The Rolex Explorer is one family of quality, classy and elegant timepieces that came to cement Rolex’s reputation even further. This piece, which has lasted many decades now, has inspired a ton of other watchmakers to also come up with something extraordinary. If you would not be picking from the trendsetter, you could as well check out the top watches similar to Rolex Explorer.
But then, what makes this watch family worth all the hype in the first place?
In this piece, we discuss the history and evolution of the Rolex Explorer. We continue with the things that make this watch series special. Finally, we look at some of the wristwatches on the market that are worthy of being reviewed in the same breath as the Rolex Explorer.
How about that?
Reading Tip: You can jump to different sections by clicking headings in the below table.
History of the Rolex Explorer
When telling the history of the Rolex Explorer, there is usually a mention of the Mt. Everest somewhere in there. If you have also heard the stories, you would believe that this was the watch donned by Sir Edmund Hillary when he climbed to the top of the tallest mountain in the world.
That could not be more wrong, though.
At that time, the first Explorer had not even been made. What the knighted climber was wearing was a Rolex, though, but an Oyster Perpetual instead.
That did not happen by chance, either. The watch was chosen specifically as a marketing ploy to show that it can take on a lot of stress and not crack under the pressure. It has also been marketed as the choice watch for those looking to attain the very top of their fields.
We digress. Back to the Explorer.
Building on the success that they have had with their Oyster Perpetual, Rolex went back to the drawing board to leverage that hype for a more recent watch design. This watch would come out in the year 1953, to much acclaim in the market.
There is a little bit of twist to that story at this point again. Even though the first official Explorer watch launched in 1953, that was not technically the first Explorer watch. It was, however, the first one to carry the name on its dial.
Since then, Rolex has evolved the Explorer line so much that we even have an Explorer II lineup. They have taken the initial design and remanufactured it to make the cross between sports and luxury. That drew some criticism, but it sure opened up new markets and target audiences to this giant watchmaker in the same vein.
Seeing all of the watches that have come to be in the Explorer lineup, it is little wonder other brands will start creating watches similar to Rolex Explorer too. Of course, they cannot take the entire design element from the parent brand. They could, however, draw some insight from the years of quality horological engineering which Rolex has thrown behind this timepiece.
What makes the Rolex Explorer Special?
Many could argue that there is nothing in a watch more than its ability to tell time. We are sorry to say, but such people just have a poor taste in quality wrist gear.
It can be argued that the extra costs on the Rolex Explorer line can be chalked down to the brand name behind it. Even at that, though, this is a finely engineered watch that deserves every dollar and cent ever thrown at it.
Next time you look at a Rolex Explorer, the following are some of the things that makes it so desirable and amazing.
Choice of Material
Rolex spared no expense in coming up with the unique blend of materials that went into the body of the Rolex Explorer.
The special steel on the body of the watch is dubbed Oystersteel. You haven't heard that name anywhere else because Rolex came up with the development model for this superalloy.
The metals in the Oystersteel alloy are a combination of those used in the aerospace and chemical industries. That further cements its strength against corrosion and wear & tear, among other things. The metal also has an alluring luster to it, staying shiny for many, many years with almost no sign of fatigue recorded with daily usage.
If you would be spending a premium on any watch, the least that you could expect from it is some durability. From the choice of materials discussed above, it is evident that the watch should be durable. But does that mean it is durable?
Thankfully, Rolex has done that experiment for us time and again.
Fitting explorers, mountaineers, and scientists with their Rolex Explorer watch, this timepiece has seen the most extreme conditions and come out on top. It should be noted that it was designed for professional usage from the durability tests from the Oyster Perpetual watches. Thus, a better knowledge of strength and durability was passed on into this watch.
Sometimes, less is more. That is what this Rolex Explorer line shows us.
Instead of going all out for the bells and whistles, Rolex made a simplistic approach to work wonders for them.
The brand patented the iconic 3-6-9 arrangement with a downward triangle in place of the 12-hour mark. The large hour markers are pointed to by large and legible dials, still following the simple design model.
