My Rolex Explorer is peerless. It does it all without ever letting me know it is there. When I do see it, no one knows the time more than I do.
By Saad Choudry
How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives, wrote Anne Dillard. I have been wearing a Rolex Explorer on my wrist for the past year. It is the kind of watch you forget is there after a while. That’s why I haven’t taken it off since I got it. It becomes part of the furniture of your life.
My days are quite unremarkable and, admittedly, my life is too. The Explorer, however, has a bi-modal persona that suits me rather well. It disappears when I do not need to know the time. When I do need to read the time, the Explorer presents it with uncompromising sangfroid. That is perfect for how I live my life. This personality was certainly deliberately crafted, but not with my life in mind.
It started by Rolex answering the call of the unknown. From the 1930s, Rolex began equipping numerous mountaineering expeditions with Oyster watches. The feedback from these intrepid expeditions was used to create the Professional category of watches that served as tools for time telling and nothing more.
Rolex watches have taken part in some of humanity’s greatest adventures since, with one notable example being the 1953 conquest of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Rolex used information gained from this expedition and combined feedback from other climbers to launch the first Explorer watch in the same year.
Later, the model’s performance was enhanced with a reinforced case and more legible dial. Over the years the watch has more or less retained its distinct looks, but has been endowed with much of the technical progress Rolex has made to date. To quietly evolve, yet seemingly stay the same is no mean feat.
Ten years on since its last major redesign, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer enters this new decade looking fresh as ever. The recipe makes one wonder sometimes why there are other watches in the first place.
It all starts with a corrosion-and-water-resistant stamped stainless steel case. The 39mm size suits modern tastes and isn’t unbecoming for a three-hand tool watch. The lugs are long and slim, meandering around the case to seat the watch flat and low on the wrist. The bezel is also flat and low, mimicking the stance it allows the watch to achieve when worn. This is no disco volante. This is stealth.
The bracelet is sturdy but soft at the same time, never feeling intrusive or meddlesome, as the clasp with its double locking feature secures a comfortable fit. Once it’s on, it’s not going anywhere. And it will hardly ever be there because as it hunkers down, its mirror-polished case band and lug profile reflects the surface of your arm while the polished bezel reflects the world around you, your entire existence and place in the universe appearing infinitely cast into its metallic soul. You see yourself in your watch. You also see a fine level of workmanship unusual for this type of watch.
Originally a tool, the finish of the case and bracelet is of very high quality but it is the muted grace with which it has been applied that really impresses. It is not ceremonious. The brushing on the case and especially the bracelet is linear, consistently sharp, and luxuriously soft – of generously high standard and very silky to touch.
Rolex has always made great watches, but the fit and finish today makes them better than they have ever been. The standards remain high throughout the construction of the watch. The Twin Lock screw-down crown and its handling is so expertly weighted that operating it might as well be telepathic. There is a feeling of assurance in the well-defined sharp knurling of its toothed circumference.
The Explorer’s 100-meter-water-resistant caseback, also screwed-down, has a straight brushing that soothes like poetry upon feeling it against my hairy wrist every morning. The sapphire crystal is flat, and thankfully devoid of anti-reflective coating because when viewed right it lets you admire a dial that has few equals.
The handset may look familiar, but it is unique to the Explorer. The dial below it is also unique. The applied white gold triangle at 12 o’clock is designed so that its vertex angles will allow the legs to correspond with the points where the middle end link meets the bezel’s peripheral edge. As if that wasn’t erudite enough, the lollipop on the seconds hand kisses the tip of the triangle tangentially with every revolution. It is a joy to watch it happen.
The 3, 6, and 9 hour marker array that the Explorer is known for is handsomely proportioned and crafted with immense deftness out of white gold, as are the remaining applied baton hour indices. All three hands and all the hour markers are generously filled with Chromalight, a proprietary luminescent material that glows a soft aquamarine that isn’t brighter than its competition, but lasts longer.
The cruciformly symmetrical dial has a very subtle granularity to it, its matte varnish contrasting perfectly with a crisp white printed minutes track surrounding it. Held together by the ROLEXROLEXROLEX rehaut, it is a fantastic way to tell the time. And it is the way it tells the time that makes the Explorer special.
Its unadorned opulence speaks to the nuanced craft that Rolex has perfected over the years. There is no pageantry about the way the 31-jewel Caliber 3132 crunches out time all day long. It works as advertised – no fuss, no problem – with the Parachrom hairspring rendering magnetic influences from modern life powerless and the Paraflex shock absorber ensuring that it keeps ticking, even when you’re slip slidin’ away.
Failing to fall outside its chronometer mandate, it provides a consistent 4 Hz companionship that an insurance commercial wouldn’t even dare. To keep matters simple, the only complication is a sweep seconds. Contrary to contemporary trends, this brutal simplicity might make it the thinking man’s sports watch of choice. There is nothing to see but a well-made legible watch with accurate timekeeping that offers the comfort of a versatile package. If brevity is the soul of wit, the proverbial Explorer is its embodiment. In my opinion, it is all the better for it.
Once the bracelet is sized and the watch is worn, its ergonomics are immediately apparent and you go about your day never noticing it is there. The center of gravity of the watch lies somewhere inside the wrist, I’d wager right in the middle, which makes it a model of excellent balance made possible by the robust and well-finished double folding clasp. This balanced design brings equilibrium to wearing, reading, using, and ultimately living with the watch. That makes it fit right in to my life.
For my needs and for my tastes, my Rolex Explorer is peerless and it does it all without ever letting me know it is there. When I do see it, though, there isn’t a guy around for miles who knows what time it is more than I do.
The Rolex Explorer is a 39mm stainless steel watch with black dial, luminous hands and markers, and is powered by a self-winding movement with a 48-hour power reserve. It has been hanging out with me unwaveringly through every unremarkable day for the past year. I get the feeling, however, that this relationship has only just begun.
Saad Chaudhry lives in Munich and enjoys shifting gears in his sports car.
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