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ROLEX BLOG

What Defines the Ever-Cool Rolex Polar Explorer?

May 28, 2019

BY Cate Misczuk

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There are a handful of Rolex’s that can get by with just their nickname – the Polar Explorer being one of them. If you know what you’re looking for, you can spot this white-hot watch from a mile away. Here I’m going to take you through the features that define this timepiece and make the “Polar” Rolex Explorer II such an icon of design and craftsmanship.

Polar Explorer

Do you know what defines the Rolex Polar Explorer?

The Heritage

Polar Explorer

When the Explorer II was first introduced in the early 1970s as the ref. 1655, the option of a white “Polar” dial did not exist.

When the Explorer II was first introduced in the early 1970s as the ref. 1655, the option of a white “Polar” dial did not exist.The Rolex Polar Explorer comes from a long, impressive, and beloved line of Explorer models. The line first launched in 1953 and was geared towards adventurers and mountaineers. But by the time the 1970’s came around, Rolex introduced the Explorer II line which was the same idea, but expanded upon. With the Explorer II came additional complications like the date and a 24-hour hand on the dial which made this much more of a tool watch.

It was 1972 when the Explorer II ref.1655 hit the market with a black dial, but it wouldn’t be long before the white dial emerged, eventually leading to ref. numbers 16550, 16570, and 216570. What’s interesting about the Polar Explorer is that it is very much part of the larger Explorer II family and boasts the same features; however since it is the only Rolex Explorer to be fitted with a white dial, it also stands out on its own.

Polar Explorer

The previous style of 24-hour hand was very similar to the one used on the Rolex GMT-Master II watches from the same era.

That Famous Polar Explorer Dial

This probably goes without saying, but it needs to be said. That stark white dial is the defining feature of the Polar Explorer II across all its different reference numbers. The white dial is accented by white luminous hour markers that are outlined in black, and a date window at three o’clock. There are also those iconic Mercedes hands – the 24-hour hand outlined in either red or orange (Rolex interchanging the two over the years – starting with orange, then red, and back to orange on the most current models).

Polar Explorer

With the latest generation of Explorer II watches, Rolex brought back the bright orange, triangle-shaped 24-hour hand of the original model.

Of course, to every rule there is an exception. The are a few Polar Explorers floating around out there with a cream dial with white gold hour markers rather than a stark white one with black-finished markers – but that makes them all the more valuable. The ref. 16550 was only run produced during the late 1980s, and a simple paint flaw meant the crisp white dial developed a creamy patina. Today it’s extremely rare and thus highly collectible. If you can get your hands on one, do it.

But to be fair, the Rolex Polar Explorer II itself is a great looking watch that is beloved by both collectors and explorers alike. Anyone would be lucky to have one in their collection, including you.

Polar Explorer

Notice how the hands and hour markers are white gold rather than black finished like the later-era models?

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