This Rolex Explorer II ref 16570 review was originally written and published in the summer of 2019. Back then, I’d “only” had the watch for about 18 months, was still living in Philly, and had only learned about pandemics and PCRs in college.
Now that I’ve just about doubled the length of ownership, it felt appropriate to come back and update this review with new perspectives not only on this specific reference but the Explorer II line which has continued to evolve within Rolex’s catalog. Naturally, I’ve also inserted new photos highlighting the striking beauty of this watch on many different straps.
Follow along as I take a refreshed look at the Rolex Explorer II 16570 via the following points:
- Technical Specifications
- Explorer 16570 Price Trends
- A New Explorer II Appears
- Owners On The Wrist Review
- Final Thoughts
Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all!
- Case Diameter: 40mm
- 42mm with crown
- Case Material: Stainless Steel
- Bezel: Stainless Steel, non-rotating (fixed)
- Bracelet: Oyster, Stainless Steel
- Crystal Material: Scratch-Resistant Sapphire w/ Cyclops
- Case Depth: 12mm
- Lug to Lug: 47mm
- Weight: 126 grams
- Strap Size: 20mm
- Movement: Rolex Manufacture Caliber 3185
- Automatic, Bi-directional winding
- COSC-Chronometer Certified (-4 to +6 s/day)
- ~46 hour power reserve
- Water Resistance: 100m / 10 bar
Rolex Explorer II 16570 Price
- Original Retail Price: $6,300
- Pre-Owned Price: $7,000 to $12,000+ (As of August 2021)
In the first iteration of this review, I introduced the 16570 as a rugged yet refined sports watch that held its own indoors or outdoors, in casual or formal settings; this has not changed. What has changed is the price: it’s up over 100% since I bought it.
I purchased my Rolex 16570 Polar in mid-2017. At the time, steel Rolex sports models were in the early stages of the price explosion that surprised just about everyone in the watch industry. If I remember correctly, it was only the GMT-Master and the Submariner that commanded a premium over MSRP.
The craze had not yet spread to the Explorer II models, so I was lucky to snag one for about $3,500, a modest discount from the original MSRP of $6,300. Most have not been so fortunate, however. Since that time the price graph of this model has gone only in one direction – up.
A New Explorer II Appears
Another novelty since I first wrote this review is the fact that Rolex introduced a new, underwhelming (to me) Explorer II watch in April of 2021 – the reference 226570. The new model, presented on the 50th anniversary of the watch family, exhibited no changes from its predecessor except for a new movement and a slightly modified case.
Now, Rolex spends years and millions of dollars in R&D each year to engineer and improve calibers so I’m sure they’d disagree with me. However, I’m also confident that many other Explorer II devotees such as myself were hoping for something more iterated.
Perhaps the Explorer II would once more return to the 40mm case size? Or the bezel would be upgraded to a new material? Maybe even new dial colors could be introduced, as was done with the Oyster Perpetual line? Nope. Basically just a new movement and a couple of cosmetic changes that aren’t obvious unless you’re specifically looking for them.
It seems like all the other Rolex sports lines have received significant overhauls so I’m still hoping that the Explorer II gets some love in the coming years. If nothing else, these bland novelties will likely help my own 16570 hold and increase its value in the second-hand market.
Here’s some info on the new model, as well as links to the product listings on Rolex’s site.
- Rolex Explorer II Reference 226570, in 42mm (See Rolex Official Product Page) – MSRP: $8,550
Sought-After Vintage and Pre-Owned Explorer II Models
If you, like me, aren’t running to your local AD to ask for a new Explorer II, I recommend checking out some of these discontinued Explorer II models. They’re all highly regarded within vintage watch communities and have become collector staples in the pre-owned market.
- Explorer II “Steve McQueen” ref. 1655 – $25,000 to $50,000+
- Explorer II “Cream Dial” ref. 16550 – $21,000 to $39,000+
- Explorer II Tritium Dial ref. 16570 – $7,500 to $12,000+
Owner’s On The Wrist Review
Having owned the Rolex Polar Explorer II for nearly 4 years, the following section of this review will cover my experiences of wearing it in detail.
The Rolex 16570’s Case
The case is 40mm in stainless steel and possesses a satin finish on top of the lugs, while the case flanks and crown guards are polished.
The tool watch essence is very much alive in this Explorer II 16570 and much of it is thanks to the case. Unlike the “Super Case” seen in Rolex’s modern line, this 16570 sports the older-style case which is significantly slimmer with thinner lugs and smaller crown guards. Furthermore, the overall case profile is sleek in comparison to its bulkier younger siblings.
