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Watch Review

The Rolex Explorer II 16570: The Rolex Polar vs. the Black Dial

Rolex 16570
Paul Altieri

The Rolex Explorer II came to market in 1971 and was developed primarily for use in dark environments. In fact, the Explorer II’s ability to keep perfect time while working in low-visibility settings thanks to its AM/PM indicator made the watch the perfect choice for scientists, spelunkers, and arctic adventurers.

While the original Rolex Explorer II model, the ref. 1655, was developed as a watch with a day and night indicator, by the second generation, the Explorer II had graduated to become a GMT watch capable of displaying two time zones. What’s more, Rolex also added the choice of a white “Polar” dial to sit alongside the classic black option.

The Explorer II 16570 debuted in 1989 as the third iteration of the collection. It brought about a few upgrades from the preceding Explorer ref. 16550 but retained the choice between a white Polar dial and a black dial. While each dial option functions the same, they couldn’t look more different. Rolex produced the Explorer II 16570 for more than two decades, which means this specific reference a handful of changes over the course of its manufacturing run. Join us as we go deep with the ever-popular Rolex Explorer II 16570 and outline the differences between the white Polar dial vs. the black dial colorways.

Explorer II 16570
The watch is an incredible choice, the only thing is to decide on the dial.

Rolex Explorer II 16570 Key Features

Production years: 1989 – 2011

Case: 40mm, stainless steel

Bezel: Fixed, engraved with 24-hour scale

Dial: Black dial or white “Polar dial”

Lume: Tritium, Luminova, or SuperLuminova

Crystal: Sapphire with Cyclops date magnification lens

Functions: Local time (Mercedes hands), reference hour (red arrow-tipped 24-hour hand), date window at 3 o’clock

Bracelet: Three-link Oyster bracelet

Caliber: 3185 or 3186 automatic movement

Water-resistance: 100 meters (330 feet)

View the Rolex Explorer II ultimate buying guide here.

Rolex Explorer II 16570 Timeline

Explorer II 16570
The white variation of the Explorer II 16570 is called the Polar.

1971: Rolex introduces the AM/PM indicating Explorer II ref. 1655 specifically for spelunkers and exclusively available with a black dial
1985: Rolex introduces the Explorer II 16550, now fitted with a GMT dual-time function and available with a black or white dial
1989: Rolex introduces the Explorer II 16570 with a new caliber
1998: Rolex replaces the tritium lume of the Explorer II 16570 with Luminova
2000: Rolex replaces the Luminova lume of the Explorer II 16570 with SuperLuminova
2005: Rolex replaces the Explorer II 16570’s Caliber 3185 with Caliber 3186, which includes a blue Parachrom hairspring
2011: Rolex discontinues the Explorer II 16570 and replaces it with the larger Explorer II 216570

Rolex Explorer II 16570 Upgrades and Evolution

  • Introduced in 1989 as the third-gen Explorer II
  • New black surrounds on the white dial Explorer II 16570
  • New Caliber 3185 automatic movement

When Rolex released the Explorer II 16570, the watch retained many of the same features as the preceding and short-lived Explorer II 16550. For instance, the Explorer II 16570 maintained the same 40mm stainless steel case, 24-hour engraved steel fixed bezel, steel Oyster bracelet, sapphire crystal, two hour hands (one traditional 12-hour and one long arrow-tipped 24-hour), and a date window topped with a Cyclops magnifying bubble. When used in conjunction with the 24-hour bezel, the red 24-hour hand could be set to another time zone other than local time.

Furthermore, Rolex continued to offer this particular Explorer II model with either a black dial or a white dial. As you may already know, white dial Rolex Explorer II models, regardless of reference number, are affectionately nicknamed Rolex Polar Explorer II watches. However, what was different on the Explorer II 16570 Polar was the use of black surrounds (instead of white gold ones), which is a striking detail that remained on all white dial Explorer II references until today.

