The Rolex Explorer 36mm Oystersteel 124270 and Rolesor 124273
First impressions on the reduced Explorer 1 for 2021... and its surprising two-tone model.
Yesterday, Rolex launched its new collection for 2021, with a strong focus on exploration watches, a collection named “Explorer” and comprising two models, the classic Explorer and the rugged Explorer II. Both watches are updated this year, with minor changes on the Explorer II – mostly concerning the movement, details on the dial and proportions of the case – and a more important evolution of the Explorer. At first sight, it still feels familiar… But there’s a bold move from Rolex behind this 2021 Explorer. And it has to do with the diameter of its case, which comes back to the historical size used for over 55 years. Here are our first impressions with the Rolex Explorer 36mm Oystersteel 124270 and Rolesor 124273.
The Rolex Explorer – which will be unofficially named Explorer 1 after 1971, when the Crown launched the Explorer II – was born in 1953, following the brand’s involvement in several expeditions since the 1930s. In 1953, Tenzing Norgay and Sir Edmund Hillary became the first climbers to reach the summit of Mount Everest. It is now well-known that watches were involved in this expedition, from Smith and, of course, Rolex – with an Oyster Perpetual reference 6098, worn by Norgay (back then still not a proper Explorer, as not fitted with the 3-6-9 dial). An in-depth history/timeline of the Explorer can be found here.
From the very first editions of this watch to 2010 and the introduction of the reference 214270, the Explorer will be fitted with its iconic black dial, Mercedes hands and 3-6-9 indexes, and housed in an Oyster case measuring 36mm in diameter. As of 2010, Rolex increased the size to 39mm… And we clearly thought that this would remain the norm for the years to come.
The new 36mm case
Yesterday, Rolex introduced new editions of its classic Explorer watch. While the brand mostly emphasized its communication on the Rolesor edition (ref. 124273), there’s also a classic stainless steel model joining the collection (ref. 124270). But the most important move isn’t in this choice of material. It has to do with the diameter of the watch. Indeed, gone is the 39mm edition, as the 214270 is now discontinued. It will soon be replaced by the 124270 and 124273 watches, and both are 36mm in diameter. As such, Rolex comes back to the historic size of the watch.
To me, this is a very bold move from Rolex. While I certainly applaud the idea of the 36mm diameter – I am the owner of the 14270 you see at the beginning of the article and I love this reduced diameter – I am surprised to see that only this downsized version is now available. I could have seen Rolex bring both a 36mm and a 39mm or 41mm edition – as we predicted here. But making it only available in a reduced diameter is, without doubt, a strong decision that will create discussions.
On a personal basis, I’m very pleased to see a comeback of the 36mm diameter, as I think this is the best size possible for a simple time-only watch as the Explorer. The balance between the size of the bezel and the elements of the dial is perfect and makes these references Oystersteel 124270 and Rolesor 124273 both extremely sleek and clean, without this feeling of emptiness I had with the previous reference 214270.
In addition to that, the case is basically the same as used on the new Oyster Perpetual 36mm “Stella-inspired” of 2020. It means a thin polished bezel combined with tapered lugs that somehow brings back the feeling of 1990s watches. The execution of the entire habillage is, as you’d expect from a modern Rolex, extremely neat.
The Surprising Rolesor 124273
We can’t talk about the 2021 Rolex Explorer 36mm without discussing the addition of this Rolesor edition, mixing Oystersteel and 18k yellow gold – found classically on the bezel, the crown and centre links of the bracelet, all with a polished finishing. From 1953 to 2020, the Explorer has always been available only in stainless steel with a black dial. Period. But, if you search quickly on the web, you can find examples of ref. 5501 (among others) with Explorer stamped dials, executed in two-tone. Enough to justify this new Rolesor Explorer 124273…? Maybe not.
Let me put it this way: is this Rolesor edition making sense? Strictly speaking, not really. The Explorer is, after all, a professional watch made for mountaineers and explorers. Stainless steel is, without doubt, the material of choice. But let’s consider things differently. Is a Rolex Explorer, in 2021, still an instrument watch, worn by Alpinists? No. It’s a luxury watch with a sporty feeling, capable of enduring rough conditions. Most of these watches will certainly never see proper exploration. Just like the Rolesor Sea-Dweller doesn’t really make sense, this Rolesor Explorer 124273 is not historically relevant.
But… If you remove this idea from the equation, and once you handle this new Rolesor edition, you end up with a truly handsome and cool watch. Yes, I must confess that I’ve been pleasantly surprised by this watch when seeing it in the metal. The combination of this clean 3-6-9 dial, with its lacquered surface, and the warm and slightly vintage look of the two-tone case simply works. It is oddly attractive and, in my books, this Rolesor Explorer Rolesor 36mm 124273 is just cool. The good point is that, if you don’t like it, there’s of course the option for the classic full-Oystersteel version.
