Rolex updated both its Explorer and Explorer II collections for 2021, including the addition of a two-tone case option for the original model.

As we reported last month, the 2021 Explorer II design essentially stayed the same as before — with just minor design tweaks to the case, bracelet, and dial. The most noticeable change within the Explorer II collection was the addition of the new caliber 3285 automatic movement.

For 2021, Rolex also updated the original Explorer, which dates back to 1953 and famously followed the first ascent to the summit of Mount Everest (at 29,028 feet) by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay earlier the same year (who were wearing Oyster wristwatches at the time).

Similar to the Oyster Perpetual collection, the 39 mm case size has been discontinued across the Explorer line. However, unlike the Oyster Perpetual collection, which currently comes in 28, 31, 34, 36, and 41 mm case diameters — the Explorer is now available exclusively in a 36 mm diameter. That’s not to say Rolex won’t add more choices down the road.

Rolex Explorer 36 mm Oystersteel and yellow gold Ref. 124273

The Explorer is available in a 36 mm Oystersteel (Ref. 124270) version and the polarizing new 36 mm two-tone Oystersteel and 18K yellow gold model (Ref. 124273). Purists will tell you a watch should not have precious metal if it’s made for Exploring, however, Rolex is a luxury watchmaker and gold allows them to satiate those looking for precious metal while also achieving a higher margin per unit.

The Rolex Explorer Oystersteel and 18K yellow gold (aka Rolesor) utilizes solid 18K yellow gold for the crown, the bracelet’s center links, and the fixed bezel. Other than that, the rest of the case, bracelet, clasp, and caseback, are made of Oystersteel (904L stainless steel).

As has been the case in the past, the dial of the original Explorer has always featured indices except at 3, 6, 9 where Arabic numerals replace each index — which is referred to as an “Explorer” dial.

Rolex Explorer 36 mm Oystersteel and yellow gold Ref. 124273

On the black lacquer dial of the 2021 Explorers, the two-tone model has matching yellow gold hands and indices. And both versions offer a new generation of Chromalight material that emits a blue glow for even longer than before.

Introduced in 2020, the new automatic caliber 3230 powers the Explorer and offers a modern 70-hour power reserve, and is equipped with Paraflex shock absorbers and a blue Parachrom hairspring. The movement is tested cased up to a rate of -2/+2 which is beyond chronometer specifications. 

The crystal is sapphire, the caseback and crown screw-in to the case, and water resistance is rated down to 100 meters. A 3-link Oyster bracelet with folding safety clasp and Easylink 5 mm extension, with a concealed attachment to the case, complete the look of this modern version of a classic Rolex.

In Oystersteel the Explorer 36 retails for $6,450 and in two-tone the retail price is $10,800.

Posted by:Jason Pitsch

Jason Pitsch is the Founder of Professional Watches. He appreciates good design and engineering in everything from architecture to automobiles to cameras to clothing. Yet his focus for the past decade has remained consistent on covering just one: watchmaking.