Monochrome Watches
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Some Thoughts About The New Rolex Explorer 40 Reference 224270

Size matters... but bigger isn't always better.

| By Brice Goulard | 8 min read |

Size does matter… at least, in this context, it is actually everything that matters. Indeed, looking at this new and rather unexpected watch (but Rolex can do anything it wants and proved it with the Puzzle and Bubble dials), we can comfortably say that the design is conservative. There’s basically nothing new to see in terms of looks. It is an Explorer all the way. But size is a big deal here. This watch started its life in 1953 as a 36mm model, then it moved to 39mm, then back to 36mm, and now there’s the Rolex Explorer 40 Reference 224270 (an addition to the collection, not a replacement). And I can already tell you one thing: it managed to unite the team in a (not really positive) consensus – but for somewhat different reasons.

Let me bring a bit of context first, not about the watch, but about us, the members of the MONO team. I am a massive fan of Explorer watches in general: I love their design; I love their rugged spirit; I love their all-terrain, do-it-all, go-anywhere capacities. I own an example of both the so-called Explorer 1 and the Explorer 2, both watches used to illustrate these in-depth articles here and here. More precisely, I have a special attraction for the models of the 5-digit generation – semi-vintage, semi-modern, the best of both worlds, in my opinion, but also watches that were perfectly sized at 36mm and 40mm. Indeed, I do believe that 36mm is the perfect size for a classic 3-6-9 Explorer watch. And the launch of the new Explorer 124270 with its 36mm case was, to me, great news. Somehow, I saw my precious reference 14270 come alive again.

Rolex Explorer 14270 Youngtimer
An example of 36mm Explorer, here a reference 14270

Not everybody shares this opinion. For instance, our founder Frank has a special connection with the 39mm Explorer, a.k.a the reference 214270, a watch launched in 2010 and slightly updated with the Mk2 in 2016. Larger, bolder, identical; however, in terms of design, he believes this watch is (was) the right size, the highlight of this collection. That being said, Frank is a taller man than I am, and all things being equal, the 39mm edition looks far better on him than on me. As you can imagine, the release of the Explorer 36 in 2021, coinciding with the discontinuation of Explorer 39 ref. 214270, was not really to his liking.

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The larger, 39mm edition of the Explorer, reference 214270, as known from 2010 to 2021 (here, to be precise, it is the Mk2 version with longer hands)

This situation is actually the reflection of a wider reality. It seems that with the 36mm version, Rolex was both very conservative (looking back at its past and bringing back the historical size known from 1953 to 2010) and probably a bit too audacious too. Indeed, even if downsizing is an undeniable trend, 36mm cannot be called an average size. It is, without a doubt, compact and thus doesn’t create a consensus. Some certainly loved this move (me included), and some didn’t. When the new Explorer 40 was presented, Frank and I immediately asked the Rolex representatives this question: “Is this larger model a reaction to a mitigated reception of the 36mm model? Or was it planned from day-one?” And while Rolex doesn’t want to officially admit it, I have the feeling that it is a reactive launch, not something that was planned from the very beginning. We’ll probably never know the reality, and it doesn’t really matter.

The new Explorer 40 reference 224270… Unmistakably an Explorer, but larger

What matters is this new Rolex Explorer 40 Reference 224270. Visually, it is unmistakably an Explorer 1. No dramatic changes, no risks taken. Black dial, steel case, brushed surfaces, 3-6-9 dial, time-only display and Mercedes-like hands. And no two-tone Rolesor option for this larger version, like the Explorer 36. So, what is there to say about the new model? The answer is dimensions – it’s all about dimensions.

From left to right – 39mm reference 214270 (2010 – 2021) – 36mm reference 124270 (2021) – 40mm reference 224270 (2023)

As you can see above (the images might be confusing, as Rolex changed the angle and light for its official soldat/cobra images recently, but the scale is right), the differences between the three references, whether the discontinued 39mm or the two current models, are minimal, to say the least. As for the Explorer 36 versus the Explorer 40, it is just about the size, everything else is identical.

