The 2021 Rolex Explorer watches hands-on
With the reveal of the new Rolex Explorer collection, the 39-mm-sized Rolex Explorer 214270 is officially a collector's piece, while the bigger GMT-equipped sibling has received a significant design and engineering overhaul while preserving its 42 mm case instead. Not only has the size gap between I and II grown, but it's not breaking news any longer that the 2021 Rolex Explorer comes as reference 124270 and a first-ever Rolesor reference 124273 (both measuring 36 mm across). Those wearing the now-discontinued model found out the timepiece they own now costs twice as much as its retail price. In summary, the Explorer I replacement process confirms that the 39 mm model is highly sought-after.
The new Rolex Explorer 124270 and 124273 watches
The Rolex Explorer I is, on paper, a whole new watch by Rolex standards; we're eager to find out whether the 36mm case size is a winner or not as soon as the first pieces hit the stores. Again, Rolex keeps changing some core collections, and the Explorer 2021 is no different; it holds to the original 1953 model as much as the renovated Rolex Submariner product line draws inspiration from the slim-lugs case adopted by several 4-digit and 5-digit references.
The Rolex calibre 3230 is a welcome technical upgrade; either the Explorer I and the Explorer II are now housing the state-of-the-art technology, despite being more a standard industrial process to bring the product portfolio to the same technical layout across the ranges rather than a selling point. From a Rolex consumer's perspective, a new movement won't change anything and is by far not an option for first-time buyers and long-established Rolex fans.
The new Rolesor Explorer is not growing on me, and it's an option I'll hardly consider as far as the nameplate "Explorer" concerns. I see the Rolex Explorer as a no-frills rugged Oystersteel Rolex, and a full-steel timepiece is the only option I'd value, and to a greater extent too if you're aiming to pursue the original formula. I can hardly see Italians filling a waiting list for a timepiece retailing for more than some of the most wanted full-steel Rolex watches, like a 126210LV or a GMT Master II, for example.
Both variants adopt a new kind of Chromalight to boost lume in dim and dark light, Rolex claims. I see this upgrade as a further step in the brand's never-ending quest for leadership against Super-Luminova™, whose latest advancements are indeed impressive.
The new Rolex Explorer II 226570
While I feel a Rolex Explorer 124270 being too small when fastened on my wrist, I praise Rolex for preserving the new reference 226570's wide 42 millimetres stance. I spent some quality time comparing old and new ones, and I ended up thinking the 2021 model is different at so many levels; first and foremost, let's talk about the bezel's and case's design. According to Rolex representatives, the new bracelet is 1 mm larger than before, making the straight lugs look and feel slimmer. It is what the designers did when they also sketched the new Submariner, as stated above.
However, I find myself confused when I look at how the bezel compares to the old one. The dial-to-bezel ratio looks somewhat misproportioned given its tapered profile, which affects the overall style, in my opinion. It's a pity considering how the watch has stepped up if we add the new Rolex calibre 3285, too. However, if I had to pick one, I'd undoubtedly choose the black Explorer II; the pairing between blackened indexes and hands and the white lacquered dial is less attractive and sober than the full-black product reference.
On the dial, you'll see the same improvements you'll notice on a basic Explorer, like an improved lume performance. All in all, the new Explorer II is the GMT Explorer we're used to but less powerful and appealing than other Oystersteel Professional watches, thus being a "missed opportunity".
The price of the new Rolex Explorer 2021 and final thoughts
The Rolex Explorer 124270 is an excellent "value proposition" whose 6,100 Euros retail price is the main door to Rolex professional watches. At 36 mm, it aims at attracting a broader audience, which I believe includes the Far East more than ever before, according to proportions and options. The new reference 124273 in Rolesor exceeds the ten thousand euros threshold, at 10,350 euros, and my thought is that it won't meet Rolex purists' taste. At 8150 Euros, the Rolex Explorer II is the most affordable GMT Rolex you can buy; the brand's designers also added a new brushing finish, which you won't find in the specs sheet.
(Photo credit: Marco Antinori for Horbiter®)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®