July 2, 2006

This is why I don’t want a Rolex.

Behold, the famous Rolex Explorer I:


(Image swiped from review by Walt Odets, click on image to go there)

If you click the image and read the review, you find comments like this:

For a watch that it is in some ways about its steel bracelet, it is remarkable that this bracelet looks so much like an after-thought. The beautiful case shape and lugs–which were clearly originally designed for use with a strap–are visually almost completely destroyed by the bracelet. Furthermore, the bracelet is not only unintegrated with the watch aesthetically, but physically as well. It is attached to the lugs with standard springs bars (as if it were a strap), and an insert” is placed between bracelet and case to fill the space between the two. The insert hangs on the spring bar; two awkward (and exposed) tabs behind the lugs stabilize it. Despite the insert having a single purpose–to fill the space between the lugs–it does so very crudely, following neither the contour of the case, nor the lugs. The design and fit is as awkward and unattractive as anything I recall seeing on a production watch. The clasp for the bracelet is comprised of stamped steel pieces that feel cheap, and seem obviously inappropriate in a watch of this cost.

Ouch. (This is a $2500 watch!) He goes on to finish with:

Clearly, the Oyster Perpetual Explorer is not a watch that I could recommend. The cost-efficient engineering of the movement is not remotely reflected in its price; and the extreme ease of service is not reflected in routine service costs provided by the manufacturer. The watch represents an extremely poor value if purchased solely to provide accurate and reliable timekeeping. And it is of no horological interest whatsoever. The contrast between the relatively good external appearance of the watch and the internal appearance is absolutely unparalled in my experience. I cannot think of another consumer product in which the gulf between the publicly perceived quality and the reality I saw is as broad as with the Explorer.

However, the face and hands are well done:

The black enameled dial of the Explorer is elaborated with a painted white minute track, white gold bar markets filled with tritium, and white gold Arabic numerals at three, six, and nine. The tritium-filled hands are also made in white gold.Dial close up To my tastes, the markers and hands are oversized and give the dial a cramped and busy appearance. The flat, uncoated sapphire also causes strong reflections that add to the difficulty in easily reading the time. Taste aside, the dial and hands are detailed, extremely well made, and immaculately finished. I would imagine that, together, they represent a significant portion of the manufacturing costs of this watch.

So it looks good, is poorly made, costs too much but keeps good time. In a nutshell, that’s pretty much my impression of Rolex, and is why I like brands with better value. And workmanship.

As an alternative (one of many), consider the Sandoz copy of the Explorer:

Sandoz versionSandoz version

(Image swiped from geekhideout, link goes to their review.)

Sapphire crystal, good lume, same exact style, decent bracelet, a high-quality ETA 2824 movement to boot. It’ll keep good time, last for years, and at $130 is rather a better deal.

Oddly, there are multiple companies called Sandoz - Hong Kong, Singapore and Swiss. There’s a comparison in the Links section below. Looks like the Singapore version is the highest quality, though it costs a bit more.

More information

The Odets review is, of course, controversial. There are many legions of Rolex fans, and it’s not clear if the Explorer is the cheap child of the family. Check out Timezones forums for endless arguments.

Reto Castellazi sells the Explorer (HK) here, and also has a good comparison of HK versus Singapore here. Oh yeah, he sells Sandoz Singapore as well, though they don’t have the Explorer I.

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