Did Rolex actually do us a favor by not changing the Explorer II? (despite the #watchfam disappointment)
Another watch fair and another round of new Rolex models have come and gone. If there's one thing that I’ve learned in my years of following this hobby it’s that every single year is bound to be met with disappointment of some sort. It’s either watch brands listening to too many voices and trying to please everyone at one time, or brands ignoring the watch community altogether and doing what they want instead, causing uproar and borderline riots in the forums. (okay okay, riots may be a little bit dramatic, but have y’all seen some of these forum threads) This year was no exception as the moment that Rolex announced their intention to launch new novelties at the 2021 Watches & Wonder event the internet started buzzing. No help to the countless rumors was the fact that this year marked the 50th anniversary of the Explorer II, one of the brand’s most easily recognized models.
Rolex Explorer II Ref 1655 from 1971 Credit Check out more history on the original Explorer II
Characterized most easily by its 24 hour bezel and bright colored GMT hand, there have been five variations of the Explorer II in its 50 year history. In all five of them, you’ll find mostly the same features, with slight changes to size, movement, numeral type, and the color of the GMT hand. But overall, you can look at each and every one of them and easily spot one fact without a doubt - that is it a Rolex Explorer II. Think about it. How many watches can say that? How many brands get too caught up in making changes every year or two and watering down their core product. Sure, the movements may be upgraded, and materials may be different, but if you look at the newest version of that watch compared to what it started as, is it even the same thing anymore?
Unpopular opinion, but I think that Rolex knows this. Looking through their catalog over the years and there is rarely any major design change. After all, why should they? The brand is the number one watch brand worldwide and a huge part of that comes down to recognizability. The brand creates icons! Watches that truly stand the test of time in more ways than the fact that it will just continue to run in 20 years. They create watches that will look as current in 20 years as they did the day you bought them. For me, that’s what I love about the brand.
So let’s venture back to this year’s update to the Explorer II. Speculations were everywhere as to what mind-blowing new update Rolex would launch for such a big anniversary. Almost every watch forum was filled with the digital renderings of ceramic bezels, different color GMT hands, new case shapes, and so much more. We even speculated here on the Everest journal as to what major changes 2021 Rolex might bring to the table. But we were all wrong and personally, I couldn’t be happier that they did.
Rolex did what they do best, they made small and necessary improvements to an icon that made the watch better for everyday wear. This is what the brand does. It’s why the Rolex Submariner is still the most well known watch on the market today, over fifty years later. Yet the watch community was in uproar using phrases like “unoriginal” to describe the watch. I’ll admit that I used to be guilty of the same. I used to despise when a brand launched a new watch, made a small difference in the color or something equally minute, and then made a big deal about it.
In recent months, a simple phrase has crossed my mind many times and it finally hit me. “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it”. Rolex created an icon with the original Explorer II. There was nothing wrong with what that watch has been over the last fifty years, so why should they have changed it. While it may not be what we wanted, the brand protected the story behind the Explorer II. And personally, I am learning to have far more respect for a brand that recognizes they have a good thing and doesn’t feel the need to mix it up every couple of years. Let’s celebrate the genius that is behind the brand, the fact that even fifty years ago, they got it right the first time. And we get to enjoy this icon for another fifty years to come.
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By: K. Wells