best rolex explorer

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Rolex Sea-Dweller


  • Current Variations: 4
  • Price: $11,700
  • Pre-Owned Price: $9,800+

As SCUBA matured beyond surface-level military and recreational uses, commercial, research, and exploratory techniques were developed for going deeper for longer. The Sea-Dweller was Rolex’s answer to the demands for watches capable of withstanding the pressure of these deeper dives. In 1967 upon its initial release, the Sea-Dweller was rated to a depth of 4,000 feet (1,220 meters). In 2007 a newer Sea-Dweller was rated to 12,800 feet (3,900 meters), at the time a record-breaking figure.

The Sea-Dweller is essentially a beefed-up Submariner, but that beefing up shouldn’t be taken lightly: Rolex had to entirely re-engineer the case, the crystal, the case back and more to get this kind of water resistance, so while the Sea-Dweller resembles the Submariner on the outside, the guts are a different animal. Waterproofness in nano-scale wristwatches has turned out to provide useful tech that can be ported over to small submarines, cameras, and other scientific tools that are plumbing the depths of our largely unexplored oceans. Rolex often backs those scientific expeditions, linking the watch and the brand to the essence of professional SCUBA diving.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW




  • Current Variations: 2
  • Price: $6,450+
  • Pre-Owned Price: $4,300+

This watch had already existed for over two decades as the Oyster Perpetual when Rolex sent one up Mt. Everest with Sir Edmund Hillary’s team for the first successful summiting in 1953. After that, Rolex rearranged the dial somewhat, printed “Explorer” on it, and sold it to a new wave of midcentury mountaineering enthusiasts. The Explorer went on to become an “entry-level” Rolex sport model, due only to price, and remains in that position to this day.

Like all Rolex models, the Explorer has gone through many permutations, including more modern iterations like the 14270 (1989-2001), now popular among vintage collectors because its tritium luminescence has finally turned beige. Rolex upped the case size with the 2002 release of the 39mm Explorer, though since 2021 the Explorer is back down to 36mm, indicating that the trend toward smaller watches is quite real today. In 2021, Rolex shocked us with a two-tone model, bringing gold to the lineup for the first time.


Explorer II


  • Current Variations: 2
  • Price: $8,550+
  • Pre-Owned Price: $8,000+

A spelunking watch? That’s right. The boldly luminescent 24-hour GMT hand was included to help those living in caves keep track of day and night. While spelunking isn’t exactly a popular sport, the Explorer II became a rather popular watch among those who love a cool design and GMT functionality.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

Offered today with either a black or white (“polar”) dial, the Explorer II came out in 1971 in order to “perpetuate the privileged relationship Rolex shares with exploration,” according to current marketing materials. However, the spelunking history is largely forgotten as the watch increasingly serves as a tool for adventurers of all kinds. (The more recent editions — unlike the original — feature fully functional GMT movements, so the watches can be used for tracking second time zones.)

Though the Explorer II went from a tasty 40mm case up to a 42mm “maxi” case in 2011, the reference 216570 was intended to celebrate the original design of 1971, which amounts to an orange GMT hand in the “correct” shape. Those two extra millimeters don’t feel significant on the wrist, however, and only seem significant when compared directly with a 40mm model.




  • Current Variations: 2
  • Price: $8,300+
  • Pre-Owned Price: $8,700+

In 1956, when the Milgauss came out, the world was abuzz with nuclear research, especially at places like CERN, still the most advanced particle accelerator. Meanwhile, all the incredible technology developed during WWII was being ported to commercial uses, making electrical engineers one of the most important professional groups on the planet at the time. Rolex gave them what they needed, a watch able to withstand 1,000 (“mil”) gauss (a measure of electromagnetic fields).

Sadly, scientists and engineers aren’t the famous heroes they ought to be, and the Milgauss is the only current Rolex model to go out of production, from 1988 to 2007. However, when the watch returned in 2007, it was a rather exciting surprise for Rolex enthusiasts, and the lightning bolt seconds hand remains the most playful feature of any Rolex model to date. The modern version isn’t entirely impossible to get your hands on at retail, and more than any other Rolex model the Milgauss is the most likely to help you stand out in a crowd. It is, for sure, a watch for those in the know.



