Rolex Explorer II Polar

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:

Use the links above to jump ahead or scroll down to read it all!

Rolex 16570 Polar Wristie

Technical Specifications

  • 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.

Rolex Explorer II 16570 Polar On Wrist Long Sleeve

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.

Today, the 16570 sells for anywhere from $7,000 (individual owners) to more than $12,000 (pre-owned watch dealers).

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.

New Rolex Explorer II 226570

Rolex.com

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.

Owner’s On The Wrist Review

Polar Explorer 16570 Lugs With HolesHaving 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.

Explorer II and GMT Batman

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.

Explorer II 16570 Polar On Green Suede Strap

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.

Oyster Bracelet

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.

Rolex Oyster Bracelet Internal 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.

White Polar Dial Close Up Of Rolex 16570

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.

Explorer Polar Wristie LumeWith 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.

Rolex Explorer II Polar 16570 With Diplomatico Rum & Cigar

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!

Further Reading

Want to read more about watches? Check out some of our related guides below!

About the Author:

A watch nerd with experience in the industry, Raf's contributions to BespokeUnit's mission orbit mostly around Horology. As many of BU's readers, he also shares a passion for style and rum, niches which he's ever more open to experience.

25 Comments

  1. Daniel June 23, 2019 at 2:50 pm - Reply

    Great Article! I’ve had this same watch for six years and I’ve worn it pretty much every day, Never get tired of it, never lets me down!

    • Rafael Dominguez June 24, 2019 at 4:12 pm - Reply

      Hey there Daniel,

      Many thanks for your feedback! As you now know, I’m not yet at the 6 year mark of ownership of my 16570 but I can’t see myself getting rid of it any time soon. Just curious – what else do you have in your collection fighting your explorer II for wrist time?

      Rafael

  2. Jamie Lee June 26, 2019 at 11:29 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the article Rafael.

    I bought mine second hand about 7 years ago and I love it.

    Ithink it’s only a matter of time before we start seeing pretty steep price increases on it (not that I’m bothered).

    My other watches are Omega Seamaster which was my first really nice watch. I saved up for a year and bought it un 2003 (Pierce Brosnan did it for me) and I still really like it.

    I also have a pocket watch and Panerai (PAM00320 I think). I like it, but probably not as much as the others.

    Cheers

    Jamie

    • Rafael Dominguez June 27, 2019 at 6:39 pm - Reply

      Jamie,

      It was actually quite a pleasure writing about the 16570. I also have to admit, it’s not difficult to believe that you’ve had your explorer for so many years and still love it. I have also been sitting on my hands waiting for the price hikes that are affecting other steel sports watches, but as you, I am totally fine with them staying where they are. Either way, I would not get rid of mine.

      With the Seamaster and PAM, you have a very rounded collection! I’ve looked into expanding mine with a Luminor Due in the past, but I never took the plunge. It’s one I still have my eye on for sure.

      Best,

      Rafael

  3. Gorg Lalli July 26, 2019 at 6:46 pm - Reply

    Dear Rafael, thanks for the very interesting write up about a watch that the more I see and read about, I am increasingly feeling the urge to buy.
    My first ‘nice’ watch was an Omega De Ville Hour Vision in 2004. My other two watches are both new Rolexes – Submariner (no date) and the GMT Master II (Batman).
    I have been wearing my Submariner pretty every day much since i bought it around 12 months ago and absolutely love it.
    Regarding the 16570 (Polar), I have noticed the second hand prices creeping up over the past 6months or so. 7k USD seems steep for used but I fear this will continue to go up with the limited availability of stainless steel sports watches from Rolex (another entirely frustrating topic we could discuss and debate I am sure!)
    One question I have is about the bezel, I have read a few times that it scratches easily and may be more so than the new ceramic bezels being used by Rolex – have you you experienced this?
    Also, if not the 16570 do you have any other watch in the same price range you would consider instead?
    Many thanks. Gorg

    • Rafael Dominguez July 29, 2019 at 4:36 pm - Reply

      Hey there Gorg,

      Thanks for your reply! As far as the price of the 16570, you are correct, they have been climbing higher and higher, especially over the past ~6months. If we’re to judge by how other Rolex models have behaved, the 16570 is not likely to go down in price any time soon. That said, this could be as expensive as they get- they may never reach the $10k mark, for example. In my opinion, for any of the models (Rolex or otherwise) that have been increasing in price, they’re probably not going to drop in price. If they do, it’s more than likely going to be an industry-wide trend that causes all prices to drop, not individual models at a time. When or if this will happen is, as you can imagine, very unpredictable.

