For 2021 the major new Rolex watch release of interest to watch hobbyists will be this updated Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer II know as the reference 226570. It directly replaces the outgoing Rolex Explorer II 216570 – keeping the same 42mm wide form factor but offering many minor exterior upgrades as well as a modern-generation in-house made Rolex automatic GMT movement.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer II began life as a combination between the Rolex Explorer and the GMT-Master II. According to the story, Rolex developed the watch for cave explorers who used the GMT hand not necessarily to indicate the time in a second time zone, but rather as an AM/PM indicator. Why? Well as there is no natural light underground (and explorers could spend days down there) – knowing if it was day or night via your watch was certainly useful. To accomplish this, users simply need to synchronize the 24 hour GMT hand with the 12 hour time.
The Rolex Explorer II has been popular over the last few years for a number of good reasons. It isn’t the least expensive Rolex Oyster Perpetual family watch, but it has traditionally been a good value and less than the more popular GMT-Master II or Submariner. The GMT-Master II had the fancier bezel and the Submariner had the fancier bracelet – while both of them feature ceramic bezel inserts. When Rolex upgraded to the 216570 from the previous generation Rolex Explorer II 16570, it made the case size 2mm larger (40mm – 42mm wide) and also marked a return to the “classic” orange-colored GMT arrow hand. The change in size helped visually separate the Explorer II from other Rolex sport watches, and thus helped carve out a new market for it, ideal for those who wanted something larger than the 40mm wide standard size which Rolex sport watches had been focused on for a number of years.
The 904L Oystersteel case of the Explorer 226570 is the same 42mm wide size as the outgoing model, but the case shape is a little bit different and I suspect it wears a little bit differently too. New parts are all around ranging from the bracelet, deployant, case, dial, and hands. Speaking of hands, the 226570 fixes what many people felt was one of the biggest problems with the 216570 – which was overly glossy hands – notably on the white dial model with its black-colored hands. For the 2021 Rolex Explorer 226570 with the white dial, Rolex marks a return to the more matte-finished black hands, similar in style to those that watch hobbyists enjoyed in the Rolex 16570 Explorer II model. While the Chromalight luminant name isn’t new, the 2021 Rolex Explorer and Explorer II uses a new, apparently brighter, formulation of this luminous material. It will be interesting to experience the new 2021 Chromalight in person.
Rolex offers the Explorer II 226570 with either the lacquered white or black dial – and matching orange-colored GMT hand. The white dial has matte black PVD-coated gold hands and matching applied hour markers, while the black dial variant has polished white gold hands and matching applied hour markers. The watches also have a window for the date, with the Rolex cyclops magnifier over the date window as part of the sapphire crystal.
Unlike the Rolex GMT-Master II, the Explorer II has a fixed (not rotating) bezel, with the 24 hour markers etched into the steel and then painted black. The case is water resistant to 100 meters, and attached to the case is an updated three-link Oyster bracelet (it is broader than the previous bracelet) that I am personally excited to try on my wrist. The deployant doesn’t have a micro-adjust, but it does have the 5mm comfort extension link which can be folded out of the deployant clasp.
Inside the Rolex Explorer II 226570 is the still fresh Rolex caliber 3285 automatic GMT movement (same movement that is used in the current-generation GMT-Master II). The 4Hz frequency movement has about 70 hours of power reserve and is accurate to about 2 seconds per day. Like all Rolex movements, the 3285 is “Superlative Chronometer” certified, which means it have both a COSC Chronometer certificate as well as passes Rolex’s stringent in-house performance and accuracy testing standards.
2021 was never going to be a particularly prolific year for Rolex – no more so than at most other luxury timepiece brands who are keeping new releases “safe” during the pandemic. Rolex is currently going through a long-term upgrade cycle where each year some of their aging models get updates with new cases, movements, and sometimes styles. No one can quite predict which iconic Rolex watch will be next, but it is easy to identify which of their watches is in line for an update. The Explorer II had been in line for a while – though it isn’t Rolex’s most aging piece. This implies that Rolex uses a special formula or decision making process that keeps its fans and watch hobbyists on their toes.
Even though the Rolex Explorer II might seem like a niche piece, its bold size, handsome looks, and comparatively unpretentious guise have made it very popular with enthusiasts who might not even own another Rolex watch. The 2021 black or white dial 226570 Explorer II watches offer even more reason to enjoy this “more humble” Rolex Oyster sports watch for those who haven’t enjoyed a Rolex Explorer II in the past, or who for whatever reason prefer the looks of the older 40mm wide models more than the outgoing “chunky” larger 42mm wide models. With the 226570 Rolex has really refined some of the minor issues with the 216570, and helped strengthen the appeal of the original spelunking watch… for a new generation of cave-dwellers. It also happens to cost what a Rolex Submariner Date was listed at just a few years ago. Price for the reference 226570 Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer II watch is $8,550 USD. Learn more at the Rolex website here.