clasp.
The improvements aren’t confined to the watch’s exterior. Its movement, Rolex Caliber 3132, is well protected under a fully threaded screw-down back. This movement differs from Caliber 3130, which powered the previous Explorer, because of its Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers. It’s based on the familiar Caliber 3135 with date display, which powers the Submariner and the Datejust. These Rolex manufacture calibers are regarded as the best automatic movements on the market, a distinction they’ve earned thanks to their structure, which is designed for robustness, longevity and very precise fine adjustment. A sturdy balance bridge replaces a conventional cantilevered balance cock.
Two knurled screws are used to adjust the balance’s vertical clearance. The hairspring’s Breguet terminal curve contributes to the watch’s precision in all situations, as does Rolex’s decision to eliminate an index in favor of Microstella nuts along the balance’s hoop. Red anodized reverser gears minimize friction in the self-winding device.
The Parachrom hairspring is made of a blue niobium-zircon alloy and is immune to the influence of magnetic fields. It is also claimed to be 10 times less susceptible to vibrations than a conventional hairspring.