THE ROLEX EXPLORER

REF. 14270

PART TWO

(CONTINUED FROM PART ONE)

by Walt Odets

ISSUES OF QUALITY

Case back, insideThe timer performance of this caliber 3000 is noteworthy not only for the excellent figures but for the fact that such figures are possible from a movement in the poor condition that this movement was in. The caliber 3000 is obviously engineered for minimum parts count, easy assembly, and economy of manufacture and service. It is an extremely simple movement by design and I imagine that it could be produced in a workman-like way at a cost equal to or below that of some of the most inexpensive automatic movements in current production. As the simplicity of the movement also makes--or ought to make--some contribution to reliability and reduced routine service costs, there is certainly nothing wrong with such a design in an appropriately priced wristwatch. The price of this watch--and the Rolex reputation-- left me entirely unprepared for the number of shortcuts that had been taken in the actual production of this movement.

IWC jewel holeJewel holeAs illustrated at right, both friction-set click wheel jewels in the automatic winding bridge (and many others in the movement) are inserted in holes with completely unfinished edges. Not only are the holes unchamfered, but machining debris remained attached to the edge of hole. As a result, when the jewels were inserted in the holes, they pushed debris in front of them, some of which later fell onto the train wheel bridge below, and the wheel pivots located there; some debris also remained on top of the winding jewels, as illustrated below right. The illustration left shows the purely pragmatic and unadorned finish around the jewel hole of an IWC caliber 884, and suggests how minimum standards of workmanship in such matters should look.

Contaminated jewelGouged screw holeClearly such machining residue acts as an abrasive in a watch movement and is unacceptable in a watch of any cost. Unfortunately, contamination with brass shavings and dust was found in several locations in the watch. One bridge screw, though polished on the (visible) top surface, was so roughly finished on the underside of the head, that it gouged the plate when installed for the first time at the factory (left). The blue arrows indicate gouges in the plate, the red arrow a curl of brass that was cut up from the plate and crushed under the screw head on installation.

Balance screw and rimJewel with oilA handful of the many other quality failures apparent in the movement are illustrated. These include a very roughly finished balance wheel and gouged Microstella screws at all four positions (A); sloppy oiling throughout much of the movement (B); the mostly crudely finished escape wheel I have ever personally seen in a watch (C); a rough fourth wheel with straight-cut teeth (D) (instead of the more expensive epicycloidal teeth expected in any watch of even reasonable quality); and rough edges with excess metal throughout the main plate (E). The few attempts at surface decoration seems ridiculous in this context, and these attempts are, unfortunately, as badly Escape wheelexecuted as the rest of the movement. These include perlage applied over a very rough surface on the top of the balance cock, which is otherwise unedged and unfinished (F); and a brushed surface on the upper plate which abruptly ends where it is covered by the automatic winding bridge (G). Peculiarly, perlage is also applied to a few isolated strips of the mainplate visible alongside the winding bridge (H). Third wheelSuch pretensions to "fine finishing" seem ridiculous--or merely cynical--when so badly applied to a movement of such poor basic quality. The money would have been better spent on pragmatic finishing that eliminated contamination inside the movement and other very basic work that raised the movement to an acceptable minimum level of functional workmanship. As it stands, this caliber 3000 is the most crudely finished watch movement that I have ever personally examined; and I include in that observation, a number of movements in extremely inexpensive watches.
 Edge of main plate  Cock perlage
 Plate finishing  Perlage on main plate



SOME PERSONAL CONCLUSIONS

The anomalies of the Rolex Explorer make it difficult to neatly summarize a personal opinion. For me, the only intriguing aspect of this watch is that a movement so lacking is basic workmanship is capable of being so accurately timed. This is, no doubt, a product of the thickness (and thus permissible loose tolerances) of the movement, and the use of computer-timed balance/spring assemblies. For the person for whom accuracy of rate in a mechanical watch is the only criterion in buying a watch, and for whom value-for-the-dollar is of little concern, the Explorer might be a choice. In the current watch market, the poor quality of the movement--and relatively good quality of the case and dial--suggests that this watch should retail in the $600 to $800 range. To my tastes, a quartz-controlled watch would provide the functionality of this watch, do it even better, do it with better reliability, do it at an appropriate purchase price, do it at much lower routine maintenance costs, and, in most cases, provide a better piece of craftsmanship in the bargain. Obviously, for the person who wants "a Rolex" for reasons unrelated to the watch itself, this watch might be a choice.

For those who would insist on a mechanical watch, there are innumerable other choices in the price range of the Explorer, almost any of which would provide a movement of much better quality. There are also many watches at a quarter or less of the price of the Rolex that exhibit comparable or better workmanship and quality. In fact, I Dial, close upthink it would be difficult to find another current production watch, at any price over a few hundred dollars, as deficient in basic workmanship of the mechanicals as the Explorer.

I doubt that this watch is representative of Rolex's historical production. Fifteen or 20 years ago, I believe the Rolex was what I expected this watch to be: a sturdy, minimally finished but workmanlike, reliable, work-horse. In thinking about how representative of current production this one sample might be, one must consider how a company produces 700,000 or 800,000 watches in a year. They are produced on assembly lines. Each part installed in the watch is selected randomly from a bin of hundreds or thousands of like parts. Likewise, each operation performed--or omitted--occurs randomly from among thousands of like operations. Thus, to believe that this watch does not represent the current approach to watch making at Rolex, we must believe that this single watch is the unique recipient of a dozen or more randomly-selected defective parts and randomly performed deficient or omitted manufacturing procedures. There are too many defects in this watch to support such an explanation. A mass-produced product with multiple defects represents, in itself, a form of statistical sampling of the total pool of parts and manufacturing operations and procedures.

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.

RETURN TO PART ONE OF THE ARTICLE

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