Not only those who climb mountains or crawl through caves are Explorers anymore. All of us are. We, the modern people of the 3rd millennia, are all Explorers today.
We tirelessly and fearlessly face all the novel things our modern lives throw at us, as we learn to harness the latest technologies, understand the complex matters of the world that surrounds us, and as we push ourselves to be more successful, more rounded human beings. In all this noise, in all this tiresome, endless surge of to-do’s, we need not only the latest, passing technologies, but a few tools that have proven their worth in the most demanding of situations.
Rolex has created the Oyster Perpetual Explorer and Oyster Perpetual Explorer II in the spirits of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who conquered the Everest on 29 May 1953 and these two models live on today as some of the finest tools a modern explorer could want.
The two wore Rolex watches while conquering this landmark of human achievements not by accident, but because Rolex had at that point, by the early 1950s, already proven its expertise in, and dedication to engineering watches that can take on the world with a unique ability. Ever since the late 1920s, Rolex has been using the world as a proving ground to test its watches under the most challenging real-life conditions, at the greatest depth under water, the greatest heights on mountain tops, and at the highest speeds on land… All in the quest for greater precision, robustness and durability.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer – also frequently called “Explorer I”, even though number 1 is officially not part of its name – was launched in 1953 as a direct consequence of the pair’s remarkable achievement. The “Explorer I” comes in a 39-millimeter-wide case, crafted from 904L stainless steel, a specially rugged, yet elegant-looking material more difficult, but also more rewarding to work with than the ubiquitous 316L steel widely used in watchmaking.
The famed Rolex Oyster case relies on a monobloc middle case that we will look at in a dedicated article. For now, we will say that this ingenious design means that the lugs, crown guards, as well as the middle section with the segment to secure the bezel are all crafted from one strong block of 904L steel – first stamped, then carefully machined time and again to achieve the perfect shape.
These processes are the same for all Oyster Perpetual models and hence also for the Explorer. Where the Explorer stands out is in its modestly sized exterior that pays tribute in its straight-forward, purposeful aesthetics to the Oyster Perpetual watches worn by the two conquerors of Mount Everest. Matched to the Oyster three-link bracelet with its Oysterlock safety clasp and convenient 5mm Easylink system, the laid-back, timeless “Explorer I” is as capable a luxury tool watch, as any other in the Rolex stable. Waterproof to a depth of 100 meters and, of course, crafted entirely from stainless steel, a dip in the pool or a light dive in open waters are all tasks the Explorer can handle without hesitation.
The dial is a perfect match to the Explorer’s go-anywhere vibe, as well as its remarkable history. Its sublime legibility is enforced by the large indices and clear minute track around the dial’s periphery. The triangle 12-hour marker helps the wearer identify the orientation of the watch – a neat detail that perhaps not many will realize, even though it does make a big difference in legibility. All the hand-applied hour markers, as well as the Professional handset is crafted from 18k white gold, installed over a deep, glossy black dial.
Since its recent update, the 39mm Explorer I features the long-lasting blue Chromalight luminescent material on its hands and indices. The handset also received a slight, but notable overhaul as the minute hand now reaches all the way to the edge of the dial, hence perfecting legibility.
The movement inside the Explorer is the Rolex in-house designed and manufactured 3132 calibre, a movement that relies on Rolex’s Perpetual automatic winding system to replenish the 48-hour power reserve – although winding via the crown is, naturally, also possible. Accuracy, as a testament to the Superlative Chronometer certification of every Rolex made today, is tested in-house to fall between a remarkably strict -2/+2 second per day range.
With its restrained, purposeful look, rugged, yet elegant and refined exterior, excellent legibility and remarkable history, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer is the perfect companion to all of us, modern explorers. It will never go out of style in the same way how it will, with correct maintenance, never fail to show accurate time – no matter where life brings you.
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