Inside those hour markers and dials is Rolex's own Chromalight technology for the Explorer line of watches. These promise to keep telling the time accurately even when there is no other light source around. This Chromalight is just a fancy term for the lasting blue glow to ensure brilliant legibility in the dark. Lest we forget, they also make the watch even more beautiful when you look at it under the stars.
While looking like a mere fashion and design statement, the engineering behind the watch’s winding crown does more than that.
This crown is doubly fitted – one inside tube seal and another in the crown – against water damage. That is one of the reasons why users can submerge their Rolex watches up to the first 100 meters and not fear damage to the internal workings of this classy piece.
1. Rolex Explorer vs Rolex Explorer II
When the Rolex Explorer started to enjoy some success in the market, the Rolex management decided it was time to bring more changes to the market. Instead of making the radical changes to the original Explorer, though, they decided to create a new line instead,
This could have been due to a variety of reasons.
Most predominantly, spawning a new line of watches means that they can appeal to two different kinds of markets at the same time. Some wristwatch aficionados will prefer the option of buying from a line that has been here for long.
Even though the original Explorer has not been here long enough to qualify as vintage, it is not too recent to be called ‘cool’ either. That is an adjective you would use for the Explorer II.
While Rolex retains the same design language for both wristwatch lines, there are some subtle differences. You can find a list of the top ones below.
The original Explorer watch has been in the market since 1953. Rolex had been shipping that watch for almost two decades before it first launched the Explorer II in 1971.
This gave the legendary watchmaker enough time to understand what the market wants from the watch, how to appeal to new markets, and more. With the Explorer II, they broadened the options for watch lovers looking for something extra on a historic build.
The Explorer II adds a date display to the watch face – a feature that is missing from the original Explorer line. You will also find an extra orange hand (24-hour dial) and a fixed 24-hour bezel exterior. These are set for differentiating between day and night easily with the watch.
The additional hand can also be used to keep track of time in a second time zone. Somehow, Rolex managed to achieve what most digital watches could not with an analog setup while still staying graceful at it.
This feature makes the watch very suitable in polar areas, caves and such other settings where knowing the difference between day and night might be otherwise impossible.
Top Watches Like the Rolex Explorer
Having seen what makes this amazing watch what it is, we have curated a list of the top manufacturers that have tried to come close. Running into thousands of dollars, not everyone might be able to afford a Rolex Explorer or an Explorer II. In the meantime, you can adorn your wrists with these beautiful, functional timepieces that bear some semblance to the real thing while still retaining a lot of character and identity of their own.
1. Davosa Swiss-Made Men Watch
- 2 YEARS MANUFACTURER WARRANTY - High End Safe Buy Swiss Model....
- SURPASS YOUR EXPECTATIONS - Solid Branded New Premium Menswatch,...
- BEST SELLING RELIABLE DIVER WATCH - Ideal for Extreme Water...
- GET COMPLIMENTS ON A FASHION RELOJ DE HOMBRE - Excellent for...
- STYLISH CLASSIC BRAND ADVENTURE MAN GIFT - Classic Brand...
This watch looks more like the Explorer II on first sighting with its date feature on the watch face. The lack of a 24-hour clock hand makes it more similar to the basic Explorer though.
The watch face carries the same design and detailing as the Rolex Explorer, down to the bezels on the watch face. We also love the attention paid to how the branding on the watch face is done to reflect how Rolex would write the name of its watches too.
Davosa put a nice twist on their watch with a combination of stainless steel (shell) with ceramic (bezels) for a fine finish. All that speaks of the makings of a premium watch that will command some respect in any room that it gets into.
The hour hands are a matte-stained, easy-to-read black hue that is luminous enough for low light visibility. The high-end dive watch also comes with a self-winding mechanism and a scratchproof shell for durability.
For all the quality that Davos outs on this watch, they should have paid better attention to the bracelet. Of course, it is no slouch – but it could be better also. If they would ever make another iteration, they should also consider a push-button release for the clasp.
That said, it remains a great piece for yourself or as a gift to any classy men that you know.
2. Invicta Men’s 9403 Pro Diver Collection
- Stainless steel case 40mm diameter x 14mm thick; Exhibition case...
- NH35A Japanese Automatic movement, 24 jewel; Assembled in...
- Stainless steel band, 205mm L x 20mm W; Band is adjustable by...
