The year 2020 was special (to say the least) and, with the cancellation of Baselworld, Rolex had to introduce its new models – including the new Submariner 41mm – later in September. This year, which will see Rolex participating in Watches & Wonders for the first time, the normal rhythm of launches will be back, meaning that we’ll see a new collection in April 2021. And this also means for us, at MONOCHROME, that we’ve had to go back to the drawing board for what has become a classic instalment: the predictions. Following what we presented last year, we’ll start our Rolex Predictions 2021 with what we think will be the highlight of the year, a brand new Rolex Explorer II 216570 collection, updated with new mechanics and a brushed black ceramic bezel.
Guessing what Rolex will launch has become a ritual for us and we enjoy doing these predictions as much as we imagine you like discovering them. However, we also like to take this rather seriously and we put quite a lot of effort into researching what could potentially be launched by the crown. Seeing the latest introductions from Rolex, it isn’t always easy and, indeed, the brand can sometimes be unpredictable… or highly traditional. For instance, last year’s Submariner collection was long expected and the result was certainly very conservative. So, what have we imagined for these Rolex Predictions 2021? Well, first of all, we won’t release them all at once but we’ll gradually show you during the coming week several models that could be presented this year. And we start today with a major one: a new Explorer II.
So, the big question: why a new Rolex Explorer II 216570? The reason is pretty simple and two things can explain why we, at MONOCHROME, think 2021 will be the year of the Explorer. First of all, the original Rolex Explorer II, presented under the reference 1655, was introduced in 1971. This year, the model will celebrate its 50th anniversary and we know that Rolex, from time to time, likes to celebrate these jubilees and anniversaries to refresh a model.
The second reason is more strategic. Looking at the whole range of Rolex sports watches, you can see that most of them have been recently updated – Daytona in 2016, Sea-Dweller, Sky-Dweller and Yacht-Master II in 2017, GMT-Master II and DeepSea in 2018, Yacht-Master and GMT-Master II (again) in 2019, Submariner in 2020. This basically leaves two collections that haven’t been upgraded yet with the 32xx movements: the Milgauss and the Explorer (I and II). And this is also reflected in sales and desirability of these models, which are known to be less sought-after than most other sports watches at Rolex.
As such, we think it’s about time for the brand to breathe some fresh air into the Explorer collection, starting with the Explorer II. What there can be doubt about concerning this potential update will be the integration of a new movement. The current Explorer II 216570 features a GMT function and is powered by the Calibre 3187, an update of the Calibre 3186 found in the older GMT-Master II (mostly with a larger diameter, due to the different date position). In the same vein, this new Explorer II could be equipped with an update of the Calibre 3285 found in the latest generation GMT-Master II models. Once again, it would be slightly larger and could be named Calibre 3287. It will be equipped with the new Chronergy escapement and an extended power reserve of about 70 hours. This update will be indicated on the dial with the new “Swiss Made” logo with a central coronet.
But what about the design of the watch? For our Rolex Predictions 2021, we’ve imagined a relatively soft visual update. As such, the case would retain the current 42mm diameter, which separates this watch from the rest of the 40/41mm watches and adds an extra instrument feeling. The dial, still available in black or white, would also retain the same layout with bold hands and markers and, of course, the iconic orange dual-time hand. Rolex has proven to be quite shy regarding dials recently, with only minimal updates on the new Submariner or GMT-Master II. Also, the entirely brushed finishing of the case and bracelet would be retained.
What could be updated on this 2021 Rolex Explorer II is the bezel. Being the 50th anniversary of the model, we’d like the brand to bring back the layout of the Ref. 1655, with thinner engravings. This means even time zones with numerals and odd time zones indicated by thin lines. But the main evolution would concern the material, as this watch could come with a non-rotating black ceramic bezel. Yet, because the radially brushed surface of the bezel has been part of this model since 1971, it makes sense to offer brushed and not polished ceramic – the latter would make this model too close to a GMT-Master II, and too luxurious too.
The Rolex Explorer II 216570, reference 216570, along with the Submariner, GMT Master, and the Datejust, constitute Rolex’s most popular watches. While the Explorer model, like the others, is a child of the late 1950s; unlike the others, it has two current models, both popular, but also quite different. The first model, the Rolex Explorer, is 39mm and is closest to the original version, while the Explorer II is 42mm and more adapted to modern tastes. In this post, I review the latter model. And while any of the Rolex Explorer models make for a solid tool watch, in this review, I am not taking it to some mountain trekking odyssey, but instead I am doing modern day exploration. My account is based on taking it for a month long journey to Asia, exploring a distant land, an ancient people, and a fascinating culture: China.
First off, the Rolex Explorer was one of the first wristwatches to be designed for exploration, in particular, exploring new lands and varied terrains. While today, a Casio ProTrek or similar solar-powered multifunction watch will serve you well on a distant trek, in the 1950s and early 1960s when real exploration of the poles and the high peaks of the world was taking place, no quartz watch existed. And even today, if you were to attempt to explore the earth’s pole or climb Mt. Everest, the Rolex Explorer might still be a better choice than a quartz device, since these suffer when exposed to high and low temperatures and depend on an external source of power. However, the Rolex Explorer II is guaranteed to work as well as it does day to day even under extreme temperature gradients and with no source of power, except wearing it daily and moving a bit (or winding the crown).
