When we first discussed the idea of creating a series of articles in which some of our editors would share their grail/exit watches, I didn’t expect to end up in such a strange conundrum. To start, I didn’t even really feel prepared to tackle the subject. After all, I’ve only been collecting — or rather, enjoying — watches for less than five years. Therefore, the thought of a watch that could put a stop to my desire to explore and experience the diverse spectrum out there was one I had not seriously considered. It’s kind of like picking your ultimate car. Aesthetically, you might be able to point something out and say, “That’s the one for me; if I had that I wouldn’t want any other car.” However, when you’ve only owned and driven one car, your understanding is limited.

The point I’m trying to make is that, for me, picking a grail is easy in the way that I define it — a significant watch that I would love to own, but can’t quite afford to yet. But picking an exit watch? Let me get back to you in 15–20 years, once I’ve sowed my horological oats and have had time to experience a wider range of what is out there and how it fits into not only my collection but also my lifestyle. So, there you have my disclaimer. In this article, I will not be speaking about a so-called “exit-watch”. Instead, I’ll be waxing poetic about a watch that is (for now) unobtainable, but which hopefully someday in the not too distant future, I will be able to call my own. Because it’s crazy to spend over X-thousand euros on a watch — until you do.

Image courtesy of @wrists.and.walls

Musings of a collector

Before I get into the meat of the article, let me first delve into the more pseudo-philosophical side of watch collecting — only briefly, I promise! To start, the concept of “grail watch” is one that I struggle to pin down exactly. One could say that it’s the watch that your collecting journey leads you to own. And this may well be the case for some people lucky enough to precisely narrow it down. As I understand it, there is also a certain degree of unattainability involved. One does not simply walk into an AD and purchase their grail watch (insert Boromir meme here). But is this necessarily the case? Does the difficulty of obtaining always have to be centered around rarity? Or can it also revolve around cost? I believe that it can be a bit of one, or the other, or both.

Image courtesy of @morgansaignes

As you might have already guessed, like many, I have simply adopted my own definition. To me, it’s the one watch that you can’t shake the thought of. You want to own it, yet you can’t. There has to be a degree of build-up and anticipation to the moment of ownership. If you can casually swipe your AmEx and go home with it in a bag, it’s not really a grail. A certain degree of sacrifice must be felt. The final element is meaning and connection. The watch has to mean something to you. It must be more than just a shiny object that you desire as a status symbol. You have to see yourself being able to grow old with it, never letting it go. Even if you eventually grow out of it and decide to sell it on, it’s the feeling you go into it with that counts.

A true grail watch

Before I move on to my pick, which as you’ve now read both in the title of this article, is the Rolex Explorer II 16570 (the white-dialed version), I want to briefly touch upon one grail that I already do own. I’m talking, of course, about my Omega Speedmaster. This was a true grail for me. I thought about it for years on and off. The thought of owning one, though seemingly distant and unrealistic to the point of frustration, was always there. I knew that my grandfather had owned an Omega watch, long lost to the ages. Owning one myself went beyond just the object; it was a sort of distant connection, a sign of having “made it” in some abstract way. I’m sure that getting that watch was no small feat for my grandfather, and he likely both cared about it and for it as long as he lived.

But did it stick? Was I right in picking the Speedmaster? Or did it disappoint and fall flat? Well, for a more detailed account, you can check out my article on why I bought it as my first luxury watch here. In short, let’s just say that it did not disappoint. In fact, as I write this on a cold, cloudy December day, the watch is sitting on the table beside me. And glancing down at it, I’m still as excited about putting it on my wrist as I was the first time almost a year ago. That’s the kind of connection I want from a grail, not a watch I’ll grow bored with after a month or two and eventually sell on. These are pieces that I will wear for the rest of my life. So, 875 words in, let’s talk about my current grail.

Image courtesy of @wrists.and.walls

My pick — The Rolex Explorer II 16570

I’m sure a lot of you are not impressed by my pick. In fact, I know that at least two members of the Fratello team own or have owned one of these watches. It’s not particularly rare or special in any way. It wouldn’t even be fair to say that I want one of the rarer or more desirable variants out there. Whether the dial is creamy or white, whether it’s tritium or LumiNova, or whether the dial says “Swiss” or “Swiss Made”, I don’t mind. This was the same philosophy I adopted with my Speedmaster. Would I prefer a birth year model with tritium lume? Sure! Does it actually bother me now that I have one that isn’t that? Not at all. What’s important, is that this one belongs to me, and has been on my wrist for some significant moments in my life so far.

