Rolex Explorer 1 – Ultimate Watch Strap Guide

Rolex Explorer 1 – Ultimate Watch Strap Guide


The Rolex Explorer I is Rolex’s oldest sports watch that is still in production today. The Rolex Explorer 1 is an understated timepiece that has had numerous updates and modifications over the past seven decades, while always staying true to its original design characteristics. Since there are many references and versions of the Rolex Explorer 1 available, we decided to create a watch-buying guide with a history of the timepiece in this blog post to help narrow your search.

Rolex Explorer 1 – Ultimate Watch Strap Guide

The Rolex Explorer was originally released in 1953 with case diameter sizes of 36mm and 39mm. The Rolex Explorer 1 is made of stainless steel and includes a fixed, smooth textured bezel. The dial on the Rolex Explorer I is black and features Arabic numerals at 3,6, and 9 positions. The Rolex Explorer 1 comes on an Oyster bracelet and has a water resistance of up to 50 meters for pre-1959 models, and 100 meters of water resistance for post-1959 models.

Colonel John Hunt 1953 led the British Mount Everest expedition in the ninth attempt to successfully reach the summit, and Rolex was eager to provide the climbers with an Oyster Perpetual timepiece to test out its new functions. 

The expedition proved to be a success when Edmund Hilary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest. A few months later, Rolex doubled down by revealing the all-new Rolex Explorer 1.

Rolex Explorer 1 – Ultimate Watch Strap Guide

Pre 2000’s

The Rolex Explorer is a highly durable steel timepiece that features Rolex’s water-resistant Oyster case and self-winding perpetual movement. The dial has luminous hands and indices and is time only, giving the Oyster Perpetual Explorer exceptional readability. 

The first official Rolex Explorers that are known are reference 6150 and reference 6350, however, reference 6350 was the first of the Explorer line to add the name “Explorer” on the dial. 

Rolex Explorer reference 1016 has been produced the longest out of all of the Rolex references ever made and has endured numerous changes and modifications of the timepiece since it was created three decades ago. 

During the late 1980’s reference 14270 Rolex Explorer 1 was introduced, and then after that, reference 114270 emerged in the early 2000s with the ringing in of the millennium year. 

Rolex Explorer 1 – Ultimate Watch Strap Guide


In 2010, a newer model Rolex Explorer 1 was released, reference 214270 Rolex Explorer 1 which now sported a larger, 39-millimeter case rather than the previous models which were only 36 millimeters in diameter. In 2016, ref. 214270 got a second upgrade to the timepiece (while keeping its same reference number) where Rolex revisited the design of the dial and hands of that Rolex Explorer 1 ref. 214270.

Material Options

Although the Rolex Explorer 1 has remained consistent in the design of the timepieces over the years, there are different options that have become available to choose from. The Rolex Explorer 1 has upgraded options for case sizes and movements, lume options, bracelets, and crystal materials. The type of steel used to make the Rolex Explorer 1 has seen improvements as well as the design and look of the black dial. The most recognizable change of the Rolex Explorer is the increase in size.

Rolex Explorer 1 – Ultimate Watch Strap Guide

The original Rolex Explorer included a 36mm Oyster Case that housed the black dial and Arabic numerals at 3,6 and 9. For at least the next fifty years, Rolex stuck to the same design dimensions for the Rolex Explorer. It wasn’t until 2010 when Rolex released reference number 214270 that the case size of the Rolex Explorer increased to 39mm. The original size 36mm vintage Rolex Explorers have been discontinued, while the 39mm is still currently in production. 

Throughout generations, there have been improvements and material tweaks despite the consistent design of the dials. The earlier Rolex Explorer timepieces were known for their eye-catching dials that were glossy with shiny black backgrounds, bright gold text, and lume details. Some versions of the earlier Rolex Explorers even featured dials with a honeycomb texture which is rarer for a vintage Rolex Explorer. 

Around the 1960s, Rolex switched to a matte black dial for the Rolex Explorer that now had white color text and still included lume on the details of the dial.  

What Rolex did Edmund Hillary wear?

In 1953, Sir Edmund Hillary and Sir Tenzing Norgay scaled Mount Everest. That year, Rolex sponsored the expedition and supplied Edmund Hillary with a Rolex Oyster Perpetual Watch. At the time the watch did not bear the Explorer name it’s known by today, in fact, the inspiration for the watch’s name came from that expedition.

Rolex Explorer has a long history of adventure and Rolex isn’t about to disappoint fans of this timepiece.  The Rolex Explorer I reference 214270 was a shift from the earlier 1016 which had a long production period and its successor the 14270.  In 2010, the Explorer I ref 214270 diameter moved from a smallish 36 mm to a larger 39 mm.  The hands were a bit shorter in comparison to the larger case. 

However, the Rolex Explorer I reference 214270 still retained the key features such as 904L stainless steel, the Arabic numerals 3, 6, and 9 at those critical hour markers, and water resistance to 300 feet. It had a flat and polished bezel and a 3-link Oyster bracelet with brushed steel. The bracelet has an Oysterlock clasp with an Easylink adjustment mechanism. However, the modern Explorer I is protected by scratch-resistant Sapphire crystal.

