Rolex Decades: The 2010s Explorer Versus the 2020s Explorer -

Rolex Decades: The 2010s Explorer Versus the 2020s Explorer

Rolex’s understated and underappreciated Explorer is arguably the watch which has been the least altered throughout its extremely long life.

Pretty much all of its most significant identifying features—the 36mm case, the soft tonneau shape and, of course, the 3/6/9 markers—were set in place from the outset and then left well alone for the next 70 years or so.

Any major updates were confined to the inside, and even those were relatively sparing. The movement was swapped out semi-regularly, but usually after more accomplished and popular names received theirs.

However, the 2010s saw this darkest of dark horses awarded an exterior adjustment so noteworthy it finally started to generate headlines. Then, in true Explorer style, the following decade saw it scurry back to its former self. Well, sort of.

Below we see just what happened to the model in the last 10 years, and bring you right up to date with the current generation.

The 2010s Explorer Versus the 2020s Explorer: Into the ‘10s

The Rolex Explorer ref. 114270
Key Features:
Production: 2001-2010
Size: 36mm
Materials: Stainless Steel
Movement: Rolex Caliber 3130
Bezel: Steel. Smooth & Fixed.
Luminescence: SuperLumiNova
Dials: Black

The last Explorer reference we looked at in detail in our ‘Decades’ series was the ref. 14270, which ran from 1989 (taking over from the incredibly enduring re. 1016) to 2001.

That was the incarnation which introduced elements such as gloss dials and sapphire crystals and also gave the case a bit of extra bulk, ushering the watch into the modern age, whether it wanted to be there or not.

The reason we haven’t focused on its replacement, the ref. 114270 which ran from 2001 to 2010 is because, aside from a change in caliber, there was practically nothing to choose between them. In fact, even as far as the movements are concerned, the only real changes between the outgoing Cal. 3000 and the incoming Cal. 3130 was the latter got a full balance bridge, a larger balance wheel and the reinstatement of a Breguet overcoil on the mainspring. It was, essentially, the no-date version of the legendary Cal. 3135. (It was also very slightly thicker than the Cal. 3000, and so the case of the ref. 114270 was about 0.5mm deeper than the ref. 14270).

As you might imagine, this ‘new’ Explorer did not set the world alight, and the watch stayed happily in the shadows throughout the first decade of the present millennium.

The 2010s Explorer Versus the 2020s Explorer: At Last

The Rolex Explorer ref. 214270
Key Features:
Production: 2010-2021
Size: 39mm
Materials: Stainless Steel
Movement: Rolex Caliber 3132
Bezel: Steel. Smooth & Fixed.
Luminescence: Chromalight
Dials: Black

You can picture the reaction then, when, in 2010, Rolex rocked up to Baselworld with an actual new take, in the form of the ref. 214270.

For the first time since its inception in 1953, the Explorer had expanded beyond its self-imposed 36mm limit and was presented in a 39mm case.

It was an almost mocking response to the era’s trend for oversize watches, but at a time when some big players in the industry were regularly churning out pieces in the 47mm+ range, it was still very much an unobtrusive addition.

It also had a few foibles not to everyone’s liking. Perhaps the most noticeable was the handset. This was taken directly from the previous 36mm ref. 114270 and as a result, was conspicuously short. The minute hand especially seemed odd and reached nowhere near the hash marks around the perimeter. On top of that, those signature 3/6/9 Arabic numeral indexes were no longer filled with lume, for reasons best known to Rolex but no one else.

These bizarre decisions on the brand’s part left the ref. 214270 in the doldrums a little, with its disproportionate hands being the main factor.

Elsewhere, the movement changed again, swapping the Cal. 3130 for the Cal. 3132. Just as before, the modifications were minimal. In came Rolex’s own Paraflex shock absorbers, replacing the former Kif system and the brand’s proprietary Parachrom Bleu hairspring made its first appearance too, taking over from the Nivarox component.

And one other minor alteration was the placement of the watch’s name on the dial. Whereas it had always been above the spindle and just under the ‘Rolex Oyster Perpetual’ text, now it was moved to the bottom half of the face and sat above the six o’clock index.

In 2016, the brand relented to pressure and changed up the ref. 214270’s look.

A longer and far more appropriate handset was introduced, the main hand now easily stretching to the minute track, and the luminescence was reintroduced into the cardinal point indexes.

That has left the reference with two distinct ‘Marks’ as far as collectors are concerned, MKI and MKII. But with all the shortcomings now ironed out, this generation of Rolex’s first real tool watch could look forward to a long, happy and prosperous run.


The 2010s Explorer Versus the 2020s Explorer: Say What?!

The Rolex Explorer ref. 12427X
Key Features:
Production: 2021-Present
Size: 36mm
Materials: Stainless Steel/Rolesor
Movement: Rolex Caliber 3230
Bezel: Steel. Smooth & Fixed.
Luminescence: Chromalight
Dials: Black

Oh, come on!

2021 saw Rolex give us two things Explorer-related that no one had predicted.

The first was a return to its earlier 36mm size. This was another baffling decision by the manufacture, as the larger piece had found an appreciative audience amongst modern buyers.

While the fad for extra large watches had died off a few years before, 39mm is still not enormous by any stretch, especially for something touted as a tool watch. Even at that size, the Explorer was still the smallest piece in Rolex’s Professional Collection, and was now back to being smaller still. The only explanation was the brand wanting to appease their purist fans, of which there are many.

But that seemed to fly in the face of the other surprise they had up their sleeves for the Explorer that year. The ref. 124273 was the first time the usually full-stainless steel watch had been offered in Rolex’s Rolesor since its very early days in the ‘60s.

The ref. 124273 is certainly distinctive, with the precious metal used on the crown, bezel and central bracelet links. Look closely and you can also see the hands and hour markers are fringed in yellow gold as opposed to the white on the full steel model.

Yet, it steered the Explorer a long way from its roots in the eyes of many, and has had a mixed response.

All in all, 2021 was a confusing time to be a traditionalist.

That brings us right up to date with Rolex’s Explorer for now. However, 2023 marks its 70thanniversary and we know the brand enjoys nothing more than a birthday surprise.

Could we be about to see a solid gold version? Or maybe a new dial color or even, dare we imagine, gemstones dotted hither and yon?

The only thing we know is that no one outside Rolex’s Geneva compound can make anything more than an educated guess.

But worry not, as soon as the next development is announced, on this watch or any other, we’ll cover it here.

Featured Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.

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