Editor’s note: Right off the bat, let us confirm that Luke Hemsworth is in fact, a legend. Westworld Season 1 is among the best single series of television ever created, and he was in it. Also, he is a great deal wealthier and more successful than me, just in general. So, Luke, keep doing what you’re doing But of the Hemsworth brothers, he is substantially the lesser known. It’s the same for the black dial copy Rolex Explorer II ref. 216570. Within the Rolex Professional Collection, references you can actually get your hands on are few and far between. And this model is one of them, roughly speaking. That said, they’re hardly in the shop window, so this is all said with a degree of reasonableness and caution.
Why? It’s simple. There just aren’t as many people out there who want one on their wrist. And this is where things get a little more opaque. For such a striking looking watch, with an approachable 42mm case, a wide open dial and the electrifying shock of orange that is the GMT-hand, there seems little empirical logic behind its relative availability. But is this simply that the crowds who follow the well-worn paths of steel sports hype have forgotten this diamond in the rough, or is it something else? We don’t have the answers, but we do have some stunning shots by @nicedily – and we have this model still in production, so we will go forth and tell you more about it.
Let me start this review with an admission: I thought the Big Crown was going to turf many of its current models in 2020. The Milgauss, for example, is well past due for an evolution from its current form, if it remains at all. Likewise, the Air-King – which stylistically borrowed heavily from a set of dash clocks made for a land speed record car that Rolex copy no longer has any affiliation with – was also rumoured to be disappearing for good.
In my opinion, though, the model that was most ready for a reboot was the divisive Rolex Explorer II Ref.216570 fake with steel bezel. Here is a watch that has been in production for one year shy of a decade and, until recently, hasn’t exactly been a fan favourite. In fact, before stainless steel professional models escalated in value, the Explorer II, in either the black or white dial, was readily available from your local AD. I should know – I used to work for one.
Why was it never as desirable as something like a Submariner or Daytona? Well, the large 42mm case size has been off-putting for many, considering that its predecessor, the Ref. 16570, was a more agreeable 40mm. Then there’s the “maxi dial”, which some people love, but purists tend to turn their noses up at. And the overall aesthetic of the watch just doesn’t offer the same sort of opulence as other “sports” Rolex watches. It’s unashamedly a tool watch first, luxury item second – form following function in almost every regard. The innards of Ref.216570, which were impressive in 2011, are also getting a bit long in the tooth – 48 hours of power reserve in 2020 is, for some, simply not good enough.
Despite all this, though, the current Explorer II has still managed to develop into somewhat of a cult among a sect of watch enthusiasts. And, honestly, what has slowly edged this model back into the desirability radar is photographers like @nicedily. The watch actually shoots very well. And @nicedily, who was kind enough to provide images for this story, has well and truly put that front and centre with shots of his own Explorer II Ref. 216570. So, when the opportunity to wear a black Explorer II for a week or so came up, I was compelled to revisit the idiosyncratic steel sports watch. Especially considering its days may indeed be numbered.
This is where the Rolex Explorer II replica with Swiss automatic movement really starts to flex its tool watch traits. The quintessential Oyster case is hewn from Oystersteel (904L steel). This steel is tougher than finding one of these watches at RRP. By contrast, most of the cases of most watches on the market are made with 316L steel. It’s a fine metal, and more than up to the task of serving as a good, reliable material for most timepieces. Compared to 904L, it may as well be clad iron. Oystersteel is a very, very impressive alloy, not only because of its high resistance to corrosion but also because of its presentation – whether it be polished or brushed, this metal is like no other, including its liquid-metal wrist feel. The comfort levels are unparalleled in steel.
In the case of the Explorer II, both the top of the lugs, as well as the fixed steel bezel, is brushed, which bolsters the watch’s rugged bravado. The flanks of the case and lugs, however, are polished to a gorgeous mirror finish, which provides a nice contrast and does heighten the overall feeling of quality. Dimensionally, as mentioned, the Explorer II measures in at 42mm across, which for some is simply too big. But, because the case is relatively slim at 12mm thick, it does wear smaller than you may think. In fact, the Explorer II is a full millimetre slimmer than a Submariner Ref.116610 … and you can tell. Unlike the Subby, though, the Explorer II is only waterproof to 100 metres. But wading through jungle streams is still on the table; it has a screw-down caseback and screw-down crown with Twinlock double waterproofness system. It can take more than just a splash or two.