A mainstay of the Rolex catalog since the early 1950s, the Explorer is both the brand’s oldest sports watch still in production and its most understated. As is the norm for longtime Rolex models, the Explorer has undergone some notable modifications over its almost seven-decade history while still retaining its fundamental design characteristics. And it is these modifications and updates that will ultimately dictate which Explorer reference is right for you. So with that in mind, here are the top three things to know before buying a Rolex Explorer.
The Rolex Explorer Comes In Two Sizes
When the Rolex Explorer made its official debut in 1953, the watch featured a 36mm steel Oyster case to house its now-signature black dial with 3/6/9 numerals. Rolex stuck to those dimensions for the next five-plus decades until 2010, when the brand released the Explorer ref. 214270 with a 39mm case. Therefore, current-production Rolex Explorers have 39mm cases, while discontinued and vintage Explorer references have 36mm cases.
36mm Rolex Explorer Models
- ref. 6150
- ref. 6350
- ref. 6610
- ref. 1016
- ref. 14270
- ref. 114270
39mm Rolex Explorer
Rolex Explorer 14270 vs. 114270
If you have your heart on buying a 36mm Explorer, then the two newest references are the ref. 14270 (released in 1989) and ref. 114270 (released in 2001). So what are the differences between the Explorer 14270 and the Explorer 114270?
Rolex introduced Explorer ref. 14270 as the modern replacement for the long-running Explorer ref. 1016. The watch brought about a handful of enhancements that had become standard on many other Rolex watches, such as sapphire crystal to replace acrylic crystal, applied white gold lume-filled indexes to replace painted indexes, glossy black dials to replace matte black dials, and Caliber 3000 movements to replace the previous Caliber 1570. It’s also worth pointing out that while early examples of the Explorer 14270 used tritium for luminescence, Rolex switched over to LumiNova in the mid-1990s.
When Rolex launched the Explorer ref. 114270, it looked almost identical to the previous reference. However, inside the case was a different automatic movement – the Caliber 3130 rather than the previous Caliber 3000. The only cosmetic changes included the addition of solid end links (SEL) and the use of Super-LumiNova (which is essentially identical to LumiNova but a different brand name). However, sometime in the mid-2000s, Rolex adopted additional counterfeit prevention measures such as engraving the rehaut (the space between the dial and the crystal) with ‘ROLEX ROLEX ROLEX’ (along with the watch’s individual serial number) and laser etching the crystal with a tiny crown (the Rolex logo).
Rolex Explorer 214270 MK1 vs. MK2 Dials