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.

WIDTH=”188″ HEIGHT=”165″ ALIGN=”RIGHT” BORDER=”2″ NATURALSIZEFLAG=”3″

ALT=”Contaminated jewel”>

WIDTH=”303″ HEIGHT=”238″ ALIGN=”LEFT” BORDER=”2″ NATURALSIZEFLAG=”3″

ALT=”Gouged screw hole”>Clearly 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.

WIDTH=”300″ HEIGHT=”250″ ALIGN=”LEFT” BORDER=”2″ NATURALSIZEFLAG=”3″

ALT=”Balance screw and rim”>

ALIGN=”RIGHT” BORDER=”2″ NATURALSIZEFLAG=”3″ ALT=”Jewel with oil”>A 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

ALIGN=”right” BORDER=”2″ NATURALSIZEFLAG=”3″ ALT=”Escape wheel”>executed

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).

WIDTH=”180″ HEIGHT=”128″ ALIGN=”left” BORDER=”2″ NATURALSIZEFLAG=”3″

ALT=”Third wheel”>Such 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

WIDTH=”250″ HEIGHT=”176″ ALIGN=”RIGHT” BORDER=”2″ NATURALSIZEFLAG=”3″

ALT=”Dial, close up”>think 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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