In its inaugural appearance at this week’s Watches & Wonders virtual exhibition, Rolex reached into its rich past to present a new version of its legendary Oyster Perpetual Explorer — sized at the same modest-by-modern-standards dimensions as the original model from the 1950s and outfitted in the brand’s two-tone steel-and-gold Rolesor case and bracelet.
Launched in 1953, the Explorer was positioned as Rolex’s watch for mountaineers and other adventurers who challenged “the extreme frontiers of exploration” — among them Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who wore the watch on their historic ascent to the summit of Mount Everest in May of that year. The most recent update of the Explorer (which preceded the GMT-equipped Explorer II model, launched in 1971 and also featuring a new look this year) was in 2016, for which Rolex added a more modern, enhanced movement and its proprietary Chromalight luminous substance for increased dial visibility in dark conditions. This year’s model not only features a slimmed-down 36-mm case (3 mm smaller than the most recent models, and faithful to the dimensions of the vintage classic) but yet another upgrade on the movement side, to the Caliber 3230 introduced in last year’s new-generation Submariner.
The most noticeable updates are, of course, found on the watch’s exterior. Its round Oyster case (waterproof to 100 meters, or 330 feet) combines an 18k yellow gold bezel with a monobloc case made of “Oystersteel” (a particularly corrosion-resistant alloy), and a three-link Oyster bracelet with yellow-gold center links and Oystersteel side links. Rolex calls this bi-material construction “Rolesor,” and has used it in several models in recent years, including the 2019 version of the Sea-Dweller. The classical black dial, with the hallmark, applied gold hour numerals at 3, 6, and 9 o’clock, is now lacquered. The hands and markers, as in the larger 2016 model, are treated with Chromalight, an exclusive, long-lasting luminescent material that glows bright blue in the dark and has a bright white hue in daylight.
Behind a fluted, hermetically sealed caseback that allows access only to Rolex watchmakers with a special tool, the automatic Caliber 3230 beats. Among its host of technical attributes are Rolex’s patented, high-efficiency Chronergy escapement, made of nickel phosphorus to offer optimum protection against magnetic fields; an anti-magnetic Parachrom hairspring that is (according to Rolex) 10 times more precise than a traditional hairspring in case of shocks; an oscillator mounted on Rolex-patented Paraflex shock absorbers, and a 70-hour power reserve fueled by a “Perpetual” self-winding rotor. To earn its in-house designation of “Superlative Chronometer,” the watch meets Rolex’s industry-leading rate tolerances of `2/+2 seconds per day.
The Explorer in yellow Rolesor seals its water resistance with a screwed down Twinlock winding crown, and fastens to the wrist with the signature Oysterlock folding safety clasp with an Easylink comfort extension that allows the wearer to easily increase the bracelet length by approximately 5 mm. The price is $10,800.