In April 2021, Rolex introduced the latest generation Explorer I watch with the references 124270 and 124273 models. While Rolex slightly upsized other models it makes, the Explorer I received a “back to original form” treatment by returning to a 36mm-wide (versus 39mm-wide) case size. Rolex also decided to supplement the more traditional all-steel (Rolex Oystersteel, that is) Explorer with two-tone steel and an 18k yellow-gold watch with the reference 124273 Rolesor model that is a more premium option next to the new Explorer 124270.

I’ll tell you a secret — while the Rolex Explorer I 36mm makes for a rather small sports watch (unless we are talking about a petite wrist), it does make for an excellent dress watch with sleeves. While this timepiece design did begin life in the 1950s as a mountaineering watch, it has since become a lot more synonymous with casual luxury. In its all-brushed steel form, it excels at that. With the two-tone steel and 18k yellow-gold look, we have something else entirely: a responsible and smart office watch that doesn’t have the same blingy connotations as a 36mm-wide Datejust watch.

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The Explorer I isn’t the thinnest watch, which means that its relatively small case size doesn’t feel super-small when worn on the wrist. The case is water-resistant to 100 meters, and over the dial is a flat sapphire crystal. Inside the new generation 124270 and 124273 watches are the newer generation in-house-made Rolex calibre 3230 automatic mechanical movements. These are “Superlative Chronometers,” which means less than two-second variation per day accuracy (very good) operating at 4Hz with 70 hours of power reserve. Rolex uses this same movement in other three-hand no-date watches, such as the latest generation Rolex Submariner No Date 124060 watch. A slightly new feature on the Explorer I dial is the placement of the Rolex crown in miniature underneath the 6 o’clock hour markers between “Swiss Made” in order to designate the new generation of accurate movements.

Over time, the dial of the Rolex Explorer I has grown on me given its focus on sportiness and legibility. Though it remains inherently a simple dial, the latest generation models have excellent bright Chromalight luminant and well-sized hands. Something about this dial makes it challenging for Rolex to figure out the exact right size of the hands, which has been something the brand has struggled with a bit on previous-generation Explorer I models. This one has pretty good proportions in that department, as Rolex rarely makes the same mistake twice.

Even though the Explorer I watch looks like those from the past, Rolex will be the first to remind you that “all the parts are new.” The Explorer I has been re-engineered to resemble the classic size of the original but in a way that is entirely modern and up-to-date. The watch’s Oyster-style three-link bracelet is comfortable and proportionate to the size of the case. It tapers down and has its latest generation fold-over deployant clasp with a small 5mm comfort extension.

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The all-steel reference 124270 is going to perhaps be the volume driver for those who feel best with a 36mm-wide sports watch on their wrist. For those wishing for an alternative to the traditional suit or business watch, let me recommend the Rolex Explorer I 124273 as something for your list of options. I think it is still a luxurious option but more understated than a Rolex Datejust. It is also a bit more active and youthful than, say, a traditional dress watch that sits with a thin profile on the wrist attached to a shiny black alligator strap. Price for the Rolex Explorer I 36mm in steel reference 124270 is $6,450 USD, and the two-tone steel and 18k yellow-gold Rolesor model has a price of $10,800 USD. Learn more at the Rolex website here.

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