The first day of any trade show is always the busiest, especially if it’s the first one to take place in a long time. Watches and Wonders (formerly known as SIHH) was a highly anticipated digital fair and the largest in the industry in a long time. In addition to the Richemont brands, which usually make up a large portion of the participating companies, this edition of Watches and Wonders saw an array of other industry players join in. Among the participants, you’ll find the LVMH brands (TAG Heuer, Bvlgari, Zenith, Hublot), Oris, Patek Philippe, and of course, Rolex. As for Rolex, everyone was expecting a new Explorer II this year.
Rolex announced a new generation of Explorer models. The original watch, which reached the top of Mt. Everest alongside Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in 1953, was 36 mm in diameter. For 2021, the brand has returned to this size, offering the new 36-mm Oyster Perpetual Explorer in Oystersteel or two-tone Rolesor/Oystersteel. One of the most notable features of this new Explorer is its black lacquer dial. Further developments include the highly legible Chromalight display with luminous material on the hands, indices, and numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock. The inscription with the model’s name now sits beneath “Rolex” at 12 o’clock. At 6 o’clock, the chronometer certification inscription now stands alone. The caliber 3230 ticks away inside the new Explorer. Rolex launched this in-house caliber back in 2020. Perhaps this movement’s most famous feature is its Chronergy escapement, which boasts high efficiency and great reliability.
In all honesty, we weren’t expecting too much from this model, nor did we get it. It is cool that Rolex has gone back to a smaller, classic 36-mm case, but other than that, not much has changed about the Explorer. Sure, there’s the new two-tone edition, but I don’t foresee it becoming a best-seller; however, only time will tell. On the other hand, Rolex rarely shakes the industry with crazy innovations, so this was no big surprise.
Easily the most anticipated Rolex release of 2021 was the new Explorer II. In the build-up to Watches and Wonders, we saw several artist renderings, wish lists, and compilation articles by fans. You can decide for yourself whether the brand has exceeded expectations. Here are the details of the new Explorer II.
First and foremost, Rolex has redesigned the case and bracelet. It now has an updated 42-mm case in Oystersteel with a guaranteed water resistance of 100 meters (roughly 330 ft). A solid block of Oystersteel forms the case’s main body, thus making the timepiece resistant to corrosion. The same Chromalight display technology found in the new Explorer also appears here. The previous Explorer II comes with either a black or white dial. Rolex has not changed this and offers the new Explorer II (ref. 226570) with a black or white black lacquer dial. Aside from these tame external upgrades, the new Explorer II features a caliber previously only found in the GMT-Master II. The Rolex caliber 3285 is a robust movement with chronometer certification, 31 jewels, and a 70-hour power reserve.
While the looks of the Explorer II have not changed dramatically, the technological developments are noteworthy. The redesigned case and the new caliber 3285 are great updates, as is the re-engineered bracelet.
Editor’s rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Alternatives: Grand Seiko SBGJ211, Bell & Ross Vintage GMT, Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Co-Axial GMT
New Dial Designs for the Datejust 36 and Daytona
Rolex’s showstoppers were clearly the new Explorer I and Explorer II. Having said that, other models from the brand’s immense catalog also received notable upgrades; namely, the Datejust 36 and Daytona both got fresh, new dial designs. Let’s look at the Datejust first.
For 2021, Rolex created two new designs for this iconic model: the palm and fluted motifs. The palm motif takes its inspiration from tropical rainforests and is available in three colors for the Datejust 36. On the other hand, Rolex has based the fluted motif on one of the Datejust’s most iconic features: its bezel. This signature look is also available in three colors. Rolex offers both dial motifs paired with a domed or fluted bezel and a Jubilee or Oyster bracelet.
Let’s move on to another legendary Rolex model: the Daytona. For the first time, the brand is offering this iconic chronograph with a meteorite dial. There will be three versions, each in 18-karat gold: one in yellow, one in Everose, and one in white. Thanks to the characteristics of the meteorite, each dial and (thus) watch are unique. Working with this material is no easy task. Furthermore, Rolex only selects the highest quality meteorites for their precious metal Daytona models. While the yellow and Everose models come on an Oyster bracelet, Rolex offers the white gold version with a Cerachrom bezel and an Oysterflex bracelet.
It is interesting to see these new materials on the Rolex Daytona. While meteorite has been around the industry (as well as on other Rolexes) for a while now, such a significant upgrade is a huge step for a traditional brand like Rolex – even if it’s only available for gold models.
Editor’s rating: 5 out of 5 stars
Alternatives: Omega Speedmaster Grey Side Of The Moon, Corum Admiral’s Cup Legend 42