Baselworld 2021 may have been canceled long ago, but with many of the exhibiting brands now participating in Watches and Wonders, there are still plenty of new Rolex watches to talk about this year. Although Rolex just launched new watches in September 2020, we already have a fresh batch of novelties to discuss – and just like all new Rolex releases, these new additions are some of the biggest watch-related news of the year.
However, the new Rolex watches are only half the story. Any time the brand adds models to its catalog, there will inevitably be some that get discontinued. Additionally, virtually anytime Rolex updates its catalog, the brand’s actions will inevitably influence the overall market for Rolex watches. So, what’s new and what models got discontinued this year?
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The New Rolex Explorer Release
Arguably the most talked-about new release of the year is the updated Rolex Explorer now in two-tone. Since its release in 1953, the Rolex Explorer has always been crafted entirely from stainless steel. The all-new reference 124273 features Rolex’s signature steel and gold “Yellow Rolesor” finish and the watch is powered by the new-generation Caliber 3230 movement. However, arguably far more important than its two-tone construction and new movement is the fact that the Rolex Explorer is – one again – a watch with a 36mm case size.
The new generation of Rolex Explorer watches consists of the two-tone ref. 124273 and the all-stainless steel reference 124270. As is customary for the collection, both models are exclusively fitted with black dials, but while the previous generation of the Explorer featured a 39mm case, the new generation returns to the original size. A case diameter of 36mm is hardly something new for Rolex, but this change suddenly makes the recently-discontinued reference 214270 a significantly more compelling purchase from an investment perspective.
As it currently stands, the reference 214270 is the only Rolex Explorer model to feature a 39mm case. Since its introduction, the Explorer has historically been a 36mm watch and while there are some 34mm variants, the recently discontinued ref. 214270 is the only example to ever feature a larger case. Many collectors feel that 39mm is somewhat of a sweet spot when it comes to size, and the larger case of the now-discontinued Explorer 214270 makes it unique and instantly recognizable from all other Rolex Explorer watches.
Rolex Explorer II
New Rolex Explorer II
This year marks the 50th Anniversary of the Rolex Explorer II, and pretty much everyone was anticipating that the brand would release a new model to celebrate the occasion. Rolex did unveil a new Explorer II this year, and while there was a lot of discussion about the possibility of a ceramic bezel or splashes of green on the dial and hands to commemorate the anniversary, the new Explorer II largely resembles the recently discontinued model.
The new Rolex Explorer II reference 226570 has benefitted from some subtle refinements in regards to case and bracelet proportions and it also has the new-generation Caliber 3285 movement but for the most part, it appears nearly identical to the previous generation. The watch still has a 42mm case diameter, it is still produced exclusively in stainless steel, and it is still offered with the choice of either a black or white (“Polar”) dial. Additionally, the new ref. 226570 watches even still feature the same splash of bright orange for their “Explorer II” names and 24-hour hands.
Anytime Rolex releases a new sports watch, the notoriety accompanying it will often drive up demand for existing models on the open market. Additionally, since this new generation of the Rolex Explorer II is (for the most part) rather similar to the previous generation, this makes the older 40mm versions of the watch all the more unique. The 5-digit reference number Explorer II watches have been gaining a lot of popularity in recent years, and since the new ref. 226570 continues with the trend of 42mm cases and an updated design language, we wouldn’t be surprised to see the older 40mm models continue to remain the strong cult-favorites.
Rolex GMT-Master II
New Rolex GMT Master II
Over the course of the last few years, one of the major points of discussion surrounding the new Rolex watches has been the style of bracelet available on the GMT-Master II collection. While there aren’t any new models added to the lineup for this year, there is a new bracelet option for the stainless steel models, and this may be the most controversial update from Rolex this year.
When the stainless steel ref. 126710BLRO debuted in 2018, it was exclusively offered on a Jubilee bracelet. This helped distinguish it from the white gold model, which was fitted with an Oyster bracelet, and when the black and blue version received an update in 2019, the new ref. 126710BLNR was also fitted with a Jubilee bracelet. Up until this year, it seemed that the stainless steel Rolex GMT-Master II watches were fitted with Jubilee bracelets, while the two-tone and solid gold models received Oyster bracelets. However, that is no longer the case.