So while in my own “expedition” with the Rolex Explorer II 216570, I was not taking it to extreme conditions, I did take it to what is a somewhat typical modern day traveling journey, including airports, business meetings, business outings, the gym, and also visiting the outdoors in a distant land. In all cases, what was great was the Rolex Explorer II never felt out of place.At the airport, the first step was to set the local and home time to PDT. As the plane took off and we got an indication of the time in Beijing, using the quick set feature on the hour hand, I simply pulled the crown and moved it forward about 8 timezones for the time in China. Interestingly, unlike many large countries, China has one timezone! It does not matter if you are in the east or western part of China, there is just one. Makes it easy for doing business, I suppose, though I imagine Chinese get a very different experience of time over the year depending on what side of the country they live on.A great thing about Rolex sports watches, especially modern versions, is that they tend to be multipurpose. That is, they fit well into both business and casual situations as well as the more sporty settings for which they were specifically designed. So during my month long visit, and with various meetings at all levels of the organization, I never had to use any other watch, really. The Rolex Explorer II 216570 fit in great.Its imposing 42mm all-brushed stainless steel case (water resistant to 100 meters) could be a minor issue if you needed to button up for a formal event, as it sits 12mm high on the wrist. However, that was never the case for me, and it fit great under all of my shirts, even when wearing a sports jacket in the cold grey late winter evenings of Beijing.Besides casual usages while visiting the vast city of Beijing, the occasion I had which most suited the Rolex Explorer II’s origin was when I took a half day trip to the Great Wall of China. First off, the Great Wall is nothing short of extraordinary, spanning miles and miles. The people of this great land constructed a 20-foot wide wall that serpentines the high mountains of northern China, helping separate it from centuries of Mongol invasions. It is commonly considered as one of the seven wonders of the world and for long the only man-made structure visible from outer space.Getting to the section of the Great Wall our visit meant taking a roller coaster-like small car that took us hundreds of feet into the mountain and into the Wall proper. Of course, once there, comes the fun part. Depending on your fitness level and the time before dawn, you can easily walk and climb this amazing structure for miles and miles. I challenged myself to at least get to four towers, which round trip would be about a hilly 10k. Heck, I had just completed a full Ironman less than a year ago, how bad could this be?Of course, the Rolex Explorer II was never the issue during my Wall trek, but rather my knees and my feet walking and climbing this amazing structure. Of course, I was also carrying my DSLR camera and made sure to stop, take a breathe, and take some pictures of the vast landscape. The weather was clear, so the view went on for miles. The white face of the Rolex Explorer II was never out of place. And I was very happy to use the 5mm easy link extension to relieve my wrist after a hard day hiking under the sun.
Like many of the modern Rolex sports watches, the Rolex Explorer II comes with the modern Oyster bracelet fully brushed (just like the Submariner), and it is just plain comfortable and screams high quality. The Rolex bracelets are, just like any genuinely well engineered bracelet, adjustable with screws where one can remove full links or half links. Also, the bracelet tapers from 21mm at the lugs to 17mm at the oyster clasp, thereby resulting in a highly wearable 42mm watch. The clasp includes the protective Rolex Oyster lock, but unlike the Submariner, there are no quick adjustments except for the 5mm oyster link which I mentioned makes it easy to extend or reduce the bracelet by 5mm during the day as your wrist expands and contracts.The Rolex Explorer II 216570 comes fitted with the Rolex 3187 caliber which I found to be super accurate (as it is COSC chronometer certified, like all Rolex calibers) and easy to use. It also contains Rolex’s Paraflex system which helps improve the watch’s resistance to shocks, as well as the brand’s Parachrom anti-magnetic hairspring so as to render the movement more resistant to magnetic fields. The quick hour adjust works like a charm, and the date can be advanced forward using this feature. The large orange GMT hand is easily visible and points brilliantly to the black 24-hour markers on the bezel.The Rolex “Mercedes” hour hand (originally designed to appear totally different to the minute hand for easy legibility) and the minutes hand are larger, bolder than their counterparts on the Submariner or GMT Master II. Also, here they are outlined in black paint and filled with blue Chromalight, whereas on other Rolex models, they tend to be done in 18k white gold. The look is pretty unique to the Rolex Explorer II in Rolex’s line up and has acquired the moniker of “maxi-hands” from collectors. The rest of the dial is in the iconic white “polar” color with cardinal markers and hour markers (round), also with a black painted outline, completing the unique – and uniquely legible – maxi-dial.While clearly remaining a Rolex with the classic oyster case, the cyclops on the crystal, and the famous Rolex dial, this model is less common than the Submariner and GMT Master II, easily making it the more interesting Rolex if you want a solid sports watch from the famous brand – and hence it is one that you will more rarely see anyone else wearing during the day. As a matter of fact, during my entire time traveling to China, I only spotted one other person wearing a Rolex Explorer II (black dial), though I spotted countless other Rolex sports watches.