The Explorer 40 on the wrist
2021 Rolex Explorer 1 36mm 124270
The Explorer 36 on the wrist

So back to the topic of dimensions. As you can see, the Explorer 36 is a fairly compact watch. In reality, it measures 35.5mm, making it slightly smaller than it used to be before 2010. With the new 40mm, Rolex has increased, except for the thickness, the dimensions. The diameter is now said to be 40mm, but we’d certainly like to confirm this with a calliper – remind me to bring one to Watches & Wonders next year. Compared to the 39mm, which this new 224270 somehow replaces, it also has a slightly longer case and a larger lug width (21mm vs 20mm), mostly by shaving the inner part of the lugs – a technique used on the updated Submariner and Explorer 2. Thickness remains the same as the 36mm watch, at a reasonable 11.6mm, which is understandable since both watches have the same movement, the same display and the same water-resistance.

The dial of the new Explorer 40 also follows the same principles; everything is identical in design but has been beefed up to accommodate the larger diameter. Hands, markers, letterings and numerals are larger and wider (P.S. the hands are the right size, no need for an Mk2 update). However, if you compare the 40mm 224270 to the 39mm 214270, you’ll notice some differences. First of all, the Explorer mention on the dial is now positioned at 12 o’clock, below the Oyster Perpetual mention. And while this was the original position since the 1950s, the 39mm had it at 6 o’clock, somehow balancing the dial. I don’t feel that this was a problem on the Explorer 36; however, I find this position disturbing on the new Explorer 40. It leaves a large empty space at 6 o’clock, while there is far more action taking place at 12 o’clock, with the combination of the long triangle, coronet, Rolex logo, Oyster Perpetual and Explorer mentions. Due to the superior area available on the 40mm edition and the lack of elements, I do believe that the dial was more balanced in the past.

The second point regarding the dial of the new Explorer 40 has to do with proportions. First of all, even though the markers, hands and numerals are larger than those found on the 36mm model, they appear slightly more refined, a bit thinner than they used to be on the 39mm watch. Again, this creates some empty space on the dial. Finally, I’d tend to say that the bezel of the new 224270 is also slightly thinner than it used on the 39mm, making the dial larger and more open.

What to say… For once, Frank and I reached an agreement regarding the Explorer. We both think that the new Explorer 40 isn’t the best in this collection. We still don’t agree on our favourite version – I’m keeping my thoughts regarding the 36mm diameter, he stands firm on his preference for the 39mm version. Don’t get us wrong; the 224270 is, altogether, a great watch. Its modern movement, calibre 3230, is amongst the best time-only automatics on the market, the bracelet with Oysterlock clasp and Easylink release is splendid, and the overall quality is simply spectacular. This a stellar watch on paper. But we’ve come to the point where the changes are so minimal on the Explorer that they actually become fundamentally important, and they make us extremely picky.

Of course, these are our personal opinions and don’t necessarily reflect a subjective take on the watch. Objectively speaking, the Rolex Explorer 40 Reference 224270 is a great watch and one of the most emblematic designs of the brand. Plus, it’s always nice to have options, and the fact that Rolex now offers its classic Explorer 1 in both a historically relevant and a modern size is great. But as a fairly minimalist watch with a time-only display, the new 40mm feels big, substantially bigger than the old 39mm edition.

I know that one size doesn’t fit all wrists or all tastes, but the 39mm felt a bit more balanced. I’m terribly finicky about this new watch, I know that. But Rolex being Rolex, this is also what you get with being so conservative and more consistent than any other brand.

This new Rolex Explorer 40 Reference 224270 will join the collection next to the 36mm edition as part of the permanent collection. It is priced at EUR 7,550CHF 7,300 or USD 7,700 (which is about 400 euros/dollars more than the 36mm edition). For more details, please consult

Let us know in the comments below which is your favourite. Vintage 36mm, the 2010s 39mm edition, the modern 36mm or the new 40mm version?

