Rolex, the king of tool watches. Well, at least back then. Today they are more known for luxury and prestige, but not so long ago in the 20th century, people bought Rolexes as a tool for their various sports activities and expeditions.
You had the Submariner, perhaps the most famous, made for the sea, the GMT-Master, made for pilots and the air, Daytonas for racing and for everything else, the Explorer. While the Explorer was made as a rugged time-only tool watch, targeted for anybody with an active lifestyle, in 1971, Rolex released a more specialized Explorer, the Explorer II Ref. 1655. This release was targeted very specifically for ‘explorers on scientific expeditions, into caves, volcanoes, etc,’
The new Explorer II featured a bright orange hand, which got the ‘Freccione’ nickname from Italian collectors over time, and it was powered by the Cal. 1575 found on the GMT-Masters. It may look like the 1655 was just another GMT watch, but with its fixed bezel, the orange hand acts only as a 24-hour indicator. Seemingly not a very informative complication, it starts to make more sense when you find out that it was targeted towards explorers and scientists who spent prolonged periods in darkness, perhaps underground or in caves. After a while, it becomes hard to tell if it is night or day, and the bright orange hand suddenly seems like a very useful tool.
The 1655 was produced between 1971 and 1984 and as it was so specifically aimed at a certain group of people, it was not very popular. Not to mention, this was a very unusual Rolex in its styling, featuring alternating lume markers and a bright orange hand. Well, as collectors of today know, the Rolexes that were unpopular back then have become some of the most coveted pieces now, due to rarity from low production numbers. This Explorer II 1655 is no exception.
This specific example is quite special because of its unpolished case. Not only is it unpolished, but it features super thick bevels that seemed to be present in examples only from 1974/5. As you will be able to see, the bevelling on the lugs is way thicker than your usual vintage Rolexes and I do feel that this transforms the way the watch looks and feels on the wrist. The bezel is crisp and sharp and the patina is beautiful.
This is a fantastic watch to wear and I always get surprised looks from non-watch friends (yes, I classify my friends in a binary manner) when I tell them it is a Rolex. It is just such an unusual Rolex, far from the standard Sub or GMT. With its highly legible orange ‘Freccione’ hand and a deep matching patina on this example, this watch really stands out.