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From The Caves to Hollywood: Inside The Rolex Explorer II Reference 1655

September 1, 2015

BY Paul Altieri


Not all vintage Rolex references that are highly regarded today had successful receptions when they first debuted. In some cases it is the initial cold response to a particular model that ultimately leads to a greater level of rarity and desirability for present-day collectors.

Vintage Rolex Explorer II 1655 is also called the Jean-Claude Killy

The Vintage Rolex Explorer 1655 was originally made for those who were in caves.

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Introducing the Explorer II 1655

In 1971, Rolex introduced the Explorer II, reference 1655. This watch was specifically aimed at speleologists and was intended to be a ‘tool’ watch, rather than a luxury item. This was very much in line with Rolex’s roots, as the company first made a name for itself by producing high-end watches that were seen more as items of necessity than luxury accessories. The reference 1655 was only offered in stainless steel, with no options for gold or two-tone variants.


The watch is powered by a 26-jewel, caliber 1575 movement, and features a number of characteristics aimed specifically at cave exploring. Among these are a date function, a stationary bezel with 24-markings, a 100 meters depth rating, and a large, brightly colored 24-hour hand. The idea behind these features was to provide a watch for speleologists, who Rolex claimed, “soon lose all notion of time: morning, afternoon, day, or night.”

Wristshot Vintage Rolex Explorer

The Vintage Rolex Explorer is a tool watch. The Orange hand indicates the hours of a 24-hour day.

15 Years

The reference 1655 was produced for fifteen years until it was discontinued in 1985. During the years of its production, the 1655 did not sell very well. Its narrow target demographic, coupled with a dial that many collectors at the time deemed to be “cluttered”, even “illegible” hindered its popularity, and relatively few were sold.

During its 1971 to 1985 run, the reference 1655 went through five slight dial changes, four bezel variants, and two different second hands. All changes were very minor, however, none managed to stimulate Explorer II sales just like a Paul Newman’s exotic dial that most people did not appreciate. Even celebrity endorsements fell short of drastically increasing the popularity of the watch.

Face Vintage Explorer 1655

The Explorer II originally did not sell too well despite cosmetic changes.

Pictures Or It Didn’t Happen

Both Olympic ski champion, Jean-Claude Killy, and actor, Steve McQueen had their names associated with the reference 1655 Explorer II, however, Steve McQueen never actually wore the reference 1655. There are many pictures of McQueen wearing a reference 5513 Submariner, but there is still no known photo that exists of him wearing an Explorer II.

A Vintage Rolex Explorer 2: Jean-Claude Killy is a great watch when you cannot see the sun.

This watch can be called a Jean-Claude Killy since he was the watch sponsor.

As it stands today, the Rolex Explorer II, reference 1655 is somewhat of an oddball in Rolex’s history. It was made explicitly for cave explorers, yet promoted by actors and professional athletes. Its sales were disappointing while in production, however it is now one of the more popular and rare vintage Rolex references. Even the watch’s face and brightly colored, 24-hour hand, which were previously criticized, are now the defining characteristics that give it such value. Since nearly every Rolex is a classic, even when they miss, they hit the mark… it just may take a few decades to catch on.




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