The new versions of the Explorer II were highly anticipated because Rolex had, as usual, prepared the ground well by arousing interest and curiosity through a teasing video unveiled one week before the digital edition of Watches & Wonders 2021. Because even without indicating the name of the model, the video presented an unambiguous context (with the evocation of caving) as well as the effect of the luminescence of the dial. There was no longer any doubt as to which model was involved, and April 7, 2021 became the release date for the new generation of the Explorer II in everyone's mind. In fact, the wait had started long before that! Fans of the brand knew that the Explorer II would celebrate its 50th anniversary in 2021, which generated a multitude of comments and guesses on social networks and forums about the design of this evolution. A lot of simulations were published, most of them combining a black ceramic bezel with the then current reference 216570. I must confess that I always watch with great pleasure and interest these style exercises. First of all because they translate the extraordinary interest and passion around Rolex. Then because everyone understands that the brand is evolving its collection in small steps and that there is a chance to not be wrong in its predictions. Well... in theory! Because in practice Rolex always manages to surprise and to be there when you don't expect it.
This last sentence may seem strange especially after discovering the watches issued from the update of the Explorer II. How can Rolex surprise when the two pieces in question are very close aesthetically speaking to those they replace? Well, it's all there. We didn't expect this quasi-duplication. We should have understood Rolex since all this time. And if we understood them well, we could not have imagined for a moment the presence of a black ceramic bezel on such a watch. The Explorer II is an exploration watch, robust and reliable, and must meet several criteria: water resistance, readability in the dark and 24-hour time display to distinguish day from night, which is important for cavers or people working in polar bases. In this context, the bezel plays a fundamental role since it contributes to this day/night display. If the bezel insert were made of ceramic, it would be likely to break in case of impact. For this reason, ceramic was not an acceptable option. A Rolex professional watch, even if nowadays it is considered more as a precious object, remains above all a measuring instrument and must meet the constraints of the use for which it is intended.
The other expectation that was often expressed was the return to a 40mm diameter. The probability of Rolex abandoning its 42mm diameter was almost nil, simply because of a logic of complementarity of the offer. The Explorer II 216570, presented in 2011, had a special place in the catalog because of the originality of its white dial version and its 42mm diameter: only the Sky-Dweller and in the professional range the Yacht-Master 42mm (the latter only existing in white gold) have an equivalent size. Rolex did not risk to damage the fine and intelligent construction of its catalog by removing a steel reference with a 42mm diameter.
And so, almost everyone was surprised to see that the two versions of the new reference 226570 were hardly different from their predecessors. A real paradox when you think about it, when Rolex has only applied its logic and strategy.
Now, it would be extremely simplistic to consider the reference 226570 only as a quasi-clone of the reference 216570. Because it's the same principle as with the new Submariner: the aesthetic changes seem minor but they are relevant and above all, it's the changes that are not visible that are the most important.
In fact, the transition between the two references is a further demonstration of the brand's expertise. In terms of design, the main changes are the different proportions of the lugs and the bracelet. The lugs are refined and the bracelet is widened. In addition, the case middle is slightly slimmer while the crown guard offers a more angular profile. The diameter remains unchanged, and the combination of these changes gives the case a more harmonious and slender appearance. The dials also undergo changes. On the white version, the indexes and hands are in white gold with a matte PVD treatment. On the black version, the differences in the hands are more noticeable since their black base is abandoned. They now appear entirely on the dial, whereas they seemed to "float" with the 216570 version. As with the new Submariner, the Swiss Made inscription at the base of the dial has a crown in the center. Finally, the cyclops magnifying glass has an anti-reflective coating on its inner side. At the end of the day, nothing fundamental on the dial either, but all this subtle work aims to slightly improve readability and offer a smoother, more elegant look.
It is in the dark that the gap between the generations widens. The reference 226570 benefits from the Chromalight display with blue luminescent material, which is more effective than before because of its brightness and duration.
But the fundamental difference is not perceptible to the naked eye. It is inside the watch. Responding to Rolex's strategy of equipping the models in its catalog with new generation movements, the Explorer II of 2021 is powered by the caliber 3285 that had succeeded the 3186 in 2018. The Explorer II was the only flagship model in the catalog to use a particular caliber, the caliber 3187, which is in fact an enlarged platinum version of the caliber 3186. It's a bit of a shame to lose this originality, but it was no longer necessary given the performance of the caliber 3285, which also equips the GMT-Master II. I draw your attention to the fact that the diameter of the caliber 3187 is 31mm against 28.5mm for the 3285. In a way, the former movement had a size better adapted to the 42mm diameter but this is hardly perceptible on the dial side, the date window having seemed to me to be in the same place.
The 3285 movement incorporates many of Rolex's recent developments and is distinguished from the 3186/3187 by its 70-hour power reserve (for a frequency of 4hz), which is achieved in particular by optimizing the energy consumption of the regulating organ and by a more efficient barrel. Finally, the shock resistance is reinforced thanks to the Paraflex shock absorbers. The blue paramagnetic Parachrom hairspring was also present in the caliber 3187, the latter already offering a precision between -2/+2 seconds per day, which is the range promised by the caliber 3285.
In any case, given the aesthetic proximity between the reference 226570 and its predecessor, my feelings remain the same about the Explorer II. It is a watch that I like very much, especially in its white dial version because of its singularity in the Rolex offer where black dials are in majority within the professional watches. Moreover, it is a real GMT watch (it goes further than the strict day/night display of the watch of 50 years ago) and can be considered as an alternative to the GMT-Master II. The main difference is that the latter can manage 3 time zones because of its rotating bezel while the Explorer II manages only 2 because its bezel is fixed.
The Explorer II seduces me because its size gives it fluidity, its large orange hand relaxes the dial and its great versatility both aesthetically and practically (its water resistance is 100 meters) is very appreciable. The Explorer II may not be considered on the same level as other flagship models of the brand, but this new generation may well change the game. Not because of a transformation of the watch content because the reference 216570 was already an excellent watch but because of the exposure and visibility that Rolex has just given it. Without forgetting the difficulty to acquire the GMT-Master II in steel which could reflect on the demand of the Explorer II.
The Explorer II reference 226570 is available in steel in its two versions with white or black dial at a price of 8,050 euros in France.
+ the aesthetic modifications to the case that make sense
+ the performance of the 3285 caliber
+ the uniqueness of the white dial model
+ the aesthetic and usage versatility
- It's anecdotal but the reference 216570 used a movement that was exclusive to it which is not the case with the new version