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Rolex Explorer II Ref 1655-The Vintage watch For Your Vacation

Front of Rolex Explorer II Ref 1655

As the summer is coming, many people choose to have a long trip for their holiday. When a watch guy has multiple watches, it’s common that those watches fill different roles. There is usually something dressier and more fragile, a beater and maybe something vintage.Rolex Explorer II Ref 1655 hands onThe problems are myriad when it comes to choosing one GADA watch. Vintage watches don’t do well in the water, ditto dress watches. Also, you don’t exactly want to be bouncing your Patek Philippe along the via ferrata (unless your name happens to be Bobby Español). The easy answer, of course, is to strap on a Seiko or a G-shock and not give it a second thought. Full disclosure: I did bring a Seiko SKX-009 with me on this trip. This workhorse beast got tagged into the ring to handle the hot springs in Rotorua (an area known for its volcanic activity, geysers and mineral baths), and the kayaking on Lake Taupo, which was created by the largest volcanic eruption in the last 70,000 years. I also strapped the Seiko on once to time a jog along Lake Te Anau in the far Southland. Te Anau is the jumping off point for trips to the Milford Sound. New Zealand is a wonderland of glacial activity and the stunning Milford sound might be most pronounced visual example of glacial valley making. Unfortunately, my beautiful wife had to miss out on the trip through the sound to take care of our seven month old, so let’s keep that part of it between us. I told her it was crap.

So, aside from those three instances, I wore the Explorer II Ref 1655 and I wasn’t squeamish about putting a 40-year-old watch through the ringer. It accompanied me on epic trips through Hobbiton, the now permanent set from The Lord of the Rings/Hobbit films, and through grueling tastings in the wineries of Central Otago. Along the way, it also accompanied me off the side of a cliff whilst paragliding outside Wanaka, off-roading in Queenstown, and in a helicopter to the top of Aoraki Mt. Cook and the Fox Glacier. Ironically enough, I actually also got to take the watch on a little excursion spelunking. As I’m sure many of you already know the 1655 was originally designed by Rolex as a watch to be worn by cave explorers with the fixed 24hr bezel and 24hr hand acting as a day-night indicator during extended cave explorations. As a complication, it’s pretty much useless if you are not in a cave. By the way, I should really qualify that spelunking claim, it was more of a walk through a well-lit wheel chair accessible cave, and we were accompanied by a group of Australian pensioners. Nonetheless, I took my 1655 in a cave.
Rolex Explorer II Ref 1655 hands on 02Let’s talk a little bit about the positives and negatives of wearing a vintage Rolex on a trip halfway around the world. As with most vintage watches that aren’t new old stock (rare), or those which have been polished, re-cut and then sold as NOS/unpolished (much more common), this 1655 has some wear to it. That worn/moderately scratched up state actually has quite a benefit when traveling the world, in that I’m not gun-shy about putting additional scratches on the watch. If it catches a ding on a door frame or a luggage cart, I’d never know the difference. Additionally, a well worn matte dialed Rolex attracts FAR less attention that its modern brethren. Sure, thieves are probably looking out for the hallmark Oyster bracelets, but swap out PCLs for a worn matte-finished Oyster bracelet and it’s a lot less conspicuous. What surprised me most was how well the watch kept time — not I’m not all puckered up about my watch keeping or loosing X number of seconds per day or COSC standards or anything like that. To me, if the watch tells the same time as my iPhone, we’re good. And boy howdy were we ever good. Over the course of 2 weeks I adjusted the watch twice outside of setting the different time zones. Consider that this is a 40-year-old watch, which for all I know has never been serviced. I was impressed with how well it kept time.

The watch was rugged as hell, flew under the radar, and kept good time. What more can you ask? Well, how a watch wears is a big piece of the puzzle when considering a single watch for a long trip. The SKX, for example, is a beast on my gracile wrists. I certainly would not want to strap that on everyday for two weeks straight, at least not on a NATO, which due to the quirks of sizing is always one hole too tight or too loose. No such issue with the Oyster. The case on this late ’70s 1655 falls somewhere between a 1675 and a 5513 as far as size and thickness, hitting something of a sweet spot for vintage Rolex.Side of Rolex Explorer II Ref 1655 What about the negatives you ask? Well, the big one is clearly water resistance. As I’m sure you know, only the bravest/stupidest of souls dares submerge their vintage watches. This is due to the fact that most of these pieces are not pressure checked regularly and sport seals and gaskets that are likely more desiccated than Tutankhamen. So yea, like Gizmo, you can’t get ’em wet. If you’re spending a week in Cancun, this isn’t the watch for you (and you have bad taste in vacation spots). So, the easy fix is to pack a waterproof back up. Another consideration that might cross your mind when getting physical with a vintage Rolex is delicacy. Now, I don’t think you could really do too much damage to these watches considering the specifications to which they were originally created, but it’s not a bridge too far to imagine knocking the lume out of your handset which would be a royal PITA. Missing lume is a pet peeve of mine and can be costly to fix/replace. Lastly, I should mention that the funky ’70s era dial on the 1655 is not the easiest dial in the world to read, what with all the hashmarks and lume plots, but I did get used to it and it’s not really that big of an impediment.

The true test of any “X amount of time on the wrist” type articles is how eagerly you want to get said watch off your wrist, and I could go on wearing this Explorer II happily with out a break. Sure, there are a few draw backs to traveling the world with a vintage watch, but they are minor. The funky dial, the pop of orange, and the Rolex DNA combine to make this iteration of the 1655 a winner. But, you didn’t really need me to tell you that, did you?