Monochrome Watches
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First Look

The 2021 Rolex Explorer II 226570

First impressions on the slightly updated Explorer II

| By Brice Goulard | 6 min read |

Following the announcement of the new Rolex watches for 2021 yesterday, we had the chance to have a first (and fast) hands-on session with most of these newly introduced models. Apart from the cool (at least to us) 36mm Explorer in Oystersteel or Rolesor, as well as rather striking meteorite editions of the Daytona, the Crown also had an update of its most rugged exploration watch to show. And now that we had this 2021 Rolex Explorer II 226570 on the wrist, we can give you our first impressions.

Concerning the previous version of this watch, the ref. 216570, here’s a quick reminder. This edition was produced from 2011 to 2021 and was launched for the model’s 40th anniversary. It paid a discreet tribute to the earliest generation with an oversized orange 24h hand. The case became larger, at 42mm, the radial-brushed bezel remained fixed but with even bolder markings. Mechanically speaking, this 216570 was fitted with calibre 3187, with an independent dual time function. Following the evolution of the case, the dial became ‘Maxi’ with oversized luminous markers and hands. The white model retained the glossy black-outlined markers while the black featured polished white gold markers. And like all its predecessors, it was water-resistant to 100 metres. 

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Above you can see a comparison between the discontinued 216570 (left) and the newly launched 226570. While not displayed at the exact same angle, these two images allow for a comparison of what has changed on the Explorer II – and our hands-on session allowed us to confirm what we explained in our introducing article. First of all, let’s go straight to the point. From 216570 to 226570, we’re talking about a minimal update, with most of the elements identical… or at least extremely close in shape, size or execution. Rolex played on the safe side here.

First and foremost, an important thing is that the brand retained the classic – somehow emblematic – stainless steel bezel that was found on this model from 1971 to this date. No ceramic here – and seeing the comments on Instagram when we posted our imaginary version with a black bezel, it’s maybe better this way… So we still find the radially brushed bezel, with a 24h scale engraved and filled in black. A first look makes it clear that the font and size of the numerals/triangles are identical. So, be reassured, the most distinctive element of the Rolex Explorer II is still present.

As for the case, the differences are subtle but existing. First, the oversized 42mm case has been retained and the watch is still entirely brushed on the flat surfaces, while the casebands are polished – classic Rolex. The case is made of Oystersteel and still features crown guards, yet they appear slightly redesigned – more angled than before. Something we’ve seen on the 2020 editions of the Submariner too. The caseback is typical Rolex too, being screwed and void of inscriptions, and the crown is the classic Twinlock. Both ensure a 100m water resistance. Finally, if the sapphire crystal still comes with the brand’s emblematic cyclops, it is now entirely coated with anti-reflective coating on the inner face.

And there are more (discreet) updates to the case of this Rolex Explorer II 226570. If you remember the new Submariner collection launched in September 2020, Rolex played on the proportions of the case to bring better visual balance, mostly by enlarging the bracelet, thus resulting in thinner lugs. The same recipe has been applied on the 2021 Explorer II, with a bracelet that is about 1mm larger than before, while the inner faces of the lugs have been shaved. The external shape of the lugs remains almost identical, so the new visual balance is mostly due to the width of the bracelet. Surely, we’re talking about minor changes and only a trained eye will be able to spot a new edition.

For the rest, the bracelet remains equipped with an Oysterlock folding safety clasp and the Easylink comfort extension link (approx. 5mm of extension). The overall feeling of quality is typical of Rolex, with a watch that feels perfectly adjusted and executed. The jump from one generation to the next is hardly perceptible, even though the brushed finishing feels slightly better executed than before – again, this is minimal.

On the wrist, the Rolex Explorer II 226570 still feels like the rugged and large sports watch we’ve come to know in the past. The combination of a solid steel case/bracelet with a 42mm diameter makes for a large and heavy watch, but nothing new here. It was already the case with the previous generation. The new proportions of the bracelet and lugs bring a slightly better visual balance on the wrist, and maybe a bit more comfort.

As for the dial, apart from the new Swiss Made inscription with a Rolex coronet, the updates are mostly concerning the white edition. The black version retains its white gold applied indexes but now has new hands, fully polished, replacing the partially blackened ‘floating’ hands. The white dial, on the other hand, has been changed in larger proportions. On the previous reference 216570, the hands and markers were black coated, with a glossy finish. On the new Explorer II 226570 “polar” these are made of white gold, later coated with a matte PVD treatment. The idea was to bring better contrast and to avoid reflections.

Rolex also mentions that the indexes and hands now benefit from an optimised Chromalight display. In daylight, these display elements also have a brighter white hue and the intensity of the blue glow emitted by the hour markers and hands now lasts longer. Finally, the distinctive oversized orange 24h hand, which can be used as both a day-night indicator or an independent dual time display, is still present.

The most noticeable update on this 2021 Rolex Explorer II 226570 is its movement, as this new reference adopts the same engine as the current GMT-Master II collection. It is now equipped with the Calibre 3285, which is part of the new generation of movement produced by Rolex, found in almost all models recently introduced. This modern engine features the optimized Chronergy escapement and the blue Parachrome hairspring. It beats at 4Hz and stores up to 70 hours of power reserve. Of course, the movement is a Superlative Chronometer, with a -2/+2 seconds/day precision.

As mentioned, it is a dual time movement, where the hand corresponding to local time can be independently adjusted by one hour increments – the main difference with the GMT-Master II is that the bezel is fixed, meaning that the Explorer II can only display 2 time zones and not 3 like the GMT watch.

In short, the updates are minimal and the evolutions, at least for the habillage of the watch, only concerns some details. The overall feeling of the older generation watch is respected, with only the movement being the real update here. As for the exact measurements, we’ll need to have a second look at it, as we only had the chance to see the watch for a few minutes.

Finally, regarding the price, both examples of the 2021 Rolex Explorer II 226570 will be priced at EUR 8,050 or USD 8,550. More details at

7 responses

  1. Nice review. Didn’t see this mentioned in article so have to ask; Is the dial on the black version of new 226570 the same matte type finish as 216570, or is it now glossy black dial like Submariner?

  2. Thanks for the quick hands-on review! Did you find the steel bezel to be wider than in reference 216570? On the side by side photo of the Polar versions the bezel on the new reference seems slightly wider. I am assuming the new movement is smaller in diameter than the 3187 plate, since that was used as a justification for the jump in size 10 years ago. If that is the case, the date window would move. Perhaps to conceal that?

  3. @Rolexer – it appears more glossy than in the past (at least to us). But since we couldn’t get an older version next to it, it’s quite difficult to tell.

  4. @WalterE – interesting point, and you could be right. The bezel appears slightly larger on the press images. Now, we didn’t get to have an older version next to it and we only had the new watch for a couple of minutes, just the time to do a quick photoshoot. We’ll need to have the watch at the office for a longer period and then we’ll be able to measure.

  5. Nice , but rolex play with people with only one color changed 😁😁😁 crazy

  6. @BriceGoulard – Could you in your review measure the bracelet, including the clasp? I’m interested in finding out if its possible to swap the EaslyLink clasp that comes with Explorer II for the Glidelock clasp from Submariner.

  7. I perched the white M226570-0001 from an AD and couple of days later expressed “ wow there’s no etched crown on the inside of the crystal” unfortunately I don’t get back home until Thursday PM Question, is this normal for this watch or do I have a problem? Gulp

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