Wrist Game or Crying Shame: Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar
Welcome back to Wrist Game or Crying Shame, a weekly series that makes you feel like a boss. Let’s see if you’ll own today’s candidate, the Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar. But first…
Last week, we did a 180 and featured an early ’90s svelte dress watch from Vacheron Constantin known as the Les Historiques 31110. This one came in platinum and, if I may say so, truly looked the part. As for what “part” that was, let’s give it the leading role as a winner because this watch took home a convincing 64% Wrist Game victory. You might also recall my remark that detractors lacked good taste? Well, my feelings remain unchanged.
But for those detractors that loved the icy white color of the VC’s dial, I’ve got a treat in store for you. Let’s see how you like spending way more this week on a stainless watch: the Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar.
A bit of background
Before we get into the Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar, we need a bit of background. Once upon a time, Rolex actually made watches that were used for a real purpose aside from telling the time. Seriously. No, that purpose wasn’t for bragging rights at the locals Elks’ Lodge because that would suggest that Rolex no longer makes these types of watches. Let’s be clear, a primary reason for buying a Rolex these days is to show your buddies that you’ve “made it,” whatever “it” is. No, what I am referring to is the fact that Rolex built timepieces for arcane activities such as spelunking (side note: spelunking is a gloriously fun word to say on repeat).
Spelunking, if you’re not familiar, is the hobby of cave-dwelling, which can bring in skill sets such as diving, mountaineering, walking, and bumping your head on things in the dark.
Spelunking, if you’re not familiar, is the hobby of cave-dwelling, which can bring in skill sets such as diving, mountaineering, walking, and bumping your head on things in the dark. Well, it was this darkness and the discombobulation that one might suffer after being in such a state for so long that inspired the brand to introduce a modified Explorer named — get creative here — the Explorer II.
It was way back in 1971 that the 1655 Explorer II arrived on the scene and was apparently met with a collective yawn. For a watch that was supposed to be incredibly legible in low light situations, the dials on these 1655’s countered the heavy application of lume with a printed minute track that looks like a Hunter S. Thompson creation. I own one and I still have no idea where the hour markers really are!
But on the practical side, the watches brought in an orange arrow hand that ran at half speed versus the main hour hand and was used against an external steel 24-hour bezel. It was a simple but effective complication made for the incredibly small population of cavers who were meant to buy these odd pieces. Of course, no one really bought them and they were mainstays in AD showcases up until their eventual demise in the early ’80s. Of course, now — because everyone always comes back to unpopular Rolex watches — the 1655 is truly expensive with $20,000 being an easy place to start should you desire one. But fear not, the Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar was to come.
A weird time for Rolex
Actually, after the demise of the 1655, Rolex brought us a bit of a transitional model in the 16550 in 1985. This watch brought in the option of either a white (they often turned creamy like above and are highly prized) or black dial using applied indices, a sapphire crystal, and an overall design far more in keeping with the rest of the Rolex lineup (think GMT Master and you’re pretty close). The external bezel also changed to look more modern and orange gave way to red for the arrow hand.
This was a weird time for Rolex as they started implementing things like independent 24-hour hands (thereby making the Explorer II a dumbed-down GMT Master without an external bezel), quick set dates, and the watches boast paint on their dials that seemed to come from Earl Scheib or Maaco (sorry, non-Americans, you’ll have to look those up). With the introduction of both the black and Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar in 1988, that run of minor updates abated until these watches were canceled in 2011.
Not a beloved watch
The Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar and its black counterpart are really nice watches. In their earliest forms, they had tritium dials, cross-drilled lugs, single lock bracelets, and stamped end links. By 2011 (and far earlier), they had received updates to all of those details as the brand continued to modernize its lineup.
Aside from Explorers such as the 14270 and its successor, these Explorer II’s were really the last bastion of cheap stainless-steel sports Rolex watches on the used market.
I’m a fan of the earlier pieces, but you really can’t go wrong with any variant provided that it’s correct. Aside from Explorers such as the 14270 and its successor, these Explorer IIs were really the last bastion of cheap stainless-steel sports Rolex watches on the used market. You see, much like the original 1655, the Explorer II was not a beloved watch. I routinely saw them in authorized dealers languishing while Subs and GMTs sold steadily. I even recall seeing one as recently as in 2012 in Sydney, Australia. Perhaps I should have bought it…
It really makes no sense
But to be fair, if I had bought a Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar, I probably would have been buying it simply because it was there and it had been canceled. I fall in and out of love with this model because it really makes no sense. As mentioned, when Rolex decided to allow the former 24-hour hand to act as a GMT hand, it became a model without a purpose. Yes, it’s arguably a sleeker, cleaner travel watch than the GMT. But it’s the same thing sans the rotating bezel (a bezel no one really needs anymore unless they’re too lazy to adjust the arrow hand). In fact, the 16570 shared the GMT’s slimmer 40mm case. But for some reason, Rolex felt the need (and still feels the need) to make this watch and I suppose we’re all better for it, but it just strikes me as odd.
A cultish following
But watches like the Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar do wear nicely and the fact that they were always a bit of an unpopular choice has given them somewhat of a cultish following. It’s a well-known fact that hipsters in Park Slope consider these to be the anti-Rolex and whilst wearing them routinely look down their noses through their hand-layered resin spectacles at the mere mortals who would choose to sport such common timepieces like the GMT or Sub. Unfortunately, this silly behavior has caused prices to rise to such a level that I’d no longer consider buying one. But you just might be different or maybe all the spotlight on a once unloved model has caused you to now see these watches differently.
Or, perhaps your tan corduroy blazer with elbow patches and alpaca cardigan have been yearning for something contrarian as an accompaniment. It does also help to note that this is really the brand’s only sports watch with a white or lighter dial (just stop it if you even want to come at me with the Yachtmaster…just stop it). Let’s see!
In very nice condition
Today’s Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar comes in at an eye-watering €8,771 out of an equally expensive place: London, England. For certain, there are bucketloads of 16570’s on offer for far less than this one, but I went this direction because I had beaucoup trouble finding another on Chrono24 that hadn’t been subjected to a polishing that seemed to have been carried out in a dark cave. It comes with all of its kit and looks to be in very nice condition. It dates to 1996 and that means that its Fliplock bracelet is a likely later addition.
And so here we are good folks. It’s time for you to vote on whether you believe in the hype surrounding the Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar or if you think its former position as the sports lineup’s red-headed stepchild is still deserving.
Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar