Rolex Explorer II Ads

There's an avalanche of "Polar" Explorer II advertisements. The white dial, whether the ever-popular Ref. 16570 or newer 6-digit variety, distinguishes the model and is arguably more-photogenic than the black. Unless we're talking the Ref. 1655... Produced until the mid-1980s, but nearly all ads show the first, "straight hand" version.

Rolex Explorer II Advertisements

The Explorer II was released around 1971 with the reference 1655. It was an original design with a fixed 24 hour bezel and a special hand with an orange pop of color. These two unique features helped the wearer keep track of the time of day in environments where conditions made it difficult to distinguish day from night (arctic exploration, spelunking, and more). In the mid-1980s the Explorer II was updated with the release of the reference 16550. The most notable new design language being the option of a white “Polar” dial. Since then, Rolex has continually refined the Explorer II, but has maintained the original design from the 1970s.

While the appearance of the Explorer II hasn’t changed much over the decades, print advertisements for it certainly have… You’ll find a few that are highly-photographic in nature, such as the beautiful black-and-white ad with fashion designer Adrienne Vittadini. There’s also the typical 1970s through 1990s format Rolex used, with thumbnail imagery and long form copy, detailing the adventures and accomplishments of professionals, which their Rolex was indispensable. Finally you have the modern ads, featuring the watch more prominently and sometimes having little to no copy.

As a proud owner of two Explorer IIs - a black “Swiss Only” dial reference 16570 and an original, reference 1655 - ads for the Explorer II are always extra-special to me.

Rolex Explorer II 1655

The first Explorer II, reference 1655, doesn’t seem to have been advertised in magazines until several years into its life. When this highly-specialized watch did finally appear in print ads, from the mid 1970s through early 1980s, the very-first version of the Explorer II, easily identifiable by its straight second hand, was almost always shown. Vintage Explorer II ads are a great example of a theme present in Rolex advertising - showing older production versions regardless of the year of the ad. Also, in the case with the black-and-white ad featuring popular Rolex ambassador Jean Claude Killy, a seemingly modified Explorer II with a “Mercedes” hour hand is actually shown. Overall, Explorer II ads in the model’s vintage era emphasize the watch’s ruggedness and toughness, with stories of the watch being worn while skiing, exploring volcanoes, and oddly, even associating it with championship football -which is still a rugged activity requiring toughness.

Rolex Explorer II Polar Dial

The vast majority of ads for the neo-vintage and modern Explorer II models show the Polar dial option. This is likely an intentional choice since the white dial version is more distinguishable than the black dial. Simply, there’s less of a chance a potential buyer flipping through a magazine will confuse a white dial Explorer II with something else in the Rolex collection. Also, the white dial may just be a more photogenic watch. In addition to it being a travel companion of brand ambassador and legendary mountaineer Ed Viesturs, it certainly looks good alongside the snow-capped mountain ranges and arctic tundra imagery often used as the backdrop in many Explorer II ads. From the earliest ads showing the reference 16550 with bolder, more square-shaped numerals engraved in the bezel to the ads showing arguably the most-popular Explorer II, the “Polar” dial reference 16570, there’s an avalanche of white dial Explorer II ads. Proof that the white dial variant is the poster child for the Explorer II comes with the release of the 6-digit Explorer II references 216750 and 226750. From this point, on all Explorer II ads show the Polar dial. I’ve never come across an ad showing a 6-digit Explorer II with a black dial.

Rolex Explorer II Black Dial

While advertisements showing the Explorer II with a black dial aren’t rare, there are very-few options available. In all my years hunting, I can confidently say that less than a dozen exist. As a proud owner of a black dial, “Swiss Only” variation from 1999, I’ve always got my eyes peeled for them. It would be amazing to find an ad showing my exact watch (but I’m not holding my breath). It seems once the white dial was introduced in the mid-1980s, Rolex showed the black dial sparingly in ads. In fact, the first ad to show a black dial 5-digit model didn't appear in magazines until a few years into the ‘90s. Again, between that timeframe and the early 2000s, I’d estimate less than ten ads were published showing a black dial Explorer II. When the 6-digit reference 216570 was introduced, it seems Explorer II ads showing a black dial version stopped forever. I’ve never seen an ad showing a reference 216570, or the latest 226570, with a black dial. Similar to the ads showing the Polar dial counterpart, many of the black dial Explorer II ads feature arctic and mountain climbing expeditions. The exception being one outlier, showing perhaps the greatest Rolex brand ambassador, General Chuck Yeager.