It’s the first day of the new year, meaning everybody is exploring new adventures for the year to come. That association led me to the thought of putting my own and Thomas’ Explorer up against each other in a proper Rolex Sunday Morning Showdown. Mine is the six-digit reference 114270 Explorer, and Thomas’ is the five-digit reference 16570 Explorer II. But even though mine has one digit more, they’re both from exactly the same year, 2004. They might share the exact same hollow center-link Oyster bracelet and glossy black dial. But don’t worry; there’s still more than enough to battle over here!

It’s funny, because both Thomas and I bought our Rolex Explorers this year. And you could say neither of these references is the most popular Rolex watch on the market. They both enjoy a comfortable under the radar status with their understated and no-nonsense looks. That doesn’t mean that they’re not popular at all though. Because even these less popular references have experienced a steep price increase over the last couple of years. But you should be able to find a good 114270 for around €6.000 and a nice 16570 for well under €10.000. But enough about the similarities. Let’s battle!

Seiko wins the battle of the GMTs

But first we’ll take a look at last week’s Sunday Morning Showdown between the Tudor Black Bay Pro and the Seiko 5 Sports GMT. Both watches came out this year and are serious candidates to be taken up in either Nacho’s or Jorg’s collections. The Black Bay Pro is the more expensive one that offers higher quality and a more advanced flyer GMT movement. The Seiko on the other hand offers a lot of bang for your buck, although the finishing isn’t up there with the Tudor’s and it only offers you a caller GMT movement. But with 63% of the votes the Seiko is still the clear winner here. Does that mean the Fratelli prefer bang for buck over quality? To see whether that’s true, please read last week’s comments.

Daan: The Rolex Explorer ref. 114270

I’ve already battled against Thomas’ Explorer II once and I lost miserably. That time I defended the Tudor Black Bay Pro, which doesn’t seem to be too lucky in these showdowns. But today I’m pretty sure I have a good chance of winning with my recently acquired Explorer reference 114270. If you’d like to know why I chose this reference over the newer 36mm reference (124270), then please read my solo showdown of these two references. Because that’s not what we’re here for, but what I will tell you is that the Explorer has been on my mind for a very long time already. That’s not something I can say of its bigger brother, the Explorer II.

The 36mm Explorer sparks something inside of me. yes, it’s a time-only watch, but to me, it’s a very exciting one. With its bold numerals at three, six, and nine o’clock, and stick markers in between. It has a lot of body for such a small watch. The larger 40mm Explorer II, on the other hand, comes across as somewhat of a bland watch to me. I totally get why they have changed the color of that GMT hand to orange on more recent references. But I don’t know why they haven’t changed that font on the bezel yet. I didn’t like it before, and I still don’t like it. But apart from its looks, the wearing experience might even be a more defining factor of why I don’t enjoy it on the wrist.

Planking on the wrist

The fact that both references state “Oyster” on the dial doesn’t mean they carry the same exact case. My 36mm Explorer features the classic Oyster case with rounded flanks and lugs that turn down and hug my wrist. Thomas’ 40mm Explorer II features the more modern Oyster case with slab sides and lugs that feel like they don’t bend down, not even one bit. It’s like the watch is in the middle of a planking contest while it’s on your wrist. I don’t even mind the crown guards that much, although I prefer the cleaner look on my Explorer. But it’s really the wearing experience that throws me off here.

And it’s funny because Thomas and I have roughly the same wrist size at around 17cm. I feel like my 114270 is tailor-made for my wrist. The lugs don’t even overhang not one bit, the curves on the case perfectly follow the contours of my wrist, and it’s all very well proportioned. I guess everyone’s wrist is different, even though the size seems to be the same. Because I wouldn’t feel comfortable with such a plank on my wrist all day. And then there’s something else I wouldn’t feel comfortable with.

Do the Rolex wobble

As Thomas explained in his buyer’s guide for the 16570, all Explorer IIs fitted with the 3185 movement cope with a wobbly GMT hand. Now that’s something you don’t expect on a Rolex! To me, the brand stands for immaculate quality, which means I wouldn’t want to play around with a wobbly GMT hand. I know it doesn’t damage the movement in any way. But in that case, I’d rather have a watch with fewer functions but with a rock-solid movement. Or I’d go for an Explorer II with the newer 3186 movement on which the wobble has been fixed. But that’s not the case with Thomas’ 16570 from 2004.

