From the beginning, Rolex founder Hans Wilsdorf was constantly pushing the limits of what was possible for a timepiece. In 1926, Rolex introduced the world’s first waterproof case for a wristwatch, called the Oyster, and the brand continued to test and develop watches that were able to do things other watches couldn’t.

So, when I read through Ross Povey’s article on the Explorer in the March 2018 issue of Revolution USA, I was intrigued and reached out to Rolex to get my hands on an Explorer for a wear test.

In a happy surprise, Rolex offered up two Explorers, the original and the Explorer II, so I could wear and compare the two.

When the courier showed up at my door the next day to deliver the two Explorers, it was certainly cause for celebration.

The Explorer

The Explorer is the original, introduced in 1953 and designed to accompany climbers on their way to the top of Mt. Everest and in other inhospitable places around the world. The Explorer is a great size, at 39mm, so even though it is meant to go to the ends of the earth, it is equally at home doing non-explorer things, like going to work, hanging out on the weekend and literally anything else. The Explorer is a great-looking watch — clean, simple, subtle, elegant and very durable.

Rolex Explorer (Photography: John Goez)
Rolex Explorer (Photography: John Goez)

The Explorer II

Introduced in 1973, the Explorer II is bigger than the Explorer, at 42mm, and adds an engraved 24-hour bezel, a GMT hand and a date window with a Cyclops lens to enhance readability.

The Explorer II feels more rugged, even though it and the Explorer go through the same battery of tests to ensure it can withstand just about everything. It is a bigger and heavier watch, no doubt, and it is a great traveling companion. I wore the Explorer II on the flights to and from Watches & Wonders Miami, and it was a breeze to adjust and to know what time it was back home.

Though the Explorer II makes more of a statement on the wrist, it still looks great in every situation. I wore it to teach at Webster University and to some cocktail parties and the reaction I got was knowing, and approving, nods.

Rolex Explorer II (Photography: John Goez)
Rolex Explorer II (Photography: John Goez)

On Test

I never wore both watches at the same time (except for the photos and videos we shot in Miami), but instead alternated each day. I wasn’t shy about what I did with the Explorers, either. I wore them running, skiing, motorcycling, swimming, cycling, shadow boxing, hiking, showering and everything else I do during my normal life.

And the watches just fit right in. They felt great on my wrist and I never worried about them for even a moment. The Oyster bracelets with Oysterlock clasps made sure they stayed on no matter if I was hurtling down the ski slope or riding a motorcycle at 100 mph on the way to Florida Keys.

I got a ton of comments about the watches — wearing a Rolex lets you join the “club” of Rolex owners, and you are immediately accepted. But even those who didn’t recognize the watches as Rolexes nodded and said, “Nice watch.”

Keith W. Strandberg wearing the Rolex Explorer II and Rolex Explorer (Photography: John Goez)
Keith W. Strandberg wearing the Rolex Explorer II and Rolex Explorer (Photography: John Goez)

The two weeks I had with the Explorers went by way too fast. Before I knew it, I was boxing them back up to send to Rolex.

Which one would I buy? I can’t make up my mind. The traveler and sportsman in me says the Explorer II, but I love the understated nature of the Explorer. Buy either one and you are getting a fantastic watch, so you can’t go wrong either way.

My advice? Enjoy the choice.