Today, Rolex is presenting its new-generation Rolex Explorer 36 – in its full name the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer 36. With that reduced diameter it returns to the size of the original model launched in 1953 following the first ascent to the summit of Mount Everest by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay on 29 May that year. The retro-sized exterior comes in two versions while inside it all lives the latest generation Rolex 3230 caliber.

Currently only two versions are available of the Rolex Explorer 36, one in all-steel that Rolex neglected to share at least one image of in its press debut – but it exists on the brand’s website –, and another in Yellow Rolesor, which is Rolex-speak for a two-tone mix of stainless steel and 18kt yellow gold. Although a watch that has “mastered the extreme frontiers of exploration,” Rolex has recently doubled down on offering its rugged watches in this arguably more brittle combination of steel and gold. Just think of the Sea-Dweller 43 Rolesor that we reviewed here, that sure has caused a bit of a squabble among fellow watch enthusiasts.

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As the tiny crown between SWISS and MADE at 6 o’clock on the dial indicates, 2021’s Rolex Explorer 36 has the latest, 32xx-generation movement inside. Watches with 31xx-generation movements do not have the small crown there. The 3230 is the movement that powers the Oyster Perpetual models that we debuted last year here, as well as the new “No Date” Submariner. The Rolex Manufacture Calibre 3230 is a self-winding movement that brings 70 hours of power reserve to the Explorer 36, combined with Rolex’s -2/+2 second accuracy rating, as well as an official COSC chronometer certification.

The case is the typical Oyster case affair with polished, steep case profiles, combined with brushed upper surfaces – a pattern that continues onto the three-link Oyster bracelet, the only bracelet option currently available for the Explorer 36. The bezel, crown and bracelet center links are in 18kt yellow gold, as are the hands and applied hour markers. The clasp is a folding Oysterlock with the 5mm Easylink comfort extension link built in – we do wish it came with the Glidelock system instead that allows for a more gradual adjustment of the bracelet length.

For many years now we have been saying the end of the large watch trend is near and that more of the major brands will begin to offer “downsized,” i.e. more classically proportioned variations of their models. While Rolex wasn’t exactly spearheading the large watch trend – talk about an understatement –, they seem to be more on the ball this time. The Rolex Explorer 39mm was updated back in 2016 and we reviewed it here, but now the Explorer goes back to its roots and is offered as a 36mm option.

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The dial can only be black on either the all-steel or the Yellow Rolesor version of the Explorer 36. The luminous paint applied to the hour markers and hands is Rolex’s blue Chromalight – an update that debuted on the Explorer 39mm when it received the properly sized minute hand in 2016, which we linked to above. The Explorer, and especially in its original size, is certainly not the ideal canvas for getting too creative with colors and patterns… But it would have been nice to see some other options right from the debut of this Rolex Explorer 36.

Price for the 2021 Rolex Explorer 36 in steel is $6,450 USD, while price for the two-tone Rolex Explorer 36 Yellow Rolesor is $10,800 USD. References are Rolex 124270 and Rolex 124273 respectively. You can learn more at the brand’s website here.

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