The Explorer is, true to its name, the most iconic mountain-conquering timepiece there is, largely thanks to its role in summiting Everest on the wrist of Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay way back in 1953. It was the culmination of experience gleaned through expeditions in the 1930s and not only managed the 8,848m ascent with aplomb, but showed just what Rolex could do.
Despite its role as an endurance timepiece though, that original Explorer model was a touch smaller than the still svelte 39mm edition we’ve had for the past few years and for 2021, Rolex is returning to the vintage size with the new Oyster Perpetual Explorer 36mm.
It’s the kind of change that, while small on paper, we’ve been wanting for a while. I actually have a 36mm Explorer myself and, while it feels small next to, say, a modern Submariner, it’s that vintage charm that sets it apart. Mine however is the simple, classic steel case with a black dial, the most common version and arguably the most enduring. Here though Rolex have instead decided to take a different route with their signature take on bi-colour, Rolesor.
Rolesor’s been a mainstay of the brand since long before Hillary’s ascent, dating all the way back to the early 30s and, for a tool watch like the explorer, makes a bit of sense. It has the lustre of gold, sure, but the majority of it is solid, rugged Oystersteel. Sure, gold is soft but it also has impeccably corrosion resistance, so as long as most point of impact are steel, you’re good to go.
If that’s not for you however – and I can understand why it wouldn’t be – there’s also a full steel version in the smaller size. It’s pretty much a modern version of my own watch but, honestly, I prefer the headline Rolesor. It’s retro charm personified.
Either way, both watches are equipped with a black dial, with the signature 3, 6 and 9 markers and triangular 12 o’clock marker giving it that classic Explorer feel. Those precious metal rims are filled with a new luminescent material, bright white in daylight and a cool blue in the dark. As tends to always be the case with Rolex, the exact lume is proprietary.
To bring the new Explorer model up to the standard of the wider Rolex collection, it’s also been equipped with the latest Calibre 3230 automatic movement, a calibre that the watchmaker has been quickly spreading through their collection like wildfire since its introduction in 2020.
It’s not hard to see why; with a Parachrom hairspring – a paramagnetic alloy perfect for the harsh conditions the Explorer was built for – and the wider Chronergy escapement, it’s Rolex’s new benchmark pretty happy about that.
Price & Specs:
Model: Rolex Explorer 36mm
Case/Dial: 36 mm diameter, Oystersteel and 18k yellow gold, black lacquer dial
Movement: In-house Calibre 3230, automatic, 31 jewels, Superlative Chronometer (COSC + Rolex certification after casing)
Water Resistance: 100m (10 bar)
Frequency: 28,800 vph (4 Hz)
Power Reserve: 70h
Functions: Hour, minute, seconds, stop-seconds for exact time setting
Strap: Satin-finished Oystersteel three-piece bracelet with polished centre links in 18k yellow gold
More details at Rolex.