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Rolex - What is Explorer the name of?

Rolex What is Explorer the name of?

It’s always very difficult to write about Rolex.

It’s like everything has already been said or written about this legendary brand and trying to add a new perspective is a challenge that is as difficult as reaching the summit of Everest or diving to the bottom of the Mariana Trench. 

But what is interesting about Rolex is that its name is as famous as its watches. All watch brands have a name, but Rolex has a special place in the watchmaking lexicon for a very particular reason: the name is completely made up. 

Most watch brands have the names of their creators. Some chose another option, either by associating themselves with a symbol that defined them or by modifying an existing word. But none of them ever took things as far as inventing a name. And this is precisely what Hans Wilsdorf did in 1905 by playing with letters before coming across Rolex almost by accident.

So even though the brand is one of the best known in the world today, its name means… nothing. And this is just one example of the genius of Hans Wilsdorf, who also invented watch marketing, or indeed marketing in general. 

The magic of writing and sounds means that we can see and hear a lot of things in Rolex and the names used for its models. 

This is why I have decided to write about the Explorer.

The couple that it forms with Rolex is a fine example of originality, implicit meaning and marketing!

Rolex Explorer I

Rolex Explorer I © Rolex

Explorer, yes, but what?

When exploring words, we often start on the Internet. Since Google is our friend, we type in “Explorer” and see what the virtual world reveals to us. And you know what, for Google, Explorer is above all… Internet Explorer. What a great example of humility for watch fans and Rolex lovers. No, the Explorer is not a watch. It is a browser. But it’s also a satellite, a guitar and a ship – all equally original in their particular fields and all pioneers. 

Now we are past this first observation, let’s try to find out more…

Explorer or Alpinist?

Of course we all know what Explorer means. When Rolex decided to give a name to one of its legendary Oyster Perpetual models, it was to celebrate the achievements of the mountaineers who had conquered Everest in 1953, Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay.

But neither of them wore an Explorer. They both had Rolex Oyster models for testing. 

But they were not alone. In fact, Rolex had already given 13 watches to British mountaineers, some of whom came close to reaching the summit of Everest before Hillary and Norgay. The Explorer was only born after the achievement of this group of mountaineers and was launched the same year to celebrate this achievement. 

So 1953 is the official year of birth of these Explorers but also that of the legendary Submariner. 

Rolex could have opted for a more targeted name, like Alpinist(e), but decided on a more widespread term that was more adapted to the times. It is interesting to note that the name Alpinist was nevertheless used later by Seiko for a watch launched in 1961 that would become almost as famous as our Rolex. 

So now we know a little bit more about the name, why is the Explorer the most famous name ever used by Rolex, even more so than the Submariner, Daytona or even the GMT Master?

Rolex Explorer II with white dial

Rolex Explorer II with white dial © Rolex

An easy name 

The name Explorer is a more accessible word than Submariner – or GMT Master. It resonates with more people and can be expanded in many ways. The Submariner exudes expertise, but the Explorer is about travel. The Submariner is a technician, the Explorer a traveller. 

Although a number of Rolex watches have introduced technological innovations, the Explorer is different. It appeals because of its simplicity, but also because of what it evokes. It takes us into the brand’s history. 

A trip to Italy?

Look at the dial that made it famous: black with three numerals 3 – 6 -9. Does that ring any bells? 

3 – 6 – 9 -12 is of course the signature of Panerai dials. So we can easily imagine this Explorer taking us back to the same period as the first watches from the Florentine brand, whose movements were supplied by Rolex! So the Explorer is also a trip through the brand’s history. And the link is made even stronger by the fact that the Panerai watches from 1936 were also explorers, secret and destined for adventurers. 

But something is missing: the 12. Is this a simple stylistic choice? Maybe. The 1959 Explorer was 36mm in diameter, much smaller than the huge Panerai. But maybe there is another reason. 

A lucky charm?

In numerology, 12 is not a good number, because it signifies a “blockage” and describes the attribute of not being active, or even lazy. You will agree that this is not good on a watch that is aimed at adventurers who want to move things forward. 

In removing the 12 from this famous dial, did the design teams at Rolex want to make this Explorer into a kind of lucky charm? Only they could know, but it would have made a great story...

Rolex Explorer II with black dial

Rolex Explorer II with black dial © Rolex

Double reading?

Another unique characteristic of the Explorer name is that it reads just as well in French as in English, although it doesn’t mean exactly the same thing. For English speakers, it is a person; for French speakers an action. As an aside, there are very few watches whose name is both a noun and a verb. Rolex’s choice helped it to position itself as a global brand on all continents.

So Explorer is a great “marketing” name. It’s easy, global, simple and replete with positive imagery. It talks about people and action and perfectly sums up what this watch is about. A solid, simple and easy to maintain watch that is nonetheless easily identifiable.  

Since we are talking about marketing and names, there is one final important thing to note about the Rolex Explorer. 

Rolex Explorer …. 

Can you see it?

Rolex Explorer. 

Can you hear it?

Sometimes, the magic of a name is hidden in plain sight. The word Explorer is the only model name that contains the letters of the brand that created it. Within the Explorer there is Rolex. And when you pronounce “Rolex Explorer”, you naturally associate the two words and they become “Rolexplorer”. 

That is why I said at the start of this etymological journey that the Explorer is the most Rolex of all the Rolexes. 

Because it contains so much that has contributed to the glory of the brand with the crown that it even took possession of its name.


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