If the two-tone Explorer I was one of the biggest surprises of Watches & Wonders 2021, then Rolex’s other major release, the new Explorer II Ref. 226570, may well have been one of the show’s most expected. This year, after all. marks the 50th anniversary of the original Explorer II Ref. 1655 from 1971, and so it was widely anticipated, and later teased by Rolex directly, that a revitalization of the design was on the way. And while many in the watch world drew up mock models and placed their bets, Rolex still managed to surprise most everyone by making only minor design edits and upgrading the movement to the manufacture’s current GMT-equipped flagship caliber.
A closer look at the new Explorer II’s 42 mm-diameter, 12.5-mm-thick steel case reveals that it’s essentially the same as that of the prior Reference 216570. The only apparent differences are subtle, in the slimmed down lugs reduced by a cumulative 1-mm (and made up for, in a sense, by an additional 1 mm of width on the steel Oyster bracelet. Many anticipated the 226570 to feature a new ceramic bezel, but this latest reference kept to the traditional family look instead, continuing in its use of a satin-finished steel bezel.
The dial’s updates are also relatively minuscule, the most obvious being the use of a tiny Rolex crown emblem between “Swiss” and “Made” at the bottom of the dial, an element lacking from the description on previous models. Beyond that, the classic Explorer look is essentially unchanged, with applied numerals, a cyclops date window, and a very sporty look overall. On the watch’s new black-dialed iteration, which has been significantly less publicized than the the white “polar dial” version, there is one additional difference: a completely orange-colored GMT hand rather than the orange-and-black hand used on the previous reference (below).
Inside the 100-meter water resistant Oyster case, we find the most significant upgrade to the watch, the new Rolex Caliber 3285. An update to the previously used Caliber 3187, it was first introduced in the latest GMT-Master II back in 2018. Among its impressive array of features, the automatic movement includes an energy-efficient, magnetic-resistant Chronergy escapement and a blue Parachrom hairspring, which is about 10 times more precise than the traditional type. As indicated on the dial, the watch is chronometer-certified, or more specifically “Superlative Chronometer”-certified via Rolex’s in-house testing, and also possesses a 70-hour power reserve.
Overall, some Rolex-ophiles may regard the new Explorer II as something of a stylistic letdown, as it is essentially a slightly streamlined version of the previous version launched in 2011, and minor changes like the slimmer lugs, full-orange hand, and added crown logo seem rather small in context. However, the reference’s most important upgrade, its new movement, should not be discounted as it effectively places the Explorer II in line with the brand’s current manufacturing standards. And while Watches & Wonders has wrapped, the rest of the year is still to come, and the fall and holiday season may well bring more releases from the brand — perhaps even another Explorer or two.
The Rolex Explorer II Ref. 226570 is available now via Rolex boutiques and authorized retailers, with pricing set at $8,550.
To learn more, visit Rolex, here.