      I tend to keep up to date with pre-owned watch prices, and particularly the 16570’s performance. Indeed, they can be purchased for 7-8k from the largest dealers online, but can also be had for ~5k, sometimes even less, by purchasing directly from other individuals through forums and such. If you’re not familiar, I recommend you check out watchrecon.com which is an aggregator for watch forum sales listings. It’s a great resource for seeing how models are trading in hand-to-hand transactions. Of course, these mediums have their own risks, but many online forums have ‘feedback’ systems that allow you to get a sense of who you’re dealing with and if they’re trustworthy.

      Before buying a 16570, I definitely recommend trying one on the wrist if you haven’t already, as it wears different than the Rolex Sub you’ve been wearing. Not bad, just different. As you can tell by the article, I love mine, but watches are always a thing of preference, so make sure this one will work for you.

      Lastly, with regards to the bezel and scratches – it depends on how you use the watch. Will it scratch more than a ceramic bezel? Definitely, as the ceramic bezel insert can’t be scratched. Consider how many scratches you can see on the steel part (the “outer rim”) of your Submariner’s bezel; these would be much larger on the explorer as it’s all steel without ceramic. Nevertheless, I think the Explorer II is one of the watches that wears scratches the best,they develop personality and truly make the watch your own.

      If the 16570 is the style you like, I really can’t think of a similar watch that could take its place. It really depends on what you’re looking for. Give me a couple of characteristics that you want and I’ll see what other options I can come up with!

      Best,

      Rafael

  4. jay arcilla September 26, 2019 at 6:27 am - Reply

    Great read… Had one before – Had to let it to go(2016) to address emergency expenses at the time.

    Prices have gone up since then…

    Hopefully i get to have one again….

    Jay

    • Rafael Dominguez September 27, 2019 at 4:15 pm - Reply

      Hey there Jay,

      Thanks for the feedback, I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

      Shame you had to let yours go, but at the end of the day, watches are just objects. No matter how beautiful and alluring we may find them, more important things do exist.

      Prices have indeed continued to rise, but if you keep your eyes on eBay and forum listings, I’ve no doubt you will come across a good deal sooner or later.

      Best,

      Rafael

      • Eric November 25, 2020 at 8:28 pm - Reply

        Thanks for your comments, I bought my 16570 Polar in 2011 and it is my favorite watch. I once owned a 1655 but unfortunately it was stolen. I also own several other Rolex, including a Sub, Omega, Tag, Nomos, Tudor models. Still, the 16570 Polar is my favorite.

        • Charles-Philippe November 26, 2020 at 2:47 am - Reply

          Excellent choice! Sorry to hear that you 1655 was stolen. Must have been a horrible experience.

  5. Russell November 9, 2019 at 10:41 am - Reply

    Great article, I love my polar 16570 (K series, SEL, and lug holes). The watch is so versatile, it’s great with a dress shirt cuff in a business setting and I have climbed mountains and broken the speed of sound with mine. I really like that it is understated and often flies under the radar versus a Submariner, it’s a well kept secret best appreciated by watch enthusiasts.

    • Charles-Philippe November 12, 2019 at 8:17 am - Reply

      Hi Russell,

      Always great to meet another Polar fan. They’re very versatile and understated timepieces indeed!

      Best,

      CP

  6. Arnaud January 14, 2020 at 11:36 am - Reply

    Great review, definitely I prefer the tritium color on white than new series, sure more expensive but I have nostalgie.
    Btw, the fan of watches like buy sell, and keep, not good for budget.

  7. Calvin Elston January 16, 2020 at 4:50 pm - Reply

    Thanks for the thoughtful and detailed review. Just decided I’m going to start saving for one of these bad boys. I’m pumped.

    Love the black band you have pictured. Can you share the make of it? Where you got it?

    Looks super cool on the Explorer and makes it fly even further under the radar.

    • Charles-Philippe January 22, 2020 at 9:10 am - Reply

      Hi Calvin,

      Thanks for the kind words. Unfortunately, I don’t know where Rafael bought the band! I’ll ask him.

      Best,

      CP

    • Rafael Dominguez January 22, 2020 at 4:18 pm - Reply

      Hey Calvin!

      Thanks for your comment, I totally understand your excitement and can absolutely confirm that the 16570 is worth saving up for.

