top of page

"Exploring" The Rolex Explorer - The 1016 and 124270

The Rolex explorer was and remains one of the company's most iconic pieces. When we think of the Explorer today we immediately are reminded of it's gorgeous and slick black dial, the infamous 3-6-9 markers, it's durability, ruggedness and last but not least it's proportions. To understand how the Explorer came to be as we know it today we need to go back to it's roots.

Rolex’s involvement in scientific advancement, the arts and exploration are undeniable and for the Rolex Explorer it all began 1952. It was in this point in time that mountaineer explorers set out to reach the peak of Mount Everest. British mountaineers eventually conquered and achieved their mission and they did so sadly after many attempts and lives had been already lost. Rolex had wanted their watches to be part of this incredible expedition so in 1952 they equipped the British climbers with large size Oyster watches. In 1953, Edmund Hillary became the first man to summit Mount Everest along with expedition partner Tenzing Norgay and he did so with a Rolex on his wrist, an Oyster Perpetual that would prove to be the ancestor of the Explorer.

Rolex equipped Sir Edmund Hillary with a Rolex watch prior to the 1953 mission, a Rolex Oyster Perpetual manufactured in 1950. His climbing partner; Norgay, likewise, received a Rolex watch—an early prototype of what would eventually become the Rolex Explorer.

Part of Rolex' sponsorship included providing Hillary with this watch. It was provided for Hillary to wear during the expedition and to be returned for extensive testing after the descent. Pictured above is that exact watch that is now sitting at the Beyer Watch and Clock museum in Zürich.

Fast forward to a decade later in 1963, Rolex gave birth to the 1016 Explorer, considered by purists to be one of the brand’s most starkly beautiful designs. It was given a few design feature changes that would go on to define the series as a whole, making it the third iteration of the watch in just a decade, taking over from the ref. 6610. These changes consisted of that emblematic dial, with the inverted triangle at the 12, the Mercedes hands, and the legible 3/6/9 numerals. The caliber received a major upgrade over the ref. 6610, introducing the Cal. 1560 to the series and later replaced by the Cal. 1670 in the late 60's. The 1016 changed very little in its long production run from 1963 to 1989.

In 1989, Rolex released the reference 14270, it was here that it showed numerous changes to the Explorer. New case, movement, sapphire crystal and dial with only the hands remaining the same. Like the rest of the lineup, Rolex updated the Explorer with a glossy dial with numbers and markers lined with white gold surrounds. The new number typeface and glossy dial definitely steers away from the vintage charm of the 1016, but it remained in place as a minimalist tool watch. This brings us up to date with the latest Explorer 124270. Thankfully the classic 36mm case size is here to stay and design wise, it stayed very similar. The 124270 has slightly larger hour markers than it's predecessors. This isn’t just exclusive to the recognizable 3,6 and 9, as the 12 o’clock arrow and all other markers also have put on a little weight. Another design change are the numbers and markers this time lined with white gold surrounds.

The engine of this new watch is the Rolex in-house calibre 3230. This movement was first introduced in 2020 on the Rolex Oyster Perpetual and new Submariner. It features 70 hours of power reserve, COSC certification with an accuracy reading of +2 seconds a day, further anti-magnetic properties and of course 28,800 vph. The caliber 3230 also has a blue Parachrom hairspring which is made in a paramagnetic alloy, making it insensitive to magnetic fields. It can also handle temperature variations very well, and according to Rolex, it will remain up to 10 times more precise than a traditional hairspring if subject to shocks. With the addition of this new movement, it can be said without a doubt that Rolex has introduced breath of fresh air to the company's watchmaking engineering.

These days, the appeal of the Rolex Explorer Ref 214270 is more as a casual dress watch. As opposed to what it was meant to be - a tool watch. This is emphasized by the polished smooth bezel that frames the black dial which compliments well the white gold surrounds on the indexes and makes this model even more appealing to a broader audience. Put simply, the Rolex Explorer can be worn in any occasion or situation, use it as a tool watch or wear it as a casual dress watch, it really doesn't matter. No matter what, the Explorer is and will remain a true classic and a staple in the Rolex catalogue.

The Rolex Explorer 124270 is now available online and in our shop.


Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page