Also new to the Explorer II 16570 was Caliber 3185. This self-winding movement with independently adjustable hour hands powered the Explorer II 16570 until 2005, when Rolex replaced it with Caliber 3186. Caliber 3186 not only benefited from the then-new blue Parachrom hairspring but also eliminated the slight wobble that the 24-hand of Caliber 3185-powered Explorer II 16570 watches had.

Other changes that occurred during the 22-year manufacturing period of the Explorer II 16570 watches included luminous material changes (from tritium to Luminova to SuperLuminova) and the addition of the ROLEX ROLEX ROLEX-engraved rehaut.

  • 1998: Rolex replaces tritium (marked with SWISS T < 25 under 6 o’clock) with Luminova (marked with SWISS under 6 o’clock)
  • 2000: Rolex replaces Luminova with SuperLuminova (marked with SWISS MADE under 6 o’clock)
  • 2005: Caliber 3186 replaces Caliber 3185
  • Mid-2000s: Rolex engraves rehauts with ROLEX ROLEX ROLEX as an anti-counterfeit measure

Explorer II 16570: The Classic Black Dial

Explorer II 16570
Whether black or white, both options are fantastic.

As mentioned, the Explorer II ref. 16570 came to market in 1989 and offered a stainless steel finish paired with a striking black dial. A luminous display provided an easy reading while the fixed bezel engraved with 24-hour graduations permitted the wearer to keep track of two time zones. The case measured a robust 40mm, complete with crown guards around the screw-down Twinlock winding crown. A scratch-resistant sapphire crystal and Caliber 3185 automatic movement were also new to the ref. 16570, adding to its appeal among collectors at the time.

But it’s the classic styling of the steel case and bracelet paired with the black dial that attracts so many Rolex enthusiasts. The black dial’s ability to transcend time means that the ref. 16570 is just as relevant today as it was the day it was released. Similar in style to other successful professional series watches, such as the Submariner and GMT-Master, the Explorer II’s black dial paired with the familiar Mercedes-style hands, lume-filled hour plots, and Cyclops magnified date window at 3 o’clock is a classic choice.

Explorer II 16570: The White “Polar” Dial

Explorer II 16570
Which one can you image on your wrist?

Dubbed the Rolex Polar, this cool variation of the Explorer ref. 16570 features a crisp white dial. Per usual, luminous hour markers and hands accompany the dial. However, the Rolex Polar Explorer II 16570 introduced black surrounds for better visibility. Just like its black dial counterpart, the Rolex Polar also features a 24-hour engraved bezel, a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, a stainless steel 40mm Oyster case water-resistant to 100 meters, and a three-link Oyster bracelet.

Some collectors gravitate towards the white color of the Rolex Polar ref. 16570 over the black dial option, simply based on the fact that the white dial is unlike any other Rolex sports watch in the current catalog. The black surrounds no doubt add immense character while enhancing the visibility of the dial.

In short, this white dial Rolex Polar is an exceptional variation of the Explorer II ref. 16570. Generally speaking, Polar Explorer II variants are more expensive than their black dial counterparts on the secondary market.  Be sure to learn more about the Rolex Explorer II Polar watch here.

Black or White Explorer II 16570?

Rolex discontinued the Explorer II 16570 in 2011 to make way for the 40th Anniversary Rolex Explorer II, the reference 216570. The Explorer II ref. 16570 was in fact the last 40mm Explorer II reference—the others that have followed have all sported larger 42mm cases, dials with more exaggerated details, and broader numerals on the engraved bezel. Therefore, the ref. 16570, whether in white or black, is the last classic Rolex Explorer II model.

We’ve already established that the black and white dial ref. 16570 function the same. So when comparing the two dial options, it comes down to personal preference toward the overall aesthetics of the watch. Do you like the black or white dial Explorer II 16570?

Either way, you won’t regret adding this classic Rolex tool watch to your collection, no matter which dial variation you choose.

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Paul Altieri