Sunday Morning Showdown: GMT Wars — Rolex Vs Grand Seiko The Rolex Explorer II 216570 takes on the Grand Seiko SBGN005. Which one gets your vote? by Rob Nudds May 17, 2020 MIN READSunday Morning Showdown: GMT Wars — Rolex Vs Grand Seiko
In this Sunday morning column, two of our writers go head-to-head in an epic showdown for the ages. Strong opinions and hysterical hyperbole are welcome (so feel free to join in with the fun in the comments section below). And don’t forget to let us know which watches you’d like to see torn to shreds/effusively exalted next week. We’ll try and feature as many of our readers’ choices as we can. This week, we’ve got another head-to-head for you. The focus? Rugged GMT watches from Rolex and Grand Seiko.
I love this column. Why? Because here, opinions run free. There is no diplomacy. Just full-blooded passion. Oftentimes, we pit writers with polarized opinions against one another. But not this week. This week, we’re heading for another love-in as Ben and I express our admiration for a pair of GMT watches from two of the Fratelli’s favorite brands, Rolex and Grand Seiko.
Last week, you, our dear readers, blessed us with over 1,300 votes. Jorg and I had been debating the merits and demerits of the Rolex Sea-Dweller Deep Sea. It was a see-saw battle, to begin with. But, in the end, the pro faction pulled away for a solid victory. The score? A flattering 66/34 swing in my favor. And it’s about time too. In three clashes, that’s the first time I’ve managed to best Jorg “the Weppen” Weppelink. Hopefully, I can continue my “streak” this week…
The Rolex Explorer II is, I feel, about as “under-the-radar” as a modern Rolex professional watch can be. This is just my personal feeling, but I swear to goodness that ten, fifteen years ago, the Rolex Explorer II was the watch to have. I used to see them everywhere. My eyeballs were sick of the sight. And now? Now, I never hear anyone talk about it as a first choice. Funny, then, that my love for it is finally significant enough for me to stand atop the Rolex mountain and proclaim this model as the choice for 2020.
You’re more likely to find one available for sale than you are a Submariner or a GMT Master II.
Okay, it’s still hard to find these in the wild. It’s not like you can walk into every authorized dealer in the world and pick one of these babies up there and then. But you have a chance. You’re more likely to find one available for sale than you are a Submariner or a GMT Master II. And what really hits me hard about the Rolex Explorer II (which is, let’s not forget, also a GMT) is the price.
Seriously. Prices for Rolexes have climbed steadily over the past few years. For a couple of seasons, Rolex impressed dealers by freezing its prices. But those days are gone. Prices that, for a short while seemed eminently reasonable, are now creeping up to where the demand demands them to be. That’s really annoying for someone who’s been dragging their feet when it comes to buying into the brand, only to find the Sub they’d had their eye on for a few years is now out of reach or, at the very least, more than they might want to pay for a basic model.
Let’s have a look at the pricing of the Sub, the GMT Master II, and the Explorer II for comparison. The Submariner Reference 116610LN (the black dial/bezel with a date) is €8,350. The no-date Sub (114060) is €7,350. Unsurprisingly, the GMT Master II 126710BLRO (which is effectively a dateless sub with a GMT complication on a jubilee) retails at €9,000.
…a sterling piece of kit for small change…
I don’t find any of those prices particularly crazy in the current climate, but the Rolex Explorer II Reference 216570 (my preference) is sitting there at €7,750. Yes, it’s only €500 less than the 116610LN, but it has that GMT complication, which, with a paltry €400 premium over the no-date Sub seems like a sterling piece of kit for small change (in Rolexworld where regular perceptions of money do not apply).
Ben’s about to pitch a fine-looking thing to you. I like it also. I think it is good value for what it is. Well, what I mean by that is that I think it’s a good value because of which brand its made by. But there’s nothing about that watch’s interior that sets my heart aflutter. And, more to the point, I wouldn’t spend three grand on it when I could put that money towards this one.
You’re right in that ten, fifteen years ago, the Explorer II was a hotcake. Ref. 16570 was the last true tool watch from Rolex. But, everything since the Yacht-Master, really, became Rolex’s interpretation of a tool watch, not one for any kind of active duty. There is a reason your memory fades on the latest 216570 Explorer II, though. Rolex decided to blow up the proportions to 42mm and make the hands as fat as a snowboard.
The black paint nearest the centre pinion on the hands, especially on the black dial Explorer II, give the appearance the hands float above the dial.
While I do like the “magic” floating hands on the black dial above, that orange GMT hand is such an eyesore. It made sense in the original 1655 Explorer II from 1971. But the Explorer II design evolved since then and the return of the orange hand wasn’t exactly harmonious. It’s like James Cameron inserting stop motion animation in the next Avatar film. A fun throwback but a massive distraction. This is why the enthusiasts did not gravitate towards the latest Explorer II.
Now if we are talking about a watch that pays homage to adventure watches of a time past, we have to chat Grand Seiko. The SBGN series was a major breakthrough for Grand Seiko and their venerable 9F quartz movement. You’ve already said the quartz movement leaves you cold like a stranded mountain climber. Well, prepare to get your blood pumping and heart racing with some stats.
The 9F86 movement is the first in the range of hyper reliable 9F quartz movements to feature the GMT complication. The 9F movement has been around for over 25 years and only recently were they able to achieve a GMT function. Sure, they could’ve stuck another gear in, adjusted to 24-hours, call it early and head to the nearest sake bar. But this is Grand Seiko. Nothing but the most accurate, usable, and reliable solution would suffice. The task was to have an independently adjustable hour hand for world travelers, while the seconds hand keeps on ticking.
On top of that was the 9F’s intrinsic instant date change. As the hour hand shifts over midnight, so must the date change to match the new location. A brutal challenge. The answer lies in a tiny component called a jumper. The small and intricate shape had to maintain strength and precision to perform perfectly on each adjustment. Those are two elements really sum up the ticking heart of the 9F movement. Even the hands are weighted to cope with the additional torque. And a backlash system ensures the seconds hand lands dead-on each marker without a shudder.
It may be more expensive than the typical quartz watch, but when it comes ingenuity in the pursuit of accuracy, its more than worth it. Any Explorer would appreciate the fine balance of innovative usability. But which one has the heart of the Fratelli? Vote now to decide.
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About the author
Rob’s first exposure to the watch industry was a part-time retail role for the Signet Group at the age of 17. An obsession with watches soon developed. Following an ill-advised BSc in Archaeological Science, he applied for sponsorship to undertake… read more
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