2021: Rolex celebrates the 50th anniversary of the Explorer II
In the 1950s, Rolex sponsored many expeditions in the Himalayas (in particular) by equipping their members with its watches.
The objective is simple: to submit its models to the test of real extreme conditions in order to optimize the functionality and resistance thanks to the feedback of adventurers who wore them.
This is how the Explorer model appeared in the Rolex catalog in 1953.
It is necessary to wait until 1971 to discover the birth of the Rolex Explorer II (ref. 1655) whose one of the characteristics is to be equipped with a GMT function served at the same time by the addition of a dedicated hand and by the addition of a bezel graduated on 24 hours, the combination of both allowing the display of three time zones.
Today is 2021, we are 50 years after the launch of the 1st Explo II.
It is also today that the Watches & Wonders Geneva digital exhibition opens its virtual doors, with Rolex among the exhibiting watchmakers.
In all legitimacy, the community of the fans of the productions of the Crown was expecting an anniversary model a bit Wow!
The rumors have been going on for several days/weeks, with everyone making their own predictions: new dimensions, new materials, new dial colors, the appearance of a ceramic bezel, the abandonment of the orange color of the GMT hand and the dial marking in favor of green/red…
The hypotheses and other delusions were not lacking.
The verdict fell this day at noon in Paris, France, with the introduction of the Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570.
Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570 :
What doesn’t change compared to ref. 216570
Radical changes are rare at Rolex – not to say non-existent.
The Genevan manufacture has always preferred soft evolutions, proceeding by small touches like an impressionist painter.
This Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570 is no exception to the rule if we compare it to the previous version (ref. 216570) that appeared in 2011 and that it has just replaced in the Rolex catalog.
Thus, Rolex offers as before two variations: one on white dial, the other on black dial.
The large GMT hand as well as the Explorer II marking at 12 o’clock on the dial keep the same format and the same orange color – the other markings of the dial remain identical to those of the previous generation.
Keeping its date aperture at 3 o’clock overhung by a cyclops magnifying glass, the Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570 keeps the same indexes and hands as those of its elder sister, the Explo II black dial version still displaying polished gold indexes and hands.
The white dial version offers, as on the previous generation, indexes and hands with a black structure.
Made by PVD treatment, they now have a matte finish when they previously appeared varnished.
The Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570 also keeps its identity fixed brushed steel bezel graduated over 24 hours.
Those who were expecting the appearance of a ceramic insert can go back to their room and work on the Rolex 2022 novelties!
Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570 :
What changes compared to the ref. 216570
The first major evolution, which perhaps escaped you because of a lack of lume shot, relies in the luminescent material used on these Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570 new generation.
Indexes and hands are indeed provided with an optimized Chromalight whose blue emission luminescence is supposed to last longer than the previous version.
During the day, this Chromalight V.2 displays a brighter hue, as the Rolex press release explains.
The second evolution on which Rolex insists about this new Explo II relies in the case and the bracelet which have been redesigned for the occasion.
Delivered on a steel Oystersteel case (Rolex’s steel) of 42 millimeters with a brushed finish and a mirror-polished case middle (no change compared to the previous generation), the Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570 has thinner lugs than before and a slightly thinner case middle.
We are thus globally on the same evolutions at the margin which benefited the Submariner Date 41 unveiled in September 2020.
The same observation and the same parallel may be noticed regarding the Oyster bracelet which remains visually identical to the one of the Explorer 216570 even if the lugs width seem to have taken 1 millimeter more on this new version.
The last evolution to point out – the only real one in my opinion – concerns the movement.
Indeed, the Rolex Explorer II generation 2021 is driven by the Rolex manufacture caliber 3285.
Launched in 2018, this last generation Rolex movement also powers the GMT-Master II of the brand.
To be noticed: a Chronergy escapement in nickel-phosphorus that allows it to be resistant to magnetic fields, a comfortable 70-hour power reserve, an oscillator with a blue Parachrom balance spring and a fast, independent and very practical correction of the hour hand.
Like the watch as a whole, the Rolex 3285 caliber is Superlative Chronometer certified and offers excellent precision within a tolerance margin of -2/+2 seconds per day.
Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570 :
A disappointing anniversary version
I have always loved the Explorer II from Rolex.
Of course, I am talking about the 1655, which is for me one of the grails of any vintage watch lover – just like some Omega Speedmasters.
But I also love the penultimate generation, reference 216570, for its ultra legible dial, its imposing orange GMT hand (which reminds us of the 1655’s one) and for its rough-looking bezel without any insert.
I bought it a few months ago, in its black dial version.
But I only kept it for 6 months only…
The reason? Its 42 millimeters diameter is too imposing considering the rectilinear profile of the case, the comfort I was expecting not being there on my standard wrist of 17,5cm of circumference.
So, I was looking forward to a real new Explorer II in this year of its 50th anniversary.
I would have been satisfied (because I am a reasonable boy who knows Rolex well), in terms of changes, with a 40mm diameter case and an anti-reflective sapphire crystal.
And here I would have bought it!
There is no reference to this second point in the Rolex press release even though it seems to me that it is the case.
But the diameter has not changed…
Neither has the dial – except for a few micro details.
The only interesting evolution is on the engine side.
And this is a good thing for sure.
But will this new caliber be enough to convince customers?
I don’t think so – to my great regret!
Put this new Explorer II 226570 next to its elder sister, the 216570, and you will see that it is not so easy to distinguish one from the other – I experienced it this morning during the Rolex press conference…
You understood it: I remain more than skeptical, the Rolex Explorer II deserved much more than a little face lift for its 50 years…
The rest of the Rolex novelties on The Watch Observer very soon.
So stay tuned!
TECHNICAL SPECIFICATIONS and RETAIL PRICE BELOW…
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer II ref. 226570
Technical specs and Retail price
– Ref. 226570-0001 (white dial) / 226570-0002 (black dial)
– Certified Superlative Chronometer watches
– Oystersteel case 42mm Ø
– Screwed back
– Screwed crown with Twinlock double waterproof system
– 24-hour graduated fixed bezel
– Scratch-resistant sapphire crystal, Cyclops magnifying glass on the date
– Water resistance = 100m
– White / black dial – Highly legible Chromalight display with long-lasting blue luminescent material
– Caliber 3285, Manufacture Rolex – Automatic bidirectional winding by Perpetual rotor – Blue paramagnetic Parachrom balance spring – High performance Paraflex shock absorbers – Accuracy = -2/+2 seconds per day (finished watch) – 70h power reserve
– Oyster bracelet with three wide and flat links in Oystersteel steel
– Oysterlock safety clasp with 5mm Easylink comfort extension
– Retail price = USD 8’550