It Was Love At Second Sight For Me And My Rolex Explorer
The 36mm Rolex Explorer has been a favorite of mine ever since I got into watches. But it still took me quite some time before I decided to buy myself one. I even bought and owned various similar kinds of watches before I finally went for it. It’s almost like I was avoiding getting one. But it looks like the old saying “in the end, you want a Rolex” was true. Let me tell you how my Rolex Explorer and I finally found each other and what it’s like to own one after all this time.
As I mentioned, the Rolex Explorer ref. 114270 had been on my mind for quite a while. A few months into my collecting journey, I even considered buying one when I thought it was time to buy my first Rolex. At that moment, it lost the battle against a 1974 Rolex Datejust ref. 1603. As it turned out, though, that watch with its fragile Jubilee bracelet and blue pie-pan dial just wasn’t for me. I sold it, and with that money, I bought my Cartier Santos Galbée ref. 2823, which is still one of my favorite watches. But for some reason, the Explorer kept chasing me during the following years.
I was an Explorer dodger
It was definitely not like I was ignoring the fact that I had feelings for it. Somehow, though, I didn’t want to give in to those feelings. Instead, I tried to convince myself that a similar type of watch would do the trick just as well. So I bought the Tudor Black Bay 36, the typical watch for Explorer dodgers. It too has a great Oyster-style bracelet, a glossy black dial, white hour markers, and a handset full of character. But in many ways, it’s also very different.
Although the Black Bay case shows some resemblance to Rolex’s Oyster case, it definitely has a bit more of an aggressive stance on the wrist. And yes, the typical dive-watch layout on the dial looks great, and it works even better with those bold Tudor snowflake hands. In the end, however, it comes nowhere near the Explorer’s magical 3-6-9 formula in combination with the classic Mercedes hands. At that time, I didn’t want to admit that the Explorer was the reason I sold my Black Bay 36, so I told myself it was because the watch didn’t have a clear identity.
Back on the radar
A few months after I sold my Black Bay 36, the Explorer made another guest appearance. On our way back to Amsterdam from a Christmas trip to Spain, I sat next to a very fashionable woman on the plane. She was dressed in all black with a big black hat, and I immediately saw that she had a Rolex Explorer 114270 on her wrist. It suited her style so well. I complimented her on the watch, and we started talking about watches a bit. She had bought the Explorer in the early 2000s, and since then, she had never had it serviced or polished. I advised her to get it serviced and recommended a watchmaker she could go to.
I also asked her if I could take a wrist shot with her watch for my Instagram. She kindly agreed, but what I didn’t foresee was that the watch was going to feel so good on my wrist. Naturally, I quickly gave her the watch back after I took the shot, but I mentally replayed that short moment with her Explorer on my wrist several times after that. I didn’t immediately decide to go out and buy one for myself, though. As befits a true dodger, I told myself to take some time to properly think it through. Ultimately, that helped to hold off the purchase for another year or so.
Just buy one already!
During that year, I even published an article about how not every watch enthusiast needs to own a Rolex. I mean, how bad can a person be in denial? Now, it’s not that I don’t still agree with the reasons why you might not want to get a Rolex. However, with a neo-vintage Explorer, I feel that you can circumvent some of those reasons. Crucially, there are no waiting lists on the secondary market, and since the Explorer is still one of the more affordable Rolex sports watches out there, the premium isn’t that high. It’s also not the most recognizable Rolex there is, so I hope that safety won’t be as big of an issue as it might be with some of the other models. And even though Rolex watches might be a bit boring, I still got quite excited when I tried on the one on the plane.
I admit, just like any watch enthusiast out there, I know perfectly well how to find excuses to justify getting another watch. But in this case, the watch had already been on my mind for such a long time that I just couldn’t avoid it any longer. However, in the meantime, Rolex had also introduced the new 36mm Explorer ref. 124270. I was positive that I wanted a 36mm Explorer, but now I had to decide between the new model with lume on the 3, 6, and 9 numerals or the older model without it. Don’t worry; I won’t go through all the differences here because I already did that in one of our installments of Sunday Morning Showdown. Please read that article if you’d like to know everything about why I chose to go for the older 114270.
More toolish, less refined
For now, I can cut a long story short by saying that one day of trying out the newer model made it very clear to me that I wanted the earlier version of the 36mm Explorer. It was Morgan’s Explorer that I wore that day. He was in the office to try out for a job as our new photographer, and he knew that I was interested in the Explorer. And although (or maybe even because) the new one feels more refined and solid, I found that I like the more primitive 114270 better. Maybe the fact that it was the watch I had been looking at for quite a while might also have had something to do with it, of course.
At the end of that day, I shared my findings with the other colleagues in the office. Gerard also listened to my conclusions, and then he said, “Well now, you should try my 114270 to see if you really like it that much.” The next day, he brought the watch to the office with the box, papers, booklets, and tags. I tried it out for a full week, and I was sold. The 114270 just felt like my kind of Explorer. It’s lighter than the new one because of the hollow center links, and I prefer the proportions on the dial. It also wears a bit less elegantly because of the wider bracelet. I think those are the most important reasons why I prefer the older reference.
A proud owner
After a week, I brought the watch back to the office and shared my findings with Gerard again. I wanted to thank him for lending it to me, but then he said, “Don’t you want to keep it if you like it so much?” And after a short negotiation, at the end of the day, I walked out of the office with my “new” Rolex Explorer.
It has now been about six months since I bought it, and I’m still very happy I did. The Explorer is such a nice mix between a friendly and tough-looking watch. It wears effortlessly on my 17cm wrist, yet it still has a lot of presence. That is, of course, because of the iconic Oyster case with its flawless bracelet. Combine that with the 3-6-9 dial, and the watch has a very strong attitude. I also love how the milky-white edge of the raised sapphire crystal matches the white details on the dial. And yes, I have to admit, there’s just something special about wearing a Rolex.
The watch just oozes confidence. I got it serviced right after I got it, and it has been running within COSC parameters ever since. I also had it checked for water resistance, so now I can really take it anywhere. And that’s exactly what I do. I just wore it non-stop on a recent vacation to Turkey, and even now that I’m back, I’m still wearing it very frequently.
The Explorer is indeed a bit of a boring watch, but it’s so good at being boring in the best ways possible. After all, sometimes you don’t want to stand out with your watch. You just want to wear a comfortable, reliable, and damn-good-looking watch. Well, that’s exactly when the Explorer is at its best.
As you hopefully have noticed, I’m still very much enjoying my time with the watch. That’s why Morgan — yes, he is our in-house photographer now — and I thought of doing a little bit of a different photo shoot for this article. Our inspiration was an old Rolex Explorer ad from 1964. We tried to recreate the ad, and we explored the premises around the office a bit. We hope you enjoy the shots; we certainly enjoyed ourselves while taking them.
What do you think of the 36mm Rolex Explorer? Is it indeed boring, or is it the ultimate tool watch? And what watch had you been avoiding for a while before eventually buying it? Let us know in the comments below.
You can also find and follow me on Instagram: @fliptheparrot