31 responses

  1. It looks like a bloated Michelin-Man version of what once was a beautifully proportioned watch. Perhaps the two companies should merge…

  2. Run the 40 as Long as you want rolex, 39 is where ist is at for me…

  3. I get why they offer it, since plenty of guys seem to have size anxieties, but the 40 just looks off to my eyes. Like an Explorer suffering from a bee sting. I’ve long felt the same way about other upsized Rolex models like the Datejust and Day-date, their proportions just look better at 36, to say nothing about how beautifully that size wears.

  4. I own the new 224270 40mm. The lug to lug is 46.5mm and not 48mm as stated. The watch is a lightly shorter than the 39mm, which comes in at just over 47mm.

    Where the wearing experience actually differs, is in the 224270’s endlink-to-endlink span of 51mm… the endlink-to-endlink span of the 39 (which I’ve also owned) is 49, so two millimeters shorter, thus the 39 will wear better for people with a narrower wrist span.

    The other factor at play is the new 21mm bracelet sizing, which I prefer, as I think it makes the watch’s design more cohesive and streamlined, and also makes the watch head feel a bit less stubby relative to the bracelet… something that may 39mm owners have felt to be an issue.

    If you prefer a matte dial and are on the small end of medium in terms of wrist size, the 39mm is probably the better choice. If you prefer a glossy dial and have a 7” or greater wrist, the 40mm will be a great option.

    I owned the 36mm 124270 (also owned the 114270 for a while – you could say I’m a fan of the Explorer line) and tried for over a year to get comfortable with the size, relative to my overall frame. It worked well for me with a shirt cuff, but felt too small when wearing a short-sleeved shirt.

    If I could shrink myself by 20% or so, the 124270 would be my first choice. But being just north of 6’ and 200lbs, the 35mm case and the bracelet’s very narrow taper, made it just a tad bit too small for me.

    For me, I think the 40 is a great addition and now gives people a choice of four modern Explorer cases to choose from… one just need to find the model that works for them.

    A final note… I actually like the Explorer text at the top, as it references back to the original… the text at the bottom was always something that bothered me with the 214270. Empty space at one level or the other… not sure which one is a “better” design choice, but I’ll take the reference back to the 1016 as the tie-breaker.

  5. I am 187cm tall. Even if you are right with your observations: 36mn looks ridiculous at me

  6. Agree wholeheartedly with Michael. Much like the DJ, it’s a watch I’d only want in 36mm. It just suits that size.

  7. Why the watch placed so far on the wrist? The point is to see how it looks on the wrist compared to the 36mm, not the sweater.

  8. Your photos are usually top-notch, but that photo of the 40 on the wrist is ridiculous with the ultra low placement on the wrist and bizarre sweater. Ok, we get it, you are an Explorer traditionalist who likes the 36 size better…. Then again, the 36 looks way too small on the other wrist shot. Maybe the photographer was having a bad day?

  9. Not a rolex famboy but of all models the 14270 looks the most elegant to my eyes, following models never matched the older model.

  10. It would have been nice to have a 114270 to compare to the rest of the group.

  11. My friend has gotten his Explorer 40 and measured it:
    Explorer I 40mm 224270:

    Diameter 10-4: 39.7mm
    Thickness: 11.8mm
    Lug to lug: 46.5mm
    Lug width: 21mm, tapers down to 19mm at the clasp

    And if you look at the provided side by side image, it confirms that the lug to lug is indeed smaller. The size as measured 10-4 is exactly the same as the 39mm version.

  12. When the 124270 was released I was thrilled to see the watch coming back to its roots. Having an Omega Seamaster 120m and Nomos Club 36, I’m perfectly comfortable with 36mm watches. In fact, for a watch without a bezel, it’s my preferred size. That said, when I tried the 124270 on, it felt diminutive. The reduced lug width, the bracelet taper, the 35.5mm (real) case size. I don’t know what Rolex was thinking. Why not leave the proportions as they are on the 36mm OP and 36mm Datejust….perfection. Anyway, I don’t own the watch as a result and while the new 40mm is too big (for me), it’s nice to see it’s being offered as an option for others.

