January 6, 2019
by David Bredan
I’m sympathetic to those who have picked up a Rolex Explorer I 214270. Beyond those who “got it” simply because they, understandably, fell for its handsome looks, there are also those super-thoughtful Explorer I customers who have done a fair bit of research before buying their first (or next) Rolex. They have looked at the Submariner and Submariner Date, as well as the Oyster Perpetual, the two collections that flank the Explorer I both price- and feature-wise. I can relate to those who end up with the Explorer I 214270, but I am, nevertheless, not quite sure that this is the watch I’d purchase, were I shopping for an affordable Rolex today.
It is frighteningly easy to get lost in the hundreds upon hundreds of forum pages and watch reviews, as well as the countless minutes of video dedicated to the
struggle adventure of trying to make the “best for you” decision when choosing a Rolex. You’ll find cyclops fans, maxi-case haters, Cerachrom ceramic bezel naysayers and believers, OP (that’s Oyster Perpetual for us mortals) value proposition preachers, fact sheet comparers, and the list goes on and on. I could fill an entire article, or perhaps a whole book, with the psychological struggles one experiences when looking for the best Rolex watch to put hard-earned money into.
I’ll add that, fortunately, value retention is pretty stellar with steel Rolex watches these days, so even if you realize your choice wasn’t the right one for you, chances are you can get out of it having not lost more than a few hundred bucks. But the goal here is to help you figure out whether or not the Rolex Explorer I 214270 is the watch for you.
The Rolex Explorer I 214270 is, essentially, a mix of the Oyster Perpetual 39 and the Submariner “No Date” in terms of case, bezel, dial, bracelet, and movement. This neatly leads us to the point I began with, that in terms of both price and features, many think they will end up with the best of both worlds if they go with the Explorer I.
Though there are as many priorities and approaches as there are subtle differences among these three collections, here’s a quick run-down on how the Explorer I fits in.
It essentially has the 39mm Oystersteel monobloc middle-case of the OP with a profile that is slightly more curvaceous than the flat, trapezoid profile of the 40mm Oystersteel Submariner. The bezel of the Explorer I is different on each: The OP has a domed, high-polish bezel, while the Explorer I has what Rolex calls a “Smooth” bezel; it is just as nicely polished, but has a flat surface, rather than the convex bezel of the OP. There is no Cerachrom anywhere on the Explorer I, which means you’ll certainly end up with at least some swirls on your steel bezel, but you’re definitely exempt from the fear of cracking your Cerachrom bezel insert. Water resistance in the Explorer I is a perfectly ample 100 meters, as opposed to the 300-meter rating of the Submariner. As I am sure you have already noticed, this really is going to be a game of trade-offs.
The movement inside the Rolex Explorer I 214270 is the Rolex Caliber 3132, the same as in the Oyster Perpetual 39. The only main difference I can find between this and the 3130 in the Submariner “No Date” is that the Explorer and OP both have the “high-performance Paraflex shock absorbers,” while, strangely, the Submariner, with its professional diver’s watch pedigree, does not. You’ll see the Rolex Explorer’s Paraflex shock absorber on the image below. While they all, like every Rolex watch made today, come with the Superlative Chronometer -2/+2 second daily accuracy rating and 5-year international warranty, the OP, Explorer I and Submariner all have 48 hours of power reserve, much less than the 70+ hour extended power reserve that is present with the new-generation Rolex movements dubbed 32xx. More on this in a bit.
The dial of the Rolex Explorer I 214270 now features the blue Chromalight display — essentially BGW9 luminescent material, the sort that lasts longer than the much more common Super-LumiNova C3, but isn’t quite as bright right after it’s been charged with a powerful light source. I much prefer the long-lasting blue hue of Chromalight to the temporary light show of the Super-LumiNova, as seen on Panerais and others.
The bafflingly petite minute-hand of the previous generation Explorer I was updated at BaselWorld 2016 with the Rolex Explorer I 214270 to a handset that is not lifted from a 36-mm piece but is intended for a 39-mm-wide watch. That small-hand Explorer I should not have happened at all and it certainly shouldn’t have lasted that long, in my estimation.
Although apparently a bit less thickly lacquered than that of the Submariner, the dial is still as shiny as Elton John’s fingernails, which is annoying once combined with the luster of the 18ct white gold “professional hands” and the blinding reflectivity of the non-AR-coated front sapphire crystal. The Explorer I 214270 belongs to the Professional family of Rolex watches. In my book, however, the words “professional” and “reflectivity” really shouldn’t coexist in the same watch. The upside is that it will be easier for those who have no clue about watches to tell that you are wearing an expensive, really very shiny watch. Good on you!
On this note, I will add that I guess I could force myself to be more accepting of the shiny dial + shiny hands + shiny crystal combination on the watches that belong to what Rolex calls its “Classic” family of watches — including the Day-Date, Datejust, Cellini and others. It would still drive me mad, but if they added some proper Rolex quality AR-coating to their Professional watches (how awesome would that be?), I think I would be slightly more tolerant of their love affair with shiny everything.
Other than this, the quality of the dial is still pretty darn high. The 18ct white gold indices and hands are a nice touch of added luxury. It is as though the hour and minute hands have a slight domed curve to them, which lends them more volume and an even higher-quality look. The seconds-hand looks flat, but is evenly polished and has a lumed pip, which is cool. The icing on the cake is the laser-etched — and ridiculously difficult-to-photograph — Rolex Crown that is present in every Rolex sapphire crystal over the 6 o’clock position. (You’ll see this on the image above.) It is so small, and light has to hit the small etching in such a specific way, that your chances of seeing this with the naked eye are basically nil — but it is there.
Speaking of quality of execution, while I clearly believe that there is some extra work to be done in the crystal and dial departments, Rolex has been king of the hill (with Grand Seiko) when it comes to watch exteriors in the four-digit price segment. The overall touch, feel and look of the case and bracelet are astounding, even though they have done away with the polished, angled edge that ran along the lugs in older generations of their Professional watches.
Still, just look at that case profile on the image one above: It bends and curves and flattens in so many ways my head begins to hurt at the thought of creating a machine (and skillset) that allows for such a surface — and do so with such levels of consistency. The surface treatments are neat, too. Rolex says it chose the more exotic 904L stainless steel because it polishes better than the 316L steel that is used for 99% of the rest of the steel luxury watches today. The angles and surface treatments that they can achieve really are a treat to see in the metal.
The bracelet displays fantastically subtle brushed surfaces on its upper segments, while the edges of its outer links have been brought to a high polish to match the bezel and case profile. And that sapphire crystal! The three-link Oyster bracelet may be a thousand-years-old, but it has aged better than fine wine. The links feel a lot like pebbles that have spent just as long at the bottom of a fast flowing river: their insides are smooth, and so are their edges. I have never experienced hair-pulling or skin irritation from poorly engineered link spacing or sharp edges anywhere.
The clasp looks and feels expensive, too. Massive pieces of milled metal swivel with beautiful mechanical resistance and close with a most reassuring click. The Explorer has the Oysterlock safety clasp, which has a secondary folding closure for extra security against unintended opening (the OP has a single closure). The Explorer I does not, however, have the Submariner’s Glidelock adjustment system that allows for up to 20mm of extension in 2mm increments. In its place is the Easylink system, with a half-link piece that you can either extend or tuck back in under the clasp. Not a bad system, but once you get used to the finer, 2mm increments, you’ll feel it being a little bit more crude and sometimes less perfect of a fit. I am sure the Glidelock is more difficult to manufacture, but I’d nevertheless love to have it on the Explorer I.