Rolex: The Story of the Adventurer’s Timekeeper

Over the last 100 years, Rolex watches have become synonymous with adventure. But how did one brand become so significant in the world of discovery, so much so that two of their collections came to be named “Explorer”? 

Join us as we venture into the world of Rolex watches by way of the explorers who wore them first.

Rolex and Mountaineering

It was at the peak of Mount Everest that Rolex first spotted the opportunity to test their watches in real-life conditions.

In the 1930s, Rolex equipped expeditions to the Himalayas with their watches and asked them to report back on the timepieces’ performance. The idea was to observe how the watches would behave in extreme conditions, such as the high altitudes of the Himalayas.

Between 1933 and 1955, Rolex teamed up with at least 17 expeditions – including Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s ascent in 1953, which remains one of the most famous to date. 

Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay

The Oyster Perpetual

This model was among the first to reach Everest’s summit.

It was reported by Sir John Hunt, leader of the expedition, that the watches “proved their dependability”. He also stated that the members of the party were “delighted that they kept such accurate time” as this ensured synchronisation between members of the team.

As part of Hunt’s report, he also noted that the team had “come to look upon Rolex Oysters as an important part of high climbing equipment”. 

Oyster Perpetual Replica 1
Oyster Perpetual Replica 2

The Explorer and Explorer II

Launched in 1953, the Rolex Explorer was the cumulative result of years of research and a celebration of all that Hillary and Norgay had achieved. It was one of the company’s first “tool” watches, designed and crafted with all the feedback from previous mountaineering expeditions in mind. As a result, it was created to be the perfect companion for those attempting high-altitude climbing.

It was only surpassed in its abilities when Rolex improved on the original design to create the Rolex Explorer II. This new collection incorporated all of the latest technical developments and updates to enhance usability for its wearer. 

The collection features an impressive, optimised display, with chromalight hour markers and a black or white lacquer dial – as well as luminescent hands and an engraved bezel which makes reading easier in harsh weather conditions.

The Rolex Explorer II is also equipped with Calibre 3285, which offers gains in terms of precision in timekeeping, power reserve, and resistance to shocks and magnetism.

Rolex Explorer Replica
Rolex Explorer II Models

Honouring Pioneers

In 2020, a new generation Explorer was released. It was crafted to honour the legacy of the 20th-century explorers who tested the limits of human endurance. Combining the luxury and prestige of yellow gold with the strength of Oystersteel, this watch model offers its wearer a 36mm case that is identical to the original model released in 1953. 

These watches are also equipped with Calibre 3230, a movement incorporating Rolex’s unique Chronergy escapement and the blue Parachrom hairspring. It also offers complete precision and a power reserve of approximately 70 hours, while also being resistant to shocks, temperature variations, and magnetic fields.

Rolex and Deep Sea Diving

Alongside the Oyster Perpetual, Rolex has produced a great number of watches designed to be taken underwater. These dive watches have since become essential tools for underwater exploration, and have allowed Rolex to fuel the aspirations of those looking to unravel the mysteries of the deep. 

Many of these models, including the Yacht Master and Yacht Master II, also make fantastic sailing watches. But, for now, we will focus our attention below the waves.

The Sea-Dweller

Introduced in 1967, the Sea-Dweller has evolved over the years to set new standards in deep-sea diving capabilities. With features like its helium escape valve and Cerachrom bezel, it remains a tool watch of choice for professional divers and adventurers alike. 

Having received updates over time, the newer models of Sea-Dweller are waterproof to a depth of 1,220 metres (4,000 feet).

Rolex Sea-Dweller Reproduction
Rolex Yacht Master Reproduction

The Deepsea

The Rolex Deepsea is an icon of extreme diving watches. Designed to withstand the immense pressures of the ocean’s depths, it is a testament to Rolex’s engineering prowess. 

With a robust case construction, innovative Ringlock System, and the Chromalight display, the Deepsea ensures exceptional visibility and durability even in the most challenging conditions. 

Launched in 2008, this watch is the result of decades of experience in deep-sea exploration, and is designed to be worn up to a depth of 3,900 metres (12,800 feet).

