By opening a new exclusive exhibition on the history of the Explorer (I & II) timepieces at Le Bon Marché Rive Gauche until August 14th, Rolex is looking back on the icons of its past. From the get go, Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Rolex, understood something fundamental: if he wanted to prove that his watches could resist to extreme conditions, then he had to confront them with these exact conditions. The legend of Rolex was born in 1926: that year, Wilsdorf asked Mercedes Gleitz, who was about to swim across the English Channel, to wear his newly patented watch to prove it was completely waterproof. Gleitz accepted, and this achievement sealed the reputation of Rolex watches forever. At the start of the 1950s, while diving watches had been adopted by the military, the most audacious adventurers all dreamt of conquering Mount Everest. Rolex decided to provide them with a new prototype. Contrary to popular belief, it was not the Explorer, but the 6098 model. It is in fact after the Mount Everest expeditions that Rolex would launch the Explorer (under the reference 6298). Yes, Sir Edmund Hillary and Tensing Norgay did wear a Rolex watch while making history, just not quite the one everyone thinks – but its predecessor.
What made the Explorer I’s success at the time? Readability and sturdiness. Why create a second version, then? The reason is the following: At the beginning of the 1970s, the booming aeronautical industry made it necessary to create a watch that could show a second time zone. At this occasion, the Explorer was completely redesigned: a bezel now calibrated to show 24 hours, a protected crown, a ‘lollipop’ minute hand, a date stamp… The Explorer II seemed to be sharing only a name with its cousin. Adopted by a handful of athletes – among which Jean-Claude Killy, who would promote it, the nicknamed ‘Explo II’ was surprisingly attributed to Steve McQueen even though the actor never wore it. Both of the model would be soon improved to become the legends they are today. Documented by a rich photography archive, this exhibition gives the occasion to (re)discover these iconic timepieces and reminds us that you’re never far from a great adventure.