The History and Evolution of the Rolex Explorer II
Steve McQueen Rolex?
While the Explorer II ref. 1655 was not a popular model during its era, today it’s a different story. It’s actually a very sought after vintage Rolex tool watch in collecting circles. It even has a few of its own nicknames. The first is “Freccione” derived from the Italian word for arrow, “freccia,” which is in reference to its famous arrow-tipped hand.
Another popular nickname of the Explorer II ref. 1655, is the erroneous “Steve McQueen Rolex” label. There actually isn’t any photographic evidence that Steve McQueen ever sported an Explorer II, but rather, his Rolex of choice was a Submariner. Nevertheless, the Explorer II ref. 1665 will forever be known as the Steve McQueen!
Rolex Explorer II Ref. 16550
In Rolex-speak, “transitional references” refer to those models that include features of preceding versions, in addition to paving the way for future references. Take for example the Explorer II ref. 16550 presented in 1985. With its introduction, the ref. 16550 brought the 40mm case size, a sapphire crystal, Caliber 3085, a longer and thinner arrow-tipped 24-hour hand, and the Mercedes style center hands. Plus, Rolex now offered black or white as dial options on the Explorer II.
There’s a very interesting feature for Rolex collectors on the white dial version of the Explorer II ref. 16550. Due to a paint defect, the white dials actually turned into a creamy ivory color after some time. And in true vintage Rolex fashion, that “defect” commands a premium price in the market over its black dial counterpart! The Explorer II ref. 16550 was only in production for four years until 1985.
The Caliber 3085 movement now meant that the 24-hour hand could be adjusted independently from the center hands. Therefore, the Explorer II graduated from merely indicating day and night hours to a GMT watch able to indicate a second time zone.
Check out the Explorer Wall Clock