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ROLEX BLOG

The Minute Details: The Explorer II ref 1655 Part I

November 19, 2017

BY Paul Altieri

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When you spend countless hours comparing the smallest of details on a vintage Rolex dial, you know you’re in deep. Deep into vintage Rolex watch collecting that is. Seasoned collectors know that the slightest details on a Rolex—whether the shape of a seconds hand, a distinct coronet, or the presence of T Swiss T—can make a huge difference on the value of a particular vintage Rolex watch. Today we delve into the inaugural Rolex Explorer II, the ref. 1655 to find what design details can add (or take away) thousands of dollars to its value.

Explorer II ref 1655

The Rolex Explorer II 1655 is a vintage watch with a handful of variations.

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But First, Some Background Info

Rolex launched the Explorer II collection in 1971 as a larger and more robust follow up to the Explorer I. As always, Rolex carved out a niche target for the then-new tool watch. The Explorer II was destined for cave explorers. With the avid spelunker in mind, Rolex outfitted the Explorer II ref. 1655 with a generous 39mm stainless steel Oyster case, plenty of lume on the dial, and a large 24-hour hand with a corresponding 24-hour marked bezel. Essentially, speleologists spend plenty of time in the dark and can lose track of time quickly. So the 24-hour hand is a day-night indicator for wearers to quickly differentiate between am and pm.

Explorer II ref 1655

The Explorer II Freccione is a nickname that was earned for its bright 24-hour hand.

That first reference, the Explorer II ref. 1655 was in production from 1971 until 1984. It’s estimated that there are seven different dial variations for the Explorer II ref. 1655. In true vintage Rolex watch collecting style, those dials are generally classified as Mark I to Mark VII dials.

Also in vintage Rolex fashion, the Explorer II ref. 1655 picked up a couple of nicknames along the way. One of them is “Freccione,” which is Italian for arrow. This is of course in reference to the orange oversized arrow-tipped 24-hour hand. The other (highly contested) nickname is the “Steve McQueen” in reference to none other than the King of Cool himself. Legend has it that the famous actor and racecar enthusiast owned an Explorer II ref. 1655, hence the moniker. But today, that fact is yet to be proven, as there seems to be no photographic evidence. Regardless, the “Steve McQueen” is still widely used in collecting circles.

Explorer II ref 1655

Here is one variation of the watch where the seconds hand is straight.

Explorer II 1655: Straight vs. Lollipop Seconds Hand

The earliest generation—Mark I—of the Explorer II ref. 1655 watches have a straight seconds hand. Rolex quickly replaced it with a so-called “lollipop” style seconds hand with a luminescent dot on it for better visibility in low light. As expected, the straight seconds hand versions of the Explorer II ref. 1655 are highly desirable and very valuable since they are from the first year of production.

Explorer II ref 1655

How do you like the Explorer II ref 1655

Stay tuned for Part II or our in-depth look into the most valuable details on the Explorer II ref. 1655.

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