In 2021, when Rolex released the 50th Anniversary model of the Rolex Explorer II, the overall watch community’s response was lackluster and confused. Apart from being disappointed that there wasn’t a ceramic bezel like many predictors had predicted and/or a new dial color or 24h hand like many had hoped for, the biggest source of confusion and disappointment came from how similar this new Explorer looked to the existing one.
Rolex Explorer II Ref. 226570 with Polar Dial (2021 New Release)
Shaking their heads trying to undo the lingering feeling of déjà vu from 2011, very few people could discern any difference between the new model and the existing model of the Explorer II. “Nothing changed” they said, and, “It’s literally the same watch with an updated movement.” To be fair, upon initial inspection of the “new” Rolex Explorer II (ref. 226570), it truly is almost indistinguishable from its predecessor (ref. 216570).
On the left: Rolex Explorer II Ref. 216570 (2011-2021). On the right: Rolex Explorer II Ref. 226570 (2021).
However, there are quite a few notable differences to those with a more trained eye (or those who have a bit of a watch obsession--not that we know anyone like that). We found at least 15 differences and created the most useful chart ever that shows all the (albeit subtle) differences between the 216570 and the 226570 Rolex Explorer II models in an easy to read and concise format.
|Features||Rolex Explorer Ref. 216570
|Rolex Explorer Ref. 226570
|Production Dates||2011-2021||2021 - ?|
|Bezel||brushed stainless steel||brushed stainless steel|
|Movement||calibre 3187||calibre 3285 (same as the 2018 GMT Master II)|
|Lugs||thicker lugs||thinner, shaved on the inner surfaces|
|Lug Width (for straps)||21mm between the lugs||22mm between the lugs|
|Bracelet||brushed Oystersteel with 904L||brushed Oystersteel with 904L but, 1mm larger overall|
|Dial Colors||black and polar white||black and polar white|
|Hands on Black Dial||part black "floating" hands||fully polished hands|
|Hands on White Dial||black coated hands with glossy finish||white gold hands coated with PVD matte finish|
|Rolex Coronet||no coronet visible between the "Swiss" and "Made" on the lower center dial||visible coronet between the "Swiss" and "Made" on the lower center dial|
|Lume||Chromalight Lume||enhanced Chromalight Lume (brighter, longer-lasting)|
|Clasp||Steel Oysterlock + Easylink||Steel Oysterlock + Easylink|
|Water Resistance||100 meters||100 meters|
|Crystal||sapphire crystal||sapphire crystal now coated with an anti-reflective coating on inside|
|Cyclops||standard Rolex cyclops||updated cyclops coated with anti-reflective coating on the inside surface|
|Crown||screw down twinlock crown||screw down twinlock crown|
|Font Size and Numerals||same size and style on both models||same size and style on both models|
|Crown Guards||thicker, more robust crown guards||slightly redesigned, thinner, and more angular crown guards|
|24hr hand||orange (same on both models)||orange (same on both models)|
|Special Edition||40th Anniversary Model||50th Anniversary Model|
|Retail Price at Release Date||$8510||$8550|
|Gray Market Asking Price (as of today)||Approximately $12,800||Approximately $16,000 +|
Rolex Explorer II 216570 with Black Dial (Source: Gray&Sons)
In the end, we were thrilled with the subtle updates of the Rolex Explorer II. Would we have maybe loved let’s say, a green 24h hand? Sure. But overall, the Explorer II is a near perfect watch and as the famous quote goes, “If it ain't broke, don’t fix it.” Rolex doesn’t always have to come out with something brand new and shocking and earth shattering to be effective. Rolex has mastered the art of subtle improvements while still keeping the original aesthetic of its watches.
Rolex Explorer II 226570 (2021 New Release)
People can get really hot and bothered about what they deem a “lack of vision or innovation” but we just don’t see it that way. Watches are a lot like cars, and you don’t see Porche completely changing the game every year--rather the updates are subtle--smoother curves, slightly thinner tail lights, marginally updated dashboard, a bit more flare on the fenders. It’s still the Porsche 911 you love, but just elevated.
As a company who specializes in aftermarket custom made straps for Rolex watches, it is imperative that we fully study every aspect of a watch so that we can make the absolute best strap for it. We are big fans of the Rolex Explorer II and all of its predecessors. Explore our customized straps and accessories for Rolex Explorers and elevate your comfort and style.