Thanks to limited travel, our dreams of scaling epic mountains and discovering mysterious caves appear to be pulling us towards sturdy watches that promise to withstand exotic elements. Or maybe it’s just the uncertainty of the times that has us thinking Rolex’s two most unassuming releases this year are just what we needed.

Alongside the unique dial designs of the Datejust 36 and Oyster Perpetual Cosmograph Daytona, as well as a gem-set version of the Oyster Perpetual Lady- Datejust, are the new Oyster Perpetual Explorer and Oyster Perpetual Explorer II.

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Consistency and familiarity are part of the Explorer’s DNA. Ever since its release in 1953 to commemorate Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay’s successful summit of Mount Everest, the Explorer has rarely deviated from its steel-cased, black-dialled, time-only architecture. Straightforward and no-nonsense, it is the first and the purest of Rolex’s Professional line of timepieces. That’s why the first thing fans will notice is that it now also comes in two- toned Oystersteel and 18-ct yellow gold (or yellow Rolesor, as Rolex calls it).

A subtler but no less significant update is in its case size. For the past decade, the Explorer has stayed at 39mm, but 2021 marks the return of the 36mm diameter. The tighter dimensions work well for such a simple dial, especially when trends are leaning towards daintier proportions.

Oyster Perpetual
Oyster Perpetual Explorer in yellow Rolesor.

The black dial is made of lacquer, which is a first for the Explorer line. The hands and indices also feature improved Chromalight. This new formula is said to glow longer in the dark while giving off a brighter white hue in the day.

The updated movement will undoubtedly bring renewed interest to the watch. Fitted inside the case – also available in full Oystersteel – is the latest-generation calibre 3230 and it packs all of Rolex’s signature horological goodies. The patented Chronergy escapement is Rolex’s more efficient and precise version of the standard Swiss lever. Its blue Parachrom hairspring is highly resistant to magnetic fields, heat and shock, and is equipped with the Rolex overcoil to ensure the movement’s regularity in any position. Finally, the oscillator is outfitted with the brand’s patented Paraflex shock absorbers.

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The visual changes are even subtler in the Explorer II. The 2021 edition, with its white “polar” dial or black one, are virtually indistinguishable from their predecessors. Only closer inspection by experienced eyes and hands will make evident the ever so slightly reduced lugs and case profile. These sleeker lines are subtly highlighted by an improved polished finish. The watch remains a sporty 42mm in Oystersteel with an Oyster bracelet and an orange 24-hour hand.

Oyster Perpetual
Oyster Perpetual Explorer II in Oystersteel.

The Explorer II is fitted with the calibre 3285 that was first used in the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II in 2018. It has the same features as the Explorer’s calibre 3230, which include a 70-hour power reserve and Superlative Chronometer certification, meaning the movement has deviations of up to just -2/+2 seconds a day.

It might seem surprising that all Rolex wanted to do for the latest version of the Explorer II was to make it run a little better and shine a little brighter (this watch also features the new optimised Chromalight), but it’s a move that shows the confidence Rolex has in its history and products. Rather than making changes for the sake of novelty, the brand is instead offering perpetuity and familiarity, which is what many will want in these challenging times.

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