Rolex Deepsea
Rolex Deepsea Challenge

The Deepsea Challenge

The Rolex Deepsea Challenge is a watch of unparalleled depth. Created as a result of Rolex’s partnership with James Cameron’s Deepsea Challenge expedition, this watch is designed to withstand the crushing pressures of the ocean’s deepest points. 

With a titanium case, helium escape valve, and the Ringlock System, it can endure depths of up to 12,000 metres (39,370 feet). 

Rolex and Aviation

Rolex’s claim on watches designed for adventure do not simply stop at land and sea. With a long line of aviation watches – in some of the most famous collections ever produced – any pilot, adventurer, or even international traveller will feel fully equipped with one of these timepieces on their wrist. 

The Air-King

Designed to honour the Royal Air Force after their defence of England during the Battle of Britain, the Rolex Air-King is one of four “Air” models commissioned. These models (the King, as well as the Air Lion, Air Tiger, and Air Giant) were all crafted to be manually-wound, and were specifically aimed at pilots due to their easily readable dials. 

Over the years, the Air-King has been available in a range of sizes from 31mm to 36mm, though the 35mm model was short-lived. Most modernisation work in the latest iterations has happened on the inside, with systematic improvements to the calibre. 

The latest generation, with a substantially larger 40mm case, shares its setup with the Rolex Milgauss. Featuring two cases, one inside the other, in order to protect the mechanism from the harmful effects of magnetic fields.

Rolex Air King Reproduction
Rolex Sky Dweller Reproduction

The Sky-Dweller

The latest addition to Rolex’s aviation watches is the Sky-Dweller, though it is a model that has divided many collectors. 

Considered by far the most luxurious of Rolex’s aviation models, it offers a very different experience to the simpler watches already on offer. It utilises a:

  • GMT function
  • Annual calendar
  • 24-hour track (with a red inverted triangle to mark the correct hour)
  • Main dial (for local time and date)
  • Cyclops lens (for readers to read dates when visibility is poor)

However, the GMT function, in particular, presents an “aesthetic challenge”, which many watch enthusiasts do not enjoy – as the sub-dial is off-centre, it cuts off the lower hour markers. 

Rolex and Space Exploration

Rolex watches are also tied to exploration and adventures beyond our world, from the final frontier to the most dangerous missions conducted by NASA. As a result, some are much rarer and sought-after than others.

The Space-Dweller

A Japanese exclusive, released in 1963 with little fanfare from the astronauts it was created to honour. Sales were muted, and as a result, production ceased a few years after the idea was launched. Had it landed globally, the rebranded Explorer “Space-Dweller” may have risen to the same levels of popularity as its fellow Explorer models.

The GMT-Master and GMT-Master II

It is not well-known that the Rolex GMT-Master was popular among astronauts, particularly the GMT-Master “Pepsi” model – so called because of its distinctive red and blue ceramic Cerachrom bezel insert, set around a black dial. Many of the astronauts who went to the moon chose this watch model as their timepiece for the journey

Designed originally as a pilot’s watch, these models are known for their two-tone bezel inserts, which allow the wearer to track two time zones simultaneously, as well as automatic movements, robust materials and design, and resistances to water, shock, and vibrations.

The Submariner

Despite being better suited as a diving watch, Rolex Submariner models have also been worn in space. The first was by astronaut Kenneth D. Cameron while aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis, on the STS-74 mission to the Russian space station Mir.

Selling a Timepiece Designed for Adventure

Now you know more about the vast and impressive history of Rolex, you may want to know more about the models you own. And if you have been considering selling a Rolex model, we can stand in as a middleman between you and our extensive network, based in the UK and internationally, to find you the fairest price for your timepiece. 

Payment is instant and there are no hidden fees, so you will always receive the exact amount that we quote to you. With over 20 years of experience buying and selling these timepieces, you can trust our experts to help.

Book a Free Valuation Today

Our specialists can tell you more about the watch you have and provide an accurate assessment of its worth, based on age, condition, materials used, and the current market value. 

To make things easier, we can even travel to you. Simply get in touch and arrange a date and time that suits you. With any luck, its buyer could be receiving a model that has travelled to the ends of the Earth.

December 20, 2023

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