Rolex Explorer II

Rolex Explorer II

“It was very much an Indiana Jones kind of life.”

So said Barbara MacLeod of her time spent in Belize, exploring and mapping caves in the country’s jungles, which would lead to the discovery of ancient Mayan burials that had lain hidden for thousands of years.

MacLeod was always fascinated with caving. At thirteen, she explored the caves along the rivers where she fished with her father in the Ozark Mountains. During a hiking trip in the Pacific Northwest, she was so “overwhelmed by the beauty” of the region that she remained in Seattle for a decade.

It was there that she became acquainted with friends who were active cavers. One of them had connections to the caving community in Belize, and so MacLeod would make her first trip to that country in the summer of 1970. She spent three months exploring caves which she was thrilled to find were “full of Maya artifacts”—shards of ancient pots.

Later, she would find herself in Belize again as a volunteer in the Peace Corps. Her job as a cave explorer for the government’s Department of Archaeology led her into caves that no one had explored for over a thousand years. The caves were long, with “miles of river passage,” and close calls with “loose rocks” and the ever-present risk of drowning.

And all throughout these caves were artifacts, large earthen vessels placed beneath dripping stalactites, which over time had dried up and were filled with calcite. MacLeod also discovered bodies of sacrificial victims. There was evidence enough in those caves—needles made of bone, blades of obsidian, as well as stingray spines—to support the theory that sacrifices were conducted there, perhaps as a kind of communion with the underworld, which the Mayans called Xbalba.

In one cave MacLeod explored, now called the Petroglyph Cave, she found drawings and symbols on the walls dating to 900 A.D. that she theorized had some kind of ritualistic purpose. Inspired by the discovery, MacLeod sought to learn all she could about ancient Mayan writing. The study was in its infancy then, but MacLeod’s work in “cracking the code”—that is, deciphering the hieroglyphics and correlating them to modern languages, much in the way Jean-François Champollion did with the Rosetta Stone—led to a greater understanding of ancient Mayan writing and grammar.

While we don’t know what watch MacLeod wore on her wrist during her expeditions, the Rolex Explorer II (Reference 1655)—which debuted in 1971, the year after her first trip to Belize—would have proven indispensable. Though its predecessor, the Explorer I, traces its lineage to mountaineering, the Explorer II had at its heart the needs of speleologists like MacLeod. While mountaineers like Hillary and Norgay would be exposed to blinding sunlight on the peaks of Everest, cavers like MacLeod would need a watch with bright lume and a fixed bezel.

Unlike its predecessor, the Explorer II utilized a larger Oyster Case design closer in proportion to the sports models already offered, such as the Submariner and GMT. In fact, the Explorer II is a GMT in all but name, but instead of the GMT’s trademark two-tone “Pepsi” bezel, the case of the Explorer II was adorned with a fixed 24-hour bezel in uniform steel. That and the large orange 24-hour hand gives the Reference 1655 a distinctive look that’s entirely unlike anything else ever made by the Crown.

This particular example dates from the early 1980s, just before Rolex would refurbish the model with the round luminous hour plots that it’s known for today. The watch has a “Mark V” dial and a “Mark IV” bezel, and the case has recently been expertly refinished. Whether spelunking or stock-broking, whether deciphering Mayan hieroglyphs or just reading the Sunday Times, this Explorer II is the perfect companion for daily wear.


SKU: AS02090

Stainless steel Oyster case is approximately 40mm (excluding crown). Rolex Explorer II Ref. 1655. Rolex Calibre 1575 Self-Winding Movement. Circa 1980s.

Overall Condition: Stainless steel case is in very good condition, having been professionally refinished. Dial is in very good condition, showing some signs of age. Luminescent elements of the hour plots and hands have gained a fine even patina over time. Rolex crown. Rolex case back has some signs of wear but is in otherwise very good condition.

Includes one 20mm Rolex Oyster 78360 bracelet with 590 end links. Bracelet is in very good condition, showing minor signs of wear.

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