And as I rarely travel between different time zones, I rarely need a GMT function. I must admit it looks damn cool. But it looks even cooler when it comes with a two-tone bezel. And that’s not something the 16570 can offer. instead, there’s a plain, brushed stainless steel bezel that doesn’t even turn. It almost takes all the fun out of owning a GMT watch. Especially when you also have to deal with that wobbly GMT hand. No, it’s clear that the 16570 is not the watch for me and that I’m very glad to have my 114270 around my wrist.

Thomas: The Rolex Explorer II ref. 16570

Wow, Daan, thanks for that. I arrive at work to find my beloved Rolex Explorer II, verbally shanked by my “colleague.” Nice one. In all fairness, my dear Fratelli, Daan has put me in a bit of a conundrum. He proposed to put our Explorers head to head in a text message on my day off. I did not have the time to get into it, but all I could think was: Do I even want to win?

Let me be perfectly honest with you, my lovely watch aficionados. If I did not own a vintage Datejust already, I, too, would have bought a Ref. 114270 this year. I just felt the two would overlap too much in utility within my collection. The quirky Rolex Explorer II added more depth to my collection. And so I went for that. But when I compare the two directly, I am afraid I agree with Daan. I fear I prefer the 114270…

But my 16570 is no slouch! It is certainly deserving of some defense against Daan’s blatant attack. So here we go!

Image: Bulang & Sons

An odd duck

One of the cool things about the Explorer II is its quirkiness. I mean, it is aimed at spelunkers, for crying out loud. Who —in their right mind— would think: “Yes, let me design a high-end watch for spelunkers.” Needless to say, these are hardly ever used as intended. Never mind desk-diving with your Submariner. I am desk-spelunking with my 16570. And Daan? He is probably desk-faking-an-Everest-backstory. More on that later.

The oddness is not limited to the concept of the Rolex Explorer II. Its looks are quirky in their own right. It is not exactly a natural beauty. But it looks extremely cool precisely because it is a tad awkward. It is an acquired taste. Probably not the Rolex one would instinctively pick if one were completely uninformed about watches. This gives it an insiders’ feel. When I spot a 16570 on someone’s wrist, I know they know their watches.

Wearing a Rolex Explorer (II)

Daan mentioned a planking exercise. I think he may be confusing my 16570 with the current, bigger Explorer II. I have a smallish wrist (17cm), and the watch fits me like a dream. The Rolex Explorer wears rather small, especially for a sports watch. The Explorer II wears perfectly. The 114270 is probably more versatile, but as a sports watch, the 16570 has the perfect wrist presence.

The 112470 can be a little underwhelming. Sure, it is a slow-release charmer. But it is so simple, so small, so basic. There is a pot and kettle situation going on when Daan calls the Explorer II bland. Both of these watches are extremely expensive, but with the 114270, I just wonder where all that money goes. Am I really going to drop this much money on such a simple watch? If I am spending like this, I want to be wowed. I want to look at my wrist in amazement.

I think both of these watches have become more expensive than is justified. But it hurts more with the Explorer. Where is the joy? If it were a €2.5k watch, I would already own one. But to drop €6–7k on something this austere… I just can’t.

Forcing history

I already mentioned a problem with the Explorer’s backstory. The issue is that it does not feel genuine to me, which taints the Rolex Explorer. I will not go into the details here, but the suggestion is that an Explorer was worn by Edmund Hillary when he was the first to scale Mount Everest.

The truth is, that is just not the case. Oyster Perpetual watches were present among crew members who did not reach the summit. Still, it inspired Rolex to create an Oyster Perpetual line that would later start branding “Explorer.” That feels like it is forcing history into a legend. Never waste a good story with the truth, they say.

I know — as watch lovers — we tend to run after cloud castles. But when they are so thinly veiled as this, I cannot help but feel a little betrayed. The watch is good enough to stand on its own. Do not pack it in a concocted backstory.

Which Rolex Explorer is for you?

You may have noticed this took some effort. The truth is that we both love both watches. But that makes this battle all the more interesting. Which would you rather have? Let us know by voting, and tell us why in the comments below.

Rolex Explorer Ref. 114270 VS. Rolex Explorer II Ref. 16570