Rolex Explorer II 'Steve McQueen'

Rolex Explorer II 'Steve McQueen'

Why We Love It

Let's clear one thing up right from the start: To the best of anyone's knowledge, Steve McQueen neither owned or publicly wore this model Rolex Explorer!

Due to an identification snafu in the early days of the internet, the Rolex Explorer Reference 1655 has been incorrectly associated with the actor, racer, and all-around legend for nearly two decades. We know he wore a Submariner, and we also know of his fondness for Heuer (not just the Monaco) and Hanhart. But there is no evidence to suggest the King Of Cool ever had anything to do with the 1655.

Which is a shame really, because the 1655 is one of the absolute coolest - and least understood - model in Rolex's vintage catalog.

Taking its movement architecture from a Reference 1675 GMT-Master, the 1655 features a fixed 24-hour bezel and an entirely unique dial and handset configuration with its iconic 'Orange Hand' second timezone indicator. So it wears like a Submariner, works like a GMT-Master, and has a look all its own!

This particular example dates to circa 1979 and features a strong 'holey-lug' case, an excellent crisp matte black Mark V dial devoid of the all-too-common edge wear, a matching handset, a correct Mark III stainless steel 24hr bezel assembly, and a solid link Oyster bracelet with a blade clasp.

As the Reference 1655 is one of the least understood vintage Rolex models, its right be wary of them - lots of examples have been 'Frankensteined', over-restored, poorly refinished, or worse... Authentic and correct examples such as this don't appear often - and this one remains in excellent condition throughout.

The King Of Cool abides!

The Explorer II Story

The Rolex Explorer II has never been accused of being staid, wimpy or dainty.  

Worn by scientists and (you guessed it!) explorers into some of the more inhospitable regions on the planet, the Rolex Explorer II was from its birth designed to buck the presumptions of what a wristwatch could bear.  

Rolex has long been the watch of exploration and early on, Rolex technicians subjected their timepieces to the worst Mother Nature could conjure; whether traversing the English Channel, breaking land-speed records or climbing Mount Everest, there's a good chance Rolex was involved.

The Explorer line traces its origins to the famous mountain and Sir Edmund Hillary's successful ascension of it in 1953, but numerous historic moments were marked by the presence of the Explorer and its descendent, the Explorer II. Ed Viesturs, the only American to climb all 14 of the globe's eight-thousander peaks (and the fifth person to ever do so without supplemental oxygen); Jean Troillet, the Swiss/Canadian who set the speed record for climbing the Matterhorn (at 21-years-old nonetheless) and was the first person to snowboard down Everest; and Alain Hubert, world-renowned Polar explorer who achieved a world-record cross of the Antarctic continent, all proudly wore the Rolex Explorer II on their expeditions. 

The Explorer II is definitely a timepiece for the man who craves something a little different from his sport model Rolex. Released in 1971 as a follow up to the original Explorer made famous by mountaineers in the 1950s, the Explorer II utilized a larger Oyster case design more in line with the sports models already offered (the Submariner and GMT-Master). Featuring a four-hand display with a large and distinctive 24-hour pointer hand, the Explorer II was essentially a GMT-Master with one notable difference: a fixed steel bezel was installed in place of the characteristic two-tone from the aviator's model.

The reason for this fixed bezel was the target demographic: speleologists, or subterranean explorers. This hearty breed of mankind spends days on end underneath the surface of the earth and without seeing the sky, and are prone to losing track of daytime hours. The 24-hour hand would point to the appropriate place on the fixed 24-Hour bezel indicating whether it was AM or PM.

While the original Explorer was designed to go into the clouds, the Explorer II was designed to descend into darkness.


SKU: AS05487

Stainless steel Oyster case is approximately 39mm (excluding the crown). Automatic-winding movement by Rolex. Rolex Reference 1655. Circa 1979.

Overall Condition: The case is in excellent condition showing light professional polishing and light wear from age and use. Luminous matte black Mark V Tritium dial is in superb condition with even patination to Tritium elements and matching handset. Signed crown. Fixed stainless steel Mark III bezel is in excellent condition.

Includes solid link stainless steel Oyster bracelet (78360/580) with signed Fliplock clasp stamped ‘VE’ dating to circa 1980.

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