As you can see above, the classic look of the Explorer is still available with the 36mm reference 124270, a watch that, apart from its reduced diameter, still bears all the distinctive elements of an Explorer watch. In this version, the lacquered black dial is punctuated by white gold hands and applied indexes – with the 3-6-9 numerals, like the rest of the markers – filled with Chromalight material. The case and the bracelet are fully brushed on flat surfaces, with polished accents on the sides. The bezel is, traditionally, polished too.
For the rest, no major evolutions. The 2021 Rolex Explorer (both versions) is still a no-date watch, with 100m water-resistance, Twinlock screw-down crown and the bracelet is equipped with a folding Oysterlock safety clasp and Easylink 5mm comfort extension link. One evolution regarding the sapphire crystal, which now features anti-reflective coating (something Rolex has started to use since 2020 on new models).
The calibre 3230
Following the evolution of its collections, Rolex incorporates the calibre 3230 inside the Explorer 124270 and 124273, a movement that we’ve already seen in watches such as the 2020 no-date Submariner 124060 and the 41mm and 36mm Oyster Perpetual watches.
The automatic 3230 calibre has a Chronergy escapement. It features a Parachrom hairspring, which is up to 10 times more precise compared to a traditional hairspring. It also has an optimised geartrain, a high-capacity barrel storing up to 70 hours of power reserve and a new oscillating weight for more rapid winding. Needless to say, this movement comes with Superlative Chronometer certification, running within -2/+2 seconds per day.
As said above, I applaud the idea of a reduced diameter and, if bold, I think this is a clever move from Rolex. Still, I can imagine that some enthusiasts won’t appreciate this new 36mm diameter. As such, I wouldn’t be surprised if Rolex, in a couple of years, adds a 41mm edition of the Explorer in its collection… And regarding the addition of a Rolesor edition, I really like it. And since there’s also a classic Oystersteel edition available, no need to be sad.
The 2021 Rolex Explorer 36mm Oystersteel 124270 retails for EUR 6,100. The Rolesor 124273 edition retails for EUR 10,300. More details at rolex.com.
How does the new model compare to your 14270? Broadly similar or some notable differences?
It is always interesting that most articles about the Rolex Explorer reference the successful Hilary/Norgay expedition to the summit of Mount Everest when the watch itself was neither part of the equipment for this expedition nor even in production at the time. In fact neither Hilary nor Norgay wore a Rolex on the summit of Mount Everest. They wore Smiths watches. However such is the power of Rolex advertising that the link between the Explorer and Everest is seen as a fact when it is wholly fiction. As for the history of the watch one should not forget the Walt Odets breakdown and review of the Explorer which is superbly accurate but perhaps not something an owner or potential buyer would like to read. As for the new Rolex references this year – meh. As for the article – as usual as excellent read.
@Max – in terms of size, very similar. But being a modern watch, it feels more solid than a 14270 (solid end-links for instance) and a bit more luxurious… but that might be because the watches are brand new. Otherwise pretty similar.
Any actual measurements of the case? Is it really 36mm or is it bigger?
Kudos to Monochrome for sharing real-world impressions of the ‘new/old’ Explorer 1 ahead of everyone else. Others have simply recycled the Rolex press release, you guys already went the extra mile … nice … 😉
It being a Rolex the question remains whether this is a hypothetical offering or something you can actually buy (without lingering on waiting list for years, or having to acquire some gold-diamond monstrosities as a side product) … 😉
@fogar – we only had a few minutes with the watches yesterday at Rolex… unfortunately no time to measure the watches. We’ll need to have the watches at the office for a proper review in order to do that. Hope you understand
@Markus – we try our best, thanks!!! As for availability…… good question, no answer yet.
Being a former owner of the Explorer 39, I wish Rolex would have made it in a 38mm. Eventually sold it as it didn’t keep proper “+/- 2 second” spec time after multiple trips back to Rolex (consistent +6-7 seconds/day) . Still enjoying my SARB033 which keeps great time (+ 4-5 sec/day) and is 38mm. Rolex is a good watch but so overrated
thanks anyway, @Brice. If lug to lug is still 20mm then that looks like a 37mm watch to me
Great hands on. Did you notice a material difference in the lugs? the 14270’s lugs seem a bit pointier and straighter, while the 12470’s lugs seem slightly thicker and seems to curve more?
Hi Brice, great article!! Just one doubt, what is your wrist size? My wrist it’s 6,5″ and would be great to have an idea how the watch would fit. Thanks
@Joe – the lugs are indeed different on this new generation (like all modern Rolex watches compared to 1990s models). They are indeed now less pointy than they were on the 14270 (these are really sharp at the tip). Also, the brushing is now straight, vs. angled on the 14270. Finally, the casebands are flat, while they were rounded on the 14270. The proportions are slightly different on this new model, as the case is the same as the new OP36.
