Modern Rolex Explorer I Models

rolex explorer i 14270 214270

The Rolex Explorer I is one of the most versatile Rolex timepieces. Its story famously takes shape as Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay took their pioneering ascent to the Everest in 1953. To remind everyone of the famous feat – and of the Oyster Perpetual that timed their expedition – the Rolex Explorer was launched that same year.

Almost 70 years on, the simple deep black dial and the recognizable 3, 6 and 9 of the Explorer has persisted. This year, it also received a fresh new look with two new references: the new Oystersteel ref 124270 and the new Rolesor 124273.

With that, we have four key references of the modern Rolex Explorer I – all heirs to an impressive legacy. Let’s take a look at how the Explorer I has evolved since its rebirth in the 1980s.


Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer I 36mm 14270
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer I 36mm 14270


Ref 14270 (1989 – 2007)

Launched in Baselworld 1989, the ref 14270 marked the beginnings of the modern Rolex Explorer. Taking from the foundation laid by the ref 1016 – it had all the staples of the Rolex Explorer, but with its matte dial replaced with a lacquered dial and its painted markers replaced with applied markers with white gold surrounds.

Furthermore, it also replaced the previous acrylic crystal with a scratch proof sapphire crystal. Of course, the movement was also upgraded to the Caliber 3000 and later on with the Caliber 3130 in 2001, with the slightly updated ref 114270.

All these modern upgrades created a stark separation from the tool watch heritage of the Rolex Explorer; and put the collection at the cross-section between sport and luxury.



Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer I 39mm 214270
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer I 39mm 214270


Ref 214270 (2010 – 2020)

This particular Rolex Explorer I ushered in one of the biggest changes in the Explorer’s history – a bigger 39mm case to replace the traditional 36mm. The face was also given a lift, with the iconic 3, 6 and 9 numbers no longer luminescent and crafted entirely in 18k white gold and the EXPLORER text moved from below the Rolex logo to above 6 o’clock.

The first version of the 214270 came with hands that, to many Rolex fans, seemed too short for the new size of the Explorer. A gentle fix introduced in 2016 with the “Mark II” dial with better proportioned center hands and the 3, 6 and 9 numerals luminescent again.

Both versions of the 214270 are powered by the Caliber 3132.



The New Rolex Explorer I: 2021 Editions

A decade after the release of the 39mm Explorer, Rolex comes back to the historical 36mm size used for over 5 decades. Not only that – the company also introduced the Rolex Explorer I in a new two-tone edition.


The new Rolex Explorer I (2021) in Stainless Steel and Rolesor
The new Rolex Explorer I (2021) in Stainless Steel and Rolesor


Ref 124270 (2021)

Replacing the 39mm Explorer is the ref 124270, which comes back to the historic size of the Explorer I. This move is quite surprising, given that recent developments in other Rolex watches – namely the Submariner and the Oyster Perpetual – saw increased cases of 41mm.

Apart from its reduced diameter, the new generation Explorer I still bears the distinct elements of the previous Explorer – lacquered black dial, white gold hands and applied indexes filled with Chromalight lume.


Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer I 36mm 124270
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer I 36mm 124270


What the new Rolex Explorer 124270 boasts of are the reformulated blue Chromalight luminous paint that glows for longer in the dark, and the new caliber 3230, which features a Parachrom hairspring, 70 hours of power reserve and accuracy of +2 / -2 seconds per day.



Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer I 36mm 124273
Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer I 36mm 124273


Ref 124273 (2021)

Perhaps the most surprising news from Rolex this year is the introduction of the Rolex Explorer I in two-tone, Oystersteel and yellow gold. The Explorer has never been rendered in anything but stainless steel for almost 50 years, so with the addition of gold, the iconic tool watch takes on a more luxurious character.

The 18k yellow gold material is found classically on the smooth bezel, the crown and on the center links of the bracelet. The Explorer I’s traditional white gold marker surrounds have also been switched to yellow gold for this reference.

Like the new Explorer I in Oystersteel, it runs on the new caliber 3230.



The Rolex Explorer I has always been one of the more understated watches of the brand, given its simple, no nonsense nature. With the new 2021 models, not only does the traditional Rolex Explorer I make its triumphant return – it also shines the spotlight on this sleeping giant.





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