It may seem like just yesterday, but Rolex released the new Explorer II’s back in July. Just before they came out, there was a ton of speculation around whether or not Rolex would release the Explorer II with a Ceramic bezel. I, for one, was ready and waiting for it but Rolex decided to keep the steel bezel to my surprise and frankly everyone else's.
Additionally, I think we were all surprised by this because of what Rolex has been doing with ceramics. Just to point out, many of Rolex’s models have moved from metal to ceramic over the last fifteen years. Many of the sports collection have been upgraded, including the Submariner and GMT Master bezel are now in ceramic, called Cerachrom by Rolex. The Daytona in many of its variations is now exclusively using Cerachrom as the material for its bezels. Even the Yacht-Master has a few ceramic inserts offered on their models. So, naturally the Explorer II moving to a ceramic bezel was a logical change for Rolex. But occasionally Rolex isn’t logical in their design choices.
The seemingly out of character move caught a lot of attention by the watch community. Frankly, not adding a ceramic insert got the watch world scratching their heads. The reason being from what I can tell is that the old Explorer II and the new one look pretty much identical in pictures. I have trouble telling them apart at first glance. So, did everyone on instagram and the watch forums when the pictures began surfacing this past July.
I was able to get some face time with a new 2021 version in July. In fact, the new model is different from the previous generation and I do like the look of the new design. That being said, I was a fan of the previous version so naturally I was fond of the new one that looks nearly identical. But, I clearly think they made a huge error in not coming out with a ceramic bezel on the watch. I really feel that their design ethos was moving away from metal based bezels and into ceramics. This is confusing and doesn't make any sense to me.
Rolex’s Cerachrom inserts are frankly amazing. They are gorgeous, super cool design wise and completely scratch resistant. It has become a great benefit to the watch brand to offer watches that will continue to look new (bezel wise) almost infinitely. By not offering the new Explorer II with a ceramic bezel they shot themselves in the foot. I think they let us all down, and the new model, as nice as it is, could be far better.
I remember when the Daytona was released with a ceramic insert in 2016 and it was as if Rolex had made lighting in a bottle (again!) This already iconic watch that had a waiting list with a steel bezel, became the most sought after watch in the world overnight. Currently, the watch has a 10 year wait list and goes for 3X the MSRP on the second hand market. It is the grail of almost every collector out there. Why you ask, very significantly because of the new Cerachrom bezel. I remember being at Baselworld 2016, and speaking with some close friends in the watch press world. They expressly told me that Rolex had just changed the game forever by just adding a ceramic bezel to this watch. They were all dead right.
Again, I am not mad at Rolex - more disappointed (boy do I sound like a dad with that statement). The 2021 release of the Explorer II could have been the “next big thing.” Instead, it is a semi-popular Rolex that is easily confused with its predecessor. Rolex is better than that, and they know it. I only hope that they come to this conclusion and make us what we all really want, an Explorer II with a ceramic bezel.
Also, if you have the previous generation model, check out our amazing rubber straps for it. They can be found HERE.
*many of these images above are from Rolex's press images and Hodinkee.com