Rolex Explorer I Caliber 3132

The Caliber 1050 and Caliber 1570 of the earlier generation Explorer references were replaced by the more modern Caliber 3132 in reference 214270. It is an all-Rolex self-winding mechanical movement and certified chronometer featuring a bigger base plate, Parachrom hairspring, and Paraflex shock absorbers. It offers greater resistance to shocks and to extreme conditions. It beats at 28,800vph and contains a power reserve of 48 hours.

The modern size of Explorer I is beefier than the original Reference 1016 which was produced between 1963 and 1989. The larger size makes it more in line with the typical 40+ mm size of other Oyster Rolex timepieces in the Rolex lineup. It is less a climber’s “tool” and more luxurious, while still retaining the rugged features that brought it to high altitude fame.  It still retains the black dial, polished bezel, and powerful steel frame which all types of explorers admire.

Comparing the Rolex Explorer I Mark I (Ref. 214270) and Explorer Mark II (Ref. 214270)


The newest Explorer II (Ref. 226570) Dial comes in black or white, whereas the past Explorer I (Ref. 214270) only had a black dial as an option. The Explorer I featured an Arabic numeral dial with 3-6-9 markers. The Explorer II features no numerals, but what is also called a “Maxi Dial”, the circle index markers are also a clear difference. The Explorer II dial is known by Rolex enthusiasts for its clearer readability. 


Both Bezels of the Rolex Explorer I 39mm and Explorer II 42mm are made from steel but are visually very different. The Explorer I features a high-polished bezel for a sleeker look and is reflective and shiny. The Explorer II has a satin-finished bezel in texture and stands out dramatically because of its 24-hour GMT tracking embossed onto it; the count-up bezel (also known as a driving bezel) also helps to measure elapsed time. (If damage incurs onto the Explorer II bezel the satin-finish and numbers make it slightly harder to repair– not wanting to damage the numbers).


The Explorer II features what is called in the world of horology a “Super case”. Super case means that the lugs of the case are much larger than the Explorer I which has the basic case.  The watch lugs are much thicker in width on the Explorer II and the Explorer II has crown protector lugs as well and the Explorer I does not. 


Both watches are automatic. The base caliber of the Explorer I is 3132 and has regular basic timekeeping. The base caliber of the Explorer II is 3285 and features a GMT movement and display date. The Explorer II also has an additional hour hand (the orange hand) that allows you to track another time zone or your own time. 

Glide Lock Clasp 

An important addition to the Explorer I version Ref. 214270, is the type of shock absorber, along with a Parachrom hairspring. In addition, a new Oysterlock folding clasp with a satin-finished easy-link extender to adjust the watch bracelet. The Explorer II Ref. 226570 has a slightly broader glide-lock clasp and is polished rather than media-blasted, in texture. This Rolex still features the same 5mm easy-link system (so you can adjust the link measurement without tools). 

Straps – Rolex Explorer I 39mm vs Rolex Explorer II 42mm

Rubber B offers a variety of straps for a variety of watches. For the Rolex Explorer I and Rolex Explorer II all three versions of Classic, Tang buckle, and Cuff Series are offered. The Explorer I Rubber B also offers a Velcro strap in solid Jet Black to match perfectly with its black dial. Vulcromatic Straps are offered for the Explorer II; the dual-colored straps come in different combinations of black, white, and orange and pair excellently with the iconic orange hand. 

The New Rolex Explorer I 124270 With Caliber 3230

In 2021 Rolex finally addressed multiple issues with the aging Explorer I with the new Reference 124270.  Although it only had been on the market for 10 years, which is a short production period for Explorer, Rolex needed to apply the new enhancements to this timepiece which had been already deployed in other Rolex timepieces.  

Specifically, the Caliber 3230 was added to the time-honored Explorer 1.  The 3230 expanded the power reserve of the Rolex from 40 hours to an amazing 70 hours.  Rolex also returned to its roots and reduced the case size of this timepiece back down to the 36mm case size of its early ancestors.  This reduction of size from 39mm to 36mm is one of the few examples of Rolex actually going smaller since the trend has been in the larger direction.  

The new Oystersteel with 904L grade quality replaced the older stainless steel case.  Also, the new Chromalight luminescence is added on all the hour markers and hands.  Small changes include the moving of the name Explorer on the dial from the 6 o’clock position to the 12 o’clock position. Rubber B New Band Options for the Rolex Explorer 1 39mm

Rubber B has created an amazing selection of 4 unique band designs for the Rolex Explorer I 39mm timepiece. They have three types of clasp supports – one that integrates with the original deployant buckle provided by Rolex, one with a standard 316L stainless steel tang buckle, and one that is custom designed with Rubber B’s industrial-strength Velcro closure.  The Velcro option comes in Jet Black, but the other two options come with a nice variety of alternative colors to enhance the beauty of your Explorer 1 investment. Recently Rubber B launched its Swimskin line of Combat straps for the Explorer 1.  This looks like real Kevlar fabric but is 100% vulcanized rubber and perfect for swimming and other athletic endeavors.  It comes in 3 colors – Black, Blue, and Green.  

Rubber B bands are made in Switzerland from pure vulcanized rubber, providing strength and durability for active explorers.  For more information go to our Rolex Explorer I page here and select from our 24 custom bracelets here.

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