  13. @Nicholas Grube – I wouldn’t say that it’ll look ridiculous… For many many years, men have worn 34-36mm watches on straps on a daily basis (the classic dress watch used to go to work), and it was alright. That being said, our tastes have changed due to the overload of big watches in the past 2 decades. But I do understand that being rather tall drives you towards the 40mm watch.

  14. @Christian – remember that when we have watches for photos at fairs like Watches & Wonders, the bracelets are never sized for the model. They tend to be large, so the majority of press members can try the watch on. And for this one, the bracelet was certainly very loose.

  15. @Cru Jones – this is unfortunate, but this is the reality of making photos during watch fairs, with watches that have a very long bracelet. And for the sweater, it was rather cold in Switzerland in March… 😉

  16. @ Ralf – thank you. We’ll have to confirm these measurements with an actual watch (and yes, we should bring a calliper at watch fairs…)

  17. As a pride owner of the 226570 (Polar), I’m excited to see how the new 40mm wears.

  18. At 8k for a non gold three handed watch and their cost for service. I an able to find more innovative choices.I do not need all that bling!

  19. @Brice Goulard You can wear the watch at the normal position even if the bracelet is loose. I don’t see an issue. It won’t fall off your wrist regardless of the position. When I try a watch, I don’t ask the representative to size the bracelet. People understand that you cannot size bracelets at fairs.

  20. @Mandy Have you ever bought a gold watch? You cannot buy a new gold watch with $8,000. If you want an innovative watch, prepare to pay a much higher price.

  21. From the picture, the 39 mm model looks best, and the 36 mm looks worst. The 36 mm model looks small on your wrist.

  22. I have to say that in size 40 this watch now looks a lot more “like a Rolex”, recalling the Datejust – I like it
    I also don’t find the size offensive (btw off-topic, recently tried the Royal Oak in 41, what a vulgar watch vs the handsome 39… what on earth was AP thinking… so yes sometimes size does matter)

  23. I got the 39mm Mk2 which is fine; the 40 mm is fine too and would be even better by the superb new calibre 3230 movement.

  24. Much to do about nothing, given this, I would rather have a 37 Rolex Explorer.

  25. @Augui What do you mean? The classic Datejust model is the 36 mm model. As for the size, it depends on your wrist size. You cannot say that a big watch is bad because your wrist is small.

    @RAOUL A 37 mm model will be almost identical to the 36 mm model. It doesn’t make sense.

  26. @ben. seems like the crown on the 40mm is larger than the 39mm (which I own) I love that, the 39mm crown is too small IMO. can you confirm? thanks

  27. Own a 40mm 224270 and I think its the perfect size for my wrist.
    Yes, we all agree that the “explorer” mark should be at the 6 o’clock position but… creates the consistency with all Rolex models.
    The Rolex Explorer 224270 is a combination of SHEER joy= Simplicity + Heritage + Elegance + Enthusiasm + Robustness.
    It’s basically a watch of those who don’t want to show off, and scream “I have a Rolex”!

  28. Ben- you nailed it. , thx

    I own the MKII but prefer wearing the 124270 because it’s in the small / vintage size. Love the modern construction gloss dial, AR coating , new handset and font lay out….. it’s a modern classic in my 7 inch wrist.
    My MKII felt sporty and modern but it wore well.
    The 40mm version look enormous to me with more dial and a longer end link to end link feel….. but for larger wrists not looking for the vintage sizing I think it’s a magnificent option.

    Great times to be a fan of the Rolex Explorer with so many modern and vintage sizing options available and ( somewhat more ) reasonable pricing and availability.

    But as a final word , the wrist comfort of a watch that’s almost too small for your wrist can not be denied….. so much more comfortable that the “can I get away with a watch this large “ previous 20 year trend.

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