@Hugo – the 14270 is photographed on my wrist (which is 6.5″ or 16.5cm just like yours) and it is simply perfect for me. The new 124270 models have been photographed on Frank’s wrist, measuring about 7.2″ or 18cm. So you can expect these new watches to have a bit more presence on your wrist than what you see on our photos. But for a wrist like yours, I’d certainly advise this 36mm edition.
Excellent reveiw! Great to see the first hands-on review of this watch. I was absolutely delighted, not to mention shocked, when I saw the 36mm model! Good point about the bezel on the 39mm model. I owned it briefly, and it was certainly one issue that caused me to sell it. Since I sold my 14270 a few years ago, I realize that the 36mm model is irreplaceable. I remember the reaction to the SD43 when it appeared in Rolesor, being similar. I agree it is a cool idea and does look good. Thank You!
@Carl – thanks for the comment!
Is the dial lacquered on both the two tone and SS? I see on rolex’s site that the dial is lacquered on the two tone, but hard to tell on the SS as they don’t have the promo videos. Thanks!
@matt – yes both versions have a lacquered dial. Basically, only the material – yellow vs. white gold – of the hands/markers is different.
It would have been nice if they had taken the opportunity to get rid of the tacky Rolex wording around the chapter ring, and also fit a domed sapphire crystal.
Did you get an impression of weight? The 39mm is 136gm, what’s your best guess for the 36mm? (Steel not the Roselor)
Steven a 36mm 1016 is 86gm, it’s a lot different but you will get an idea.
Heh, it wears like a girls watch looking at those pics, and that typically means it looks even smaller in-person. Hard pass Rolex, but gives me a chuckle nonetheless, and for that I thank you for.
Only those with some sort of insecurity would say this fits like a girls watch; would you say that about all the smaller watches that used to be worn by the likes of Sean Connery and Paul Newman? I have a chuckle every time some tough guy feels the need to let everyone know he won’t wear “small” watches. We get it – you want to compensate for something else. You do you.
Is there some legal reason you didn’t show the 124270 side by side with the 14270? Because not having those side-by-side comparison photos makes this article a big fail
@d – the reason is simple and already explained in the previous comments. We only had a few minutes with the watches, on the day of the launch, just enough to do a few photos. Hence why this article is a « first look » and not a proper review. In addition we can’t always have access to older watches… when we’ll have the watches for a longer period of time, we’ll do a proper comparison and measurements, and all the rest.
In my opinion even the 14270 on the first picture does look a bit to big on that wrist. I bet the 124270 will look too big on most 14270 and 114270 wrists. That has to do with the thicker and stronger curved lugs. For me the new Explorer looks a bit bold for a 36mm watch. Compared to the predecessor, the 214270 has a sportier look with it’s slimmer lugs. It also has a more simmetrical dial as I see it.
Thanks for the article and the real life pictures.
fogar: if they’re smart, they made the case 36.9mm 🙂
I hope there is enough distance between the lugs and case unlike the 39mm explorer and most new rolex watches which looks poorly on anything other than bracelet.
I disagree Sebastian. If anything the new 124270’s dial looks more symmetrical with less empty dial and the word Explorer moved back to the top of the dial.
And Jay El…could not have said it any better. I cannot stand when others gate-keep the size of watches.
I do not understand the hate towards the two tone. It does look, at least to me, as something a British gent would wear to climb Everest… It think Sir Edmund Hilary would make it look amazing today.
I have a 2009 114270 , which I’m very happy with.I could persuade myself to have a look at the new steel 36mm, simply because of upgrade movement and stronger bracelet. Is the case on the 2021 Explorer bigger than the earlier models? I know they’re both 36mm,but my son has a new model Oyster Perpetual 36mm,and the case on his watch is definitely slightly bigger than mine.Thanks.
@Brice are you able to confirm the lug width of these new models are I’ve read conflicting information that either states it is 20mm or 19mm.
Thanks in advance.
@Liam – sorry I can’t confirm. For that we’d need to have the watch at the office for a review. We only had the watches for a few minutes to do these photos.
Best guess was the steel version under 100 grams or heavier?
Brice, does the new anti-reflective finish under the sapphire crystal make the dial less reflective? I love the Explorer One but hate how flashy and reflective the post 1980s models have been. I am hoping the anti-reflective coating on this new 2021 Explorer will make it feel more like a ‘tool’ watch, rather than jewellery. I know you only had it for a short time, but did you notice any difference in reflectiveness?
@Harold – unfortunately, we’ve seen it in a room full of spotlights and no natural light… so impossible to judge honestly. We’ll need to have the watch in real life conditions to judge the impact of the AR coating.
@SPR you are WRONG. Tenzig wore Smiths, Sir Edmund Hilary wore an Oyster Perpetual on their climb to Everest.