You can judge this for yourself by comparing with Paul Anthony’s review of the GMT-Master II “Batman” 116719BLNR.
Rolex has already started to move away from this bulky Super Case; new sports watch releases now possess slimmer lugs and more refined crown guards. This has been observed in the most recent Submariner and GMT-Master II releases as well as the newest Explorer II 226570.
Non-Rotating 24-Hour Bezel
Atop the case sits the non-rotating GMT bezel presented in brushed stainless steel with a high-polish outer brim and recessed 24-hour numerals accented in black lacquer. A trademark of the Explorer II line, this bezel further differentiates it from the GMT-Master II models.
Most notably, both the former aluminum bezel and the modern Cerachrom (ceramic) GMTs possess bi-directional rotating bezels with inserts.
This particular example from the late ’90s also has lug holes which make it almost too easy to maintain multiple straps on rotation. Once more, there is a small detail to note at this point for those on the hunt for one of these: the bevel on the top edge of the lugs, where the brushed finish of the top of the lugs meets the high polish of the case flanks.
Unfortunately, this Explorer II has seen one too many refinishings so this bevel is no longer present. Nevertheless, it is something to look out for if you are browsing 16570 watches and want one as close to mint as possible.
The bracelet on this Explorer II 16570 is the Rolex 78790 Oyster bracelet – a 3-link stainless steel bracelet. Additionally, it features hollow center links finished in satin on the top/bottom and high polish on the sides, clearly maintaining the theme found throughout the case.
The bracelet links taper gently, starting at the hollow end-links (“HEL”) that attach to the case, down to the stamped steel clasp.
Overall, the bracelet on this 16570 is very fluid and comfortable, particularly on a well-worn example such as this one. It also possesses the signature ‘jangle’ of the pre-Super Case Rolex sports models; this is notoriously off-putting to some and loved by others.
Personally, I believe it even enhances the vintage feel of the watch and has helped this Explorer II attain its “future classic” moniker (is it the future yet?).
Explorer II Ref. 16570 Dial
The glossy white dial of this Explorer II has earned it the nickname “Polar”, and contentiously made it the most desirable variant in contrast to its black dial counterpart. It possesses black-oxidized hour markers and hands, printed minute graduations, and a date with cyclops at 3 o’clock, all of which contrasts beautifully against the stark white background.
The red GMT hand at center also introduces an unexpected splash of color encountered nowhere else on this model. Indeed, this is reminiscent of the orange hand seen in the highly sought-after Explorer II ref. 1655 “Steve McQueen” (See result in Google).
Thanks to its decades-long production run, this dial has seen Rolex transition from Tritium to Super LumiNova luminous fills for its indices and hands.
With the passing of time and depending on exposure to sunlight, Tritium degrades and turns an orange-brown hue. Initially a design flaw, this patina of the dial has become highly desired among collectors. As it ensures that no two examples are alike, it exponentially increasing the perceived scarcity of each individual watch.
I was not so lucky as to obtain one of these Tritium watches. Nevertheless, the Super LumiNova leaves little to be desired as far as lume shot material for your gallery. Even after passing the 20-year old mark, it’s a wonderful specimen.
The 3185 Movement
Inside the case of this Explorer II ref 16570 beats the robust Rolex 3185 self-winding movement. It offers a 46-hour power reserve and COSC-chronometer certification.
This movement also allows the wearer to easily and independently configure the hour hand. If you’re jumping time zones, all that is required is to unscrew and pull the crown out to its first position to change the hour forward/backward without disturbing the minutes and GMT (“home time”) hands.
Final Thoughts On The Rolex Explorer II 16570
Overall, the Explorer II Polar ticks a lot of boxes for those who dare to step outside of the glam of popular sports models offered by Rolex *cough Submariner cough*.
In a world of Cerachrom bezels and Rolesor cases, the 16570’s unassuming looks and subdued details allow it to fly under the radar and onto the wrists of those who long for Rolex’s notorious quality and design without the stigma.
Unable to shed its uncanny ability to pair with any outfit, occasion, or adventure, the Explorer II will proficiently take over your wrist for months at a time. This is only further guaranteed if you allow yourself the opportunity to chase down your favorite variant among the wide range of condition + dial + age + accessory possibilities that are out there.
What do you think? Would you pick a 16570 as your first Rolex (as I did), or would you aim for staples like the Submariner, Datejust, or GMT-Master II? Let us know in the comments below!
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