Both of the stainless steel models (ref. 126710BLRO and ref. 126710BLNR) remain part of Rolex’s catalog, and there have been no changes to their reference numbers. With that in mind both watches are now available with the option of either the Oyster or Jubilee bracelet. Historically, buyers who wanted their “Batman” GMT-Master II to have an Oyster bracelet were forced to opt for the discontinued ref. 116710BLNR, while those who wanted a ceramic “Pepsi” bezel and an Oyster bracelet were confined to solid white gold models. That is no longer the case, and fans of both bezel options will now have the choice between either Oyster or Jubilee bracelets on the stainless steel models.
However, just because there are now two bracelet options does not mean that Rolex is making twice as many stainless steel GMT-Master II watches. If anything, the total number of “Batman” models on Jubilee bracelets just decreased by half, since now 50% of the black and blue GMT-Master II watches will be fitted with Oyster bracelets. More options is typically a good thing, but for the already ultra-desirable models, this may ultimately just make waiting lists at retailers worse.
New Rolex Sky-Dweller
Just like with the GMT-Master II collection, there have been some additional bracelet options added to the Rolex Sky-Dweller lineup. Up until this point, all Sky-Dweller watches were either fitted with Oyster or Oysterflex bracelets, and there are also a handful of discontinued models in solid gold that feature leather straps. However, the Yellow Rolesor and White Rolesor models are now available with either Oyster or Jubilee bracelets. Interestingly, the Jubilee bracelet is only an option on the two steel and gold models, and while there has been no update to their reference numbers, the alternate bracelet results in a significantly different overall aesthetic.
The Rolex Sky-Dweller has steadily been gaining popularity since it first appeared in 2012, and in recent years, it has been the stainless steel and white gold model with the blue dial that has quickly jumped to the front of the pack as being the fan-favorite. The blue dial is only found on the White Rolesor reference 326934, but since this same watch is now offered with both bracelet styles, it will be interesting to see if one of the configurations ultimately experiences a significantly higher demand than the other.
Additionally, it’s also worth noting that demand for the blue dial Sky-Dweller was already far exceeding its supply at a retail level, and nearly all retailers have waiting lists for the watch. Prospective buyers will inevitably have a preference regarding bracelet style, and now that the blue dials are spread across two different configurations of the model, there is a strong possibility that the wait for the version of your choice will only be longer.
Rolex Daytona, Datejust, and Day-Date President
While the biggest news from Rolex for 2021 pertains to the Explorer collection and the new bracelet options for the stainless steel GMT-Master II and Rolesor Sky-Dweller references, it is also worth mentioning that Rolex has added some additional dial options to the Daytona and Datejust collections.
New Rolex Daytona
For the Rolex Daytona, there are now additional diamond-set and meteorite dial options for some of the two-tone and solid gold references. This is not the first time that meteorite dials or diamond hour markers have appeared on Rolex’s legendary chronograph, but it does represent a notable expansion of the Daytona’s luxury-oriented options. Next to the Datejust, the Daytona is one of Rolex’s most diverse collections of watches, and while it may have started its life as a humble tool for the racetrack, it has been continuously evolving towards becoming one of the most recognizable status symbols in the world.
New Rolex Datejust
On the Datejust side of things, Rolex has added some additional dial options, with some featuring unique designs. Among them is a dial that features a palm motif that draws inspiration from tropical forests and a fluted variation that is intended to compliment some of Rolex’s hallmark styles. Additionally, the “Wimbledon” dial with its green-outlined Roman numeral markers is now available on the Datejust 36, while it was previously only available on the 41mm versions of the watch. With its slate surface, painted Roman numerals, and lone applied baton marker at the 9 o’clock location, the Wimbledon dial is easily among the more unusual options found on the Datejust, and the fact that it is now also available on the 36mm models will only open it up to a wider range of buyers.
New Rolex Day-Date
Lastly, there are also a few new options for the Day-Date collection. Some are fairly standard and it seems as though they already should have existed within the lineup – such as a slate dial with classic baton markers fitted to a Day-Date 40 in white gold, or an Everose gold Day-Date 36 with a white Roman dial and diamond bezel. However, probably the most noteworthy new addition is a new stone dial featuring a slice of Eisenkiesel on its surface. Fitted to select Everose gold Rolex President models, the natural tones of the mineral perfectly compliment the warm hues of Rolex’s proprietary rose gold alloy.