Did Rolex do the Right thing by reducing the Rolex Explorer I from 39mm wide to 36?

Did Rolex do the Right thing by reducing the Rolex Explorer I from 39mm wide to 36?

For starters, I like big watches and I cannot lie. At least when it comes to Rolex, I like watches on the bigger side. I love the new Submariner at 41mm and the Datejust 41 pulls at my heart string for sure. However, Rolex shocked us all when they released the Explorer in 36mm, and followed it with a two-tone version in the same breath. 

In 2021, Rolex celebrated 50 years of the Explorer II. They updated it with a new movement, a slightly updated case and bracelet and a whole new process for making the watch hands. At first everyone had mixed opinions, but months later, we are all on the waitlist at the local AD. I personally cannot wait to get mine. 

2021 Rolex Explorer II

What threw the watch world into a bit of a conundrum was the update to the Explorer I (many refer it to as the Explorer I, the original watch designed in 1959).  This model in the Explorer line is the grandfather to the entire collection and was originally developed around 1952/53. It is the watch that Rolex often implies Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay wore to climb Mt. Everest in 1953 (but in reality, research has proven that it was actually a Smiths worn at the summit). Either way, the Explorer had some involvement with that expedition, and therefore is considered a cornerstone in Rolex’s history. For countless decades the watch was offered only in steel, no-date, and had the iconic black dial in a 36mm wide case. Then in 2010 Rolex released it in 39mm. To me the watch was modernized and frankly was updated to what Rolex’s customers would want in the recognizable timepiece. But this year Rolex decided to make an about direction change for the collection. 

exploerer 36 vs explorer 39

Instead of staying the course of larger watches, they went back to 36mm. Even more surprising they offered it in a bi-metal version (how the Swiss refer to two-tone). To me I wasn’t sure about this at the time and months later I am still not sure why this was the direction they went.  As I said, I like my watches with a bit of wrist girth, and in general a 38mm-42mm wide watch is what most people gravitate towards nowadays. 

So, why did Rolex go in this rather strange size direction? Because they are Rolex. Just when you think you have predicted what they are going to do, they make a seemingly crazy direction change. To you and I, we have no idea why they did it, but years later it’ll make total sense. For now I think they went with this drastic size change because of a few reasons. First, few of their sports collection watches are offered in less than 40mm. Think about it, can you purchase a sporty Rolex, like the Submariner in less than 40mm? The answer is no. The only professional / sport watch I could find in the collection on Rolex’s website was the Yacht-master. They offer it in a 37mm wide size, in a few color and metal combinations but that is it. So, offering a 36mm version of the Explorer now from a size direction makes sense. Second, the original version of the watch was 36mm wide. Moving back to this original size also makes a lot of sense. Vintage is all the rage, and Rolex is a brand that is extremely proud of its history. Taking that information into play, offering something that is an updated version of a vintage watch is 100% on brand. Lastly, this watch size speaks to women and men with smaller wrists. If you are a sporty kinda girl or guy, with smaller wrists and want a Rolex, the Explorer is a perfect fit.

two-tone bi-metal Rolex explorer

The one thing I cannot understand is why to make it in bi-metal / two-tone. I do not think that it fits the collection and frankly I do not think this watch is more appealing than the Datejust. Sorry Rolex, I cannot really find a strong reason for this metal choice. With all the great options that Rolex offers in two-tone, an Explorer in 36mm seems somewhat forced. Historically this watch was developed as the Rolex sports watch, a flashy polished center link and bezel is a stretch, even for me, their biggest fan.

Lastly, would I purchase the new 36mm Rolex Explorer? The answer is no. This is because size wise it would get zero wrist time. But, any Rolex smaller than 39mm would get the hard pass by me. That being noted, if my wife “got the call” she would break out the charge card. She loves larger watches too, but 36mm is still to her a good sized watch. A Datejust 31 would definitely get a no from her, but a 36mm watch fits well and looks the place on her wrist. Knowing this information, I think Rolex did the right thing with the all steel version.

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