      With regards to the strap – to be quite honest, I think I may have ‘borrowed’ this one from a friend who was no longer using it and has yet to ask for it back ;) . It’s not branded, but this style is called “sailcloth”. If you google something along those lines e.g. sailcloth strap, I’m sure you will find plenty of retailers at different price points. I’d like to be able to recommend a specific one but I don’t know them enough to stand behind any particular seller.

      Hope this helps,

      Rafael

      • Calvin Elston February 10, 2020 at 8:50 pm - Reply

        Thanks, Rafael! I appreciate the info. Dr Google has plenty of good sail cloth results. Also, in case anyone is interested, I came across this place while searching: https://nickmankeydesigns.com/. I ordered one but hasn’t arrived yet (4 week lead time).

        Maybe one day I’ll finally get to try it on my Explorer….

        • Charles-Philippe February 12, 2020 at 6:49 am - Reply

          Hi Calvin,

          Thanks for getting back to us! I’ll pass on your message to Raf!

          All the best,

          CP

  8. Percy April 10, 2020 at 6:27 pm - Reply

    I bought my first Exp II in 1982, unfortunately it was five fingered and I lost it in 1986. I went for a 2Tone Datejust, which is very much alive and well on my sons wrist. In 2011 fearful that the 216570 would destroy such an iconic watch I asked my AD to find me a new 16570 Polar 3186 Rolex rehaut model. It is, of my fairly large collection, my favorite watch, hands down. Thanks for reminding me of what a great watch the 16570 Explorer II is.

    • Charles-Philippe April 14, 2020 at 6:30 am - Reply

      I’m so sorry to hear that! It must have been devastating! Delighted to hear that you passed the Datejust onto your son. I’m sure he’s very proud to wear it! My father handed me a watch that belonged to him and it has enormous sentimental value.

      All the best,

      CP

  9. Max Vincent October 15, 2020 at 7:49 pm - Reply

    Newbie here. How would a day date from the 80s like this one compare to the Explorer? https://www.ebay.com/itm/Rolex-Day-date-18038-Green-Vignette-Dial-18k-Yellow-Gold-Automatic-Mens-Watch/113827952133.

    I currently have the model you wrote about from 1996 & really enjoy it. Can you tell a difference in wearing a 36MM size compared to this?

    Also, mine doesn’t seem to light up at night. How many hours of daylight does one need to *activate* the glow? Thanks for writing about this. I’m about 6 months in!

    • Rafael Dominguez October 16, 2020 at 12:08 pm - Reply

      Hey Max! It sounds to me like you have a 16570 with a Tritium dial, so it will no longer light up. Tritium also corresponds to the ’96 production year you mention. Are the indices an orange/brown hue like on this page: https://bespokeunit.com/watches/rolex/explorer/#16570 ? if so, it’s a good thing.. The patina of Tritium indices is highly desired by most collectors. However, since Tritium is radioactive, it decays over time and stops emitting light so the luminous effect goes away, though I’d argue that your patinated indices look better than my luminous ones.

      On the Day-Date – I would say it’s a completely different experience to the Explorer in almost every way. Size is much smaller (more formal style), the bracelet is much more elegant (again formal), you have a date complication in place of the GMT, and the weight will be significantly greater since its full gold. None of these are counterpoints to going the way of the DD, in fact I highly recommend it, although maybe not the specific one that you linked. Looks like the dial on it is custom, not 100% original Rolex, so this could hurt you if at some point you decide to resell it. Also, if the dial was customized, it brings into question the other components of the watch, specifically the ones in the movement. Im not saying they could be fake or counterfeit, but simply not original Rolex. This can be key since 100% original Rolex parts are always more desirable.

      If you’ve never had the chance to try on a similar Day-Date in person, make sure to look for a seller who has a solid return policy or see if there are any pre-owned watch dealers in your area who may have something similar in stock. Hope this helps – glad to hear you’re enjoying the 16570 as much as I have.

      Best,

      Rafael

  10. Juan April 22, 2021 at 6:55 am - Reply

    Hi Rafael ,
    great article ! I was lucky to get one here in Buenos Aires un june 2019 , G series (2010) full set with the 3186 caliber , black-dial . Got it serviced in the RSC here , so is under warranty yet ! Love to wear it , keeps time like a champ , 2 sec a day plus , only .
    My other watch is a OP Date ref 15200 blue dial , wich I love too .
    Best regards , Juan

    • Charles-Philippe April 22, 2021 at 7:56 am - Reply

      Hi Juan,

      Great to hear it! Sounds like you’re making the most out of your timepiece, which is always a pleasure to read.

      All the best,

      CP

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