Image courtesy of @morgansaignes

But why the Explorer II? And why specifically the 16570? If you’ve followed my writing for a minute, you’ll know that I’m a fan of vintage watches. And I feel that, whereas the current Explorer II is a handsome thing, nothing beats the vintage vibes of a 16570. The case has the perfect shape and size. The dial is stark, functional, yet beautiful. And the skinny GMT hand, blood-red on the white dial’s canvas, is just brilliant. It does go beyond aesthetics, however. Owning a Rolex does still hold some special meaning. Not as a status symbol, but more as a significant achievement. A sign that everything you have worked for in life has paid off, and that because of that, you are able to mark the achievement with a special timepiece that you’ll proudly wear for the rest of your days.

Image courtesy of @m.adcock81

Functional appeal aesthetic perfection

But it goes beyond this. It’s not just a primordial moth-drawn-to-light feeling that attracts me to this watch. As a true watch enthusiast, I fully understand the heritage of the Rolex brand, which adds to the romantic appeal of seeing the word “Explorer” on the dial. Will I mostly wear it while sitting in an office typing away on my keyboard? Probably, but that doesn’t mean that it won’t inspire a deeper desire to get out there and live up to what the watch represents and what others have done with theirs. I’ll be happy to put my fair share of notches, dings, and scratches into it. Each one tells a story of something I experienced. It’s almost like a diary. The case is the paper, and the world around you, the pen. And the more you write on it, the more meaning it gains.

Image courtesy of @m.adcock81

This also comes from the fact that the Explorer II 16570 is a watch that remains a trace of Rolex’s past ambitions in creating tool watches. Sure, modern Rolex watches are just as capable. Perhaps even more so. But the bigger, shinier appearance, to me, diminishes this appeal. Whereas before, these watches were designed as the most capable tools, now they are somewhat smeared in pretentiousness, falling into the status-symbol trap. They are worn by those too rich to know better and who simply want to own something from the famous brand with the crown. In this sense, Tudor seems to hold up the flag that Rolex once did. However, it’s undeniable that the word Rolex holds a special meaning — a promise that what you get is close to perfection, functionally and aesthetically.

Image courtesy of @wrists.and.walls

The Rolex hype dilemma

As I mentioned earlier, there is a slight issue with reaching this grail, and it revolves around the well-known hype surrounding the Rolex brand. And I’m not talking about a shortage of watches. It’s not like I’d be visiting a boutique or AD to buy one of these. Plus, there are plenty of them available online. What’s the problem then? Well, it’s all about the price. When I first started looking into the Rolex Explorer II 16570, one could be had for about €6,000-€7,000. This price comes more or less close to (just over) the original retail price. However, in 2021 with the release of the new Explorer II (ref. 226570), prices began to climb. Now, the average pre-owned market price of 16570s comes close to €10,000 for a watch in good condition with box and papers.

Now, this raises the dilemma. When the retail price, as indicated on the Rolex website, for the 2021 Explorer II is €7,950, I have to ask myself, does it still make sense to chase the 16570? Surely, it would make far more sense to buy a brand-new Rolex straight from the brand itself, wouldn’t it? After all, prices for the 16570 do nothing but increase every month. Saving up for it is like trying to climb a tree that grows at the same pace you climb it. At some point, any sane person would just give up, sit on the nearest branch, and settle for the apples that grow at the level they can reach. However, as we all know, getting your hands on one of those delicious Rolex steel sports apples is not so simple. The only other hesitation comes from the matters discussed by Lex in this article.

Image courtesy of @wrists.and.walls

Final thoughts

So there you have it. Will I ever get my grail? Well, maybe, someday in the future. But there’s my dilemma. Perhaps I should just cast two lines into the water — one in the form of a saved search on Chrono24, setting aside all the extra money I can to someday get my grail, and the other in getting my name on a list for the new Explorer II. Though it’s not exactly like the 16570, it may well serve as a worthwhile replacement. But I’m not so sure. There’s something about compromising in these matters that leaves the itch partially un-scratched. And we all know that in the long run, it will return.

Image courtesy of @m.adcock81

Either way, as Mick Jagger used to sing “time is on my side”. And with some luck, someday, with time, I’ll be in a position to reach out and get my grail. In the meantime, I’d love to hear your thoughts. Do you also love the Rolex 16570 Explorer II? Do you own/prefer the 2021 Explorer II? And my final conundrum: what would you do in my shoes? Would you wait, and hope for the watch you really want? Or would you compromise and go for the newer, less expensive option, knowing that you’d also have to wait? Let’s discuss this in the comments below.

Follow me on Instagram @ncgwatches

Special thanks to my good friends @m.adcock81 @morgansaignes and @wrists.and.walls for providing some amazing images of the 16570. It’s in part because of your amazing photography that I have come to appreciate this very special watch.