Hands On Review: Rolex Explorer II (Released In 2021 / Ref: 226570)

Hands On Review: Rolex Explorer II (Released In 2021 / Ref: 226570)

I have been badgering my AD for months for the new Rolex Explorer II. About every three weeks I call him to ask him where it is, and of course no dice. So, finally I broke down and bought one second hand. I won’t disclose the price, but yes “I paid over retail.” However, I may have found that a good deal considering the current Rolex situation.

First, I have the two previous generations of Explorer II so I am very familiar with this iteration of Rolex. I own the 16570 and the 216570. The two watches are incredibly different, I won’t go into detail about those versions but I will go into detail about the difference between the 226570 and the 216570, and let me tell you…they are quite different watches. Believe it or not, there are at least 15 technical differences (despite the fact that they look almost identical)

Comparing the Rolex Explorer II (216570) and the Explorer II (226570)

First we will discuss the major differences of each watch and then I will let you know which one I think is better. I am going to sound like a hater at times, but frankly there are some design choices I really question with each version. Let’s start with the hands. 

The Hands 

The hands of the new version (just released in 2021), specifically the polar/white dials aren’t good. They are new to this generation and are PVD coated in a matte black. They look very low quality and the matte finish mixed with the lume looks frankly poor. The indices were also done this way and also share the same issues. The dial is done in a white lacquer and looks amazing, however mixing these two contrasting finishes is a clear design mistake in my opinion. Frankly, it is quite surprising how much this one difference gets under my skin. On the previous version the hands were a gloss finish and looked perfect in my opinion against the dial. Sorry Rolex, with this buyer - the previous design is better. 

The Case Shape and Wearability

Case shape and wearability are in my opinion improved in the latest model. The case seems thicker but somehow better proportioned on the new version. I always thought the previous version felt somehow too flat on my wrist compared to the Submariner. With the reference 216570 version (produced from 2011-2021), it may have to do with the length/width of the lugs or the case thickness, it somehow doesn't feel right. The latest version feels honestly perfect. The reference 226570, feels like a larger watch overall then before but more comfortable for sure. In this area current design is improved. They look almost identical when side by side, but somehow they feel slightly different on the wrist.

The Bracelet and Clasp

Bracelet and clasp up next, and sadly the new version is just too wide for my tastes. The previous taper was perfect. I like the fast taper and the previous buckle and bracelet felt, dare I say more Rolex? The new design is good– it’s just not as good as the old one.  The functionality and quality is the same but the overall width starting at 22mm at the lugs going to 20mm on the buckle just doesn’t do it for me like the previous generation. Sorry Rolex, the old guy is better. 

The Movement

Finally we move on to the movement. This to me is a big improvement. I like the longer power reserve a lot. It may even be the best overall feature. I have enough watches that I rotate between them and at times it might be 2-3 days between wearing each of them. The fact that I don’t need to wind the watch and reset the time is really nice. To me this was a gigantic improvement. 

Final Thoughts: Rolex Explorer II (216570) vs the Explorer II (226570)

Overall, I feel that the new version is better. I suspect you are rolling your eyes, due to me finding things that I felt were almost deal breakers. However, wearability of a watch is frankly the most important feature when comparing two watches and the new 226750 is more comfortable on the wrist. This single item really makes this watch zing. 

Missed Opportunity

I do have one final closing remark/question that seems to baffle me: “Why didn’t Rolex make the Explorer II with a Ceramic Bezel?” This single change may have elevated this watch to new worlds. The watch world was pretty surprised and disappointed when Rolex released this latest version with a steel bezel again. It was somewhat of a let down for me as well. There is always hope on this point, but knowing what a ceramic bezel did for the Daytona - I am shocked Rolex didn’t make this a feature and/or the new standard for the model.

I can’t deny that I love my original Explorer II on a rubber strap because not only does it look amazing, but it increases the comfort and wearability ten fold. I’m a big fan of the orange because of how it complements the hand, but I also swap the orange rubber strap out for a black rubber strap pretty frequently. You really can’t go wrong. Check out our collection of Explorer II straps here and if you have an older model, we have you covered here as well. Lastly the three slot watch pouch shown in the pictures can be purchased here.

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