  • Current Variations: 1
  • Price: $6,450
  • Pre-Owned Price: $3,000+

Like The Explorer, the Air King had existed as the Oyster Perpetual for a long while before Rolex printed “Air King” on the dial and began marketing it to a new set of post-WWII jet setters — men who adored and imitated the former war pilots now flying jumbo jets across the Atlantic. Released in 1945, Rolex’s new model caught that wave of enthusiasm for the future, and nothing at that moment said “future” like beautiful commercial jets that turned a weekend jaunt across the ocean to Paris, New York, Rome, or London into a reality.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW

Interesting tid-bit: the 34mm case was considered large at the time, and that’s why it was called the King. Today’s model is 40mm across, and carries one of the most divisive dials in Rolex’s catalog (along with that of the Sky-Dweller). Admittedly, the intermittent hour and minute markers on the modern Air King are visually unique (for some, jarring), as are the touches of green and yellow, which have no discernable significance.

For today’s Rolex enthusiasts, the Air King is positioned at the bottom of the Professional series watches. However, you can get an Air King at retail relatively easily, and that’s almost impossible to say of any other all steel model on the Professional side of the catalog. A bird in hand beats two in the bush.




  • Current Variations: 12
  • Price: $11,250+
  • Pre-Owned Price: $5,500+

By the 1980s, the Rolex Submariner had come out in gold, and preppy folks around the world were rocking them as status symbols. Rolex kind of punched the preppy class on the nose with the all-gold Yacht Master of 1992. Interestingly, the Yacht Master’s evolution has been one of increased sportiness and reduced bling since its release — not the common direction for Rolex’s evolution. The toning down of glamor and upping of ruggedness has made the Yacht Master a bit of a sleeper model in the Rolex catalog, but it is every bit as capable as the Submariner, which it resembles.

In 1999 Rolex offered the Yacht Master in platinum and steel (reference 16622), and from there it’s been an endless riffing on precious metal combinations (though never has an all-stainless steel model emerged). Todays’ Yacht Master is 42mm or smaller, and the watch carries all the latest Rolex technology inside and out. Distinguishing features include the “relief” ceramic bezel, and the Oysterflex rubber strap, which is surprisingly luxurious and durable on the wrist.

What has always seemed lacking, however, is a timing mechanism specific to racing a sailboat, usually a 10-minute timer of some kind that’s activated when the starting gun goes off. However, given the watch’s roots as a schmancy timepiece for hanging around the docks in style, the less utilitarian design makes sense.ADVERTISEMENT – CONTINUE READING BELOW


Yachtmaster II


  • Current Variations: 4
  • Price: $18,750+
  • Pre-Owned Price: $18,000+

Now we’re talking serious sailboat racing technology, with one of Rolex’s more sophisticated movements featuring a ten-minute countdown stopwatch complication, running seconds on a traditionally placed subdial above 6-o’clock, a large 42mm case, a ceramic bezel, 300m of water resistance and more yachting style than any other sailing watch on the market.

The Ring Command bezel allows one to select between one to ten minutes to be timed. (However, as a sailor who used to race on pretty big boats, I can attest that the two-handed moves required by this mechanism are entirely unsuited to the dangerous scenarios of crewing in a race, especially during the start when things are truly hectic.) Nonetheless, this is one of Rolex’s coolest and most complicated mechanisms (along with that of the Sky-Dweller), and most people aren’t actually crewing on real racing boats — or climbing mountains, or flying jets, or SCUBA diving, though those watches all sell out fast, too.

Released in 2010, the Yacht Master II is the latest new model from Rolex, and it has yet to gain historical significance. As such, they’re more readily available at retail, and for those who dig the maritime vibe and the cool movement, the Yacht Master II is a hit.

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