Back in the 1950s, around the time Rolex was putting the finishing touches on its first-ever Submariner, the brand was also hard at work creating a watch that could stand up to the planet’s toughest conditions above sea level. The result was the Explorer, a sturdy, reliable, no-nonsense watch that has remained in the collection ever since. Like the Sub, one of the most noteworthy things about the Explorer is how little its initial design has changed (at least on the outside) in the last 60-some years. This month, however, Rolex unveiled its first major update to the watch in more than a decade. In true Rolex style, the new Explorer improves upon the outgoing model in several subtle (and not so subtle) ways. Here’s all there is to love about the 2021 Explorer.
A new, more authentic case size
The original Explorer, launched in 1953, came with a steel case measuring 36mm – the standard size for gent’s watches at the time. In 2010 Rolex increased the case size up to a more modern 39mm. This year, however, Rolex brings the Explorer back to its roots, abandoning the watch’s revised 39mm case for the original size once again. The new size may seem unwearable to folks who are used to larger cases, but as one of very few 36mm tool watches on the market today, we appreciate both the authenticity and the diversity it represents.
A two-tone treatment in Rolesor
Did the Explorer need more gold? Not really, but we’re not about to send this one back, either. Adorning a watch that’s ostensibly made for mountain climbers in 18 ct yellow gold is a bit funny when you think about it, but there’s no denying the visual punch of the new two-tone Explorer’s Rolesor treatment (that’s Rolex’s combination of 18 c. yellow gold and Oystersteel). For purists (and mountaineers) the classic version in Oystersteel remains.
New watch, same great origin story
Rolex likes to test its watches in the world’s most extreme environments, and the best way to do that has always been to strap them to the people who go there. In 1953, when Rolex was developing its Explorer, that was Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay. Both men wore Explorer prototypes when they became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest.
A higher-calibre movement
The new Explorer isn’t just improved on the outside, it also gets a serious upgrade behind the dial with Rolex’s Calibre 3230 automatic movement. Launched last year in the updated Submariner, this new movement is entirely developed and manufactured by Rolex and boasts improvements to precision, power reserve and shock resistance over the outgoing movement.
A touch of lacquer
You may not give much thought to how your watch’s dial gets its colour, but Rolex does. The new Explorer’s characteristic black dial is now made by lacquering (the same as the Submariner’s dial) a process prized for the richness and depth of the colours it produces.
A brighter lume
The new Explorer’s dial is ultra-legible thanks to its big 3, 6 and 9 numerals, as well as Chromalight, Rolex’s proprietary lume. The result is numerals and hands that glow bright blue in the dark, without losing their clean white hue in the daytime.
A superlative chronometer
When it comes to the highest levels of watchmaking, there’s only one thing that matters: precision. For this reason, Rolex measures its watches by its own standards of precision, which exceed those set by the COSC (Contrôle Officiel Suisse des Chronomètres – the official Swiss chronometer testing institute). As a result, you can expect this watch to keep time within a very respectable +/- 2 seconds per day.
Two words: Oyster bracelet
The bracelet on the new Explorer isn’t new, per se, but it is still one of the best on any watch, anywhere. The Oyster uses three-piece solid links (and polished centre links in 18 ct yellow gold for the Rolesor version) with satin-finished outer links in Oystersteel, an Oysterlock folding safety clasp and an Easylink comfort extension link, which can be used to easily adjust the bracelet up to 5mm.
And it’s not the only new Explorer this year. Rolex also upgraded the Explorer II, whose polar white dial and 24-hour bezel make it a cult favourite, with a new Calibre 3285 movement and an upgraded Oyster bracelet.