- Mineral crystal; Screw-down crown; Unidirectional stainless steel...
Invicta is probably one of the brands that pay the best homages to Rolex watches while still retaining some originality. The best thing about Invicta watches is how they make these watches at competitive prices too. In short, they get you some of the best value for money on this list.
The first thing that stands out on this watch is the mixing and matching of red and black detailing. While that is stylish, we cannot but wonder if it would be aesthetically pleasing to most professionals.
If you are one of those people who would not like their watch to stand out too much, this one might not be the pick for you. Beyond that, though, it does every other thing right.
Like the Davosa pick above, this wristwatch also nods to both the Explorer and Explorer II. We have the thick bezel on the outside and a downward-facing triangle for the 12-hour mark also. Instead of using the 3-6-9 system, a series of dashes are used instead.
Watch hand movement is limited to the basic three – hours, minutes, and seconds. You don't get the dual time zone feature here, but you get compensation in the bold movement technology under the board.
We don’t suppose that this bothers a lot of people, but the watch movement is not silent when you put your ear to it. If you can live with that, Invicta did make something worthy of everyday use in this one.
3. Citizen Eco-Drive Promaster BN0150-28E
- LIGHT-POWERED ECO-DRIVE: Converts any light, whether natural or...
- WATER RESISTANT TO 200 M: This Citizen tactical watch is water...
- ANTI-REFLECTIVE MINERAL CRYSTAL: With a mineral crystal dial...
- FOR YOUR ACTIVE LIFESTYLE: This Citizen stainless steel...
- GUARANTEE & 5 YEAR WARRANTY: At Citizen, we stand by quality and...
Of all the watches on this list so far, this option from Citizen deviates the furthest from Rolex Explorer watches. Still, a closer look is enough to tell you where the inspiration from this timepiece came from.
Before we go too deep at all, forget this pick if you want something with a metallic bracelet. Here, Citizen chose to go the sporty way by choosing a plastic band instead. That does not make it any less beautiful, but it is worth considering, depending on what you like.
On first look, the bezels look great – and the markings even better. We later observed, though, that these markings were just painted on. With time, they tend to get scratched and fade away. We would have expected more from a watchmaker of Citizen’s standing.
With that out of the way, perhaps the best thing about this watch is its source of power. Converting any source of light (natural or otherwise) into energy, your watch can keep running forever. Citizen also promises that this is a great dive watch, getting a rating for as much as 200 meters underwater usage.
It doesn't end there either. With a promise of a 5-year warranty from the company, we believe they know they have built something to last. Of course, that will still be subject to user claims.
4. Invicta Men’s 8926OB Pro Diver Watch
- Stainless steel case 40mm diameter x 14mm thick, Exhibition case...
- Japanese 24 jewel automatic movement, NH35A Caliber, Assembled in...
- Stainless steel band, 210mm L x 20mm W, Band is adjustable by...
- Mineral crystal, Screw-down crown, Uni-directional black...
Invicta seems to be taking the crown in this Rolex lookalike game, and they are not slowing down either.
Like the others on this list, they kept almost the same design element. Sometimes, telling the difference between the different wristwatches from this manufacturer can be a chore on its own. An interesting chore, nonetheless.
The analog face features the famed Japanese automatic movement, a magnified date view on the watch face, and a unidirectional bezel. The stainless-steel bracelet is not Oystersteel, but it is not cheap either. Durability and functionality are expressed in the rating for a 200-meter water resistance level. Little wonder it features Pro Diver in its name.
Generally speaking, we are not at all pleased with the heavy Invicta badging and branding on this watch. We get that they are proud of their creation, but they could maybe tone it down a bit. Likewise, be on the lookout for the bezels so that they don’t start coming off just a few months into usage.
If you are looking for the exact Rolex quality, know that you will not find that on this list. What you will find, though, are seconds and thirds that prepare you for your first Rolex.
Truth be told, nothing can prepare you for the kind of class and acclaim that comes with an original Rolex. With the lookalikes on this list, though, you have an idea of what you can look forward to. Even then, the quality of the real thing will blow your mind away – every single time you wear it.
You can also check for other men's watches that we have reviewed and discussed here on UberWrists.