Well, the wait is finally over, we have the long-awaited Rolex novelties for 2021, and we can all breathe a sigh of relief now that we have a year to relax and wait for this whole cycle to start again. We even had a nice look at some great surprises long before the 12 pm CET release, thanks to the usual batch of leaks. So, let's jump straight into the novelties and see what all of the fuss and build-up was about!
The All-New Explorer II ref. 226570
With it being the Explorer II's 50th anniversary, hopes were undoubtedly high this year for a redesigned Cerachrom bezel, some pops of green, and a new movement. Some were also hoping that Rolex would downsize the Explorer II's 42mm case down to the beloved 40mm. Instead, we've just been given a visually identical watch to the one it left behind, the ref. 216570, but with the same movement as the GMT-Master II collection, the cal. 3285. Packing 70 hours of power reserve, it's certainly an upgrade from the 50 hours in the cal. 3187 that it took over from, but, strangely, Rolex didn't release a larger version of the cal. 3285 that would fit into the Explorer II's 42mm case better. They have redesigned the case a bit, so perhaps that was included in the redesign.
36mm Explorer 1 is here
In one of the biggest surprises of the year, the 39mm Explorer I has been discontinued and been replaced by a pair of 36mm Explorer I's. Available in stainless steel and bi-metal, it seems Rolex listened to their diehard fans on this one. Fans of the original Explorer have been asking for Rolex to downsize it back to the original's dimensions, and they've actually done it. With a new movement (cal. 3230), the Explorer ref. 124270 does get a nice technical enhancement, but it begs the question, why has the Explorer I been given such focus even though it's just a random year for it? The Explorer II was supposed to be this year's poster child.
New Dials for the Daytona and Datejust
Besides the collection-specific changes, we've seen some new dials being introduced. The Daytona collection has seen meteorite dials added to its rose gold, yellow gold, and white gold variants to create what will probably be the most hyped-up and sought-after watches from this year's novelties. Furthermore, Rolex have added a completely new style of dial to the Datejust, a "Palm motif" dial. Featuring various shades of green with palm leaves throughout, tropical forests inspire these dials. Perhaps a bit random for Rolex, but they are certainly pretty unique and play to the current popularity of green dials.
Another relative surprise from this year has been the re-introduction of oyster bracelets to the GMT-Master II collection. While the Batman ref. 126170BLNR was originally on an oyster bracelet when it was introduced back in 2013; it was never available in the stainless steel Pepsi ref. 126710BLRO. Used for the last few years as the means to tell the difference between a white gold and stainless steel GMT-Master II, it does come as a bit of a surprise, as not too many people were asking for the oyster to be added back. Additionally, Rolex have added the jubilee bracelet to the Sky-Dweller family while also keeping the oyster bracelet as an option. Typically Rolex would discontinue one when they replace it with the other, but maybe they've become more generous to their fans, who knows!
While the new Daytona models are stunning, and the 36mm Explorer will surely excite a lot of diehard Rolex fans, this batch of releases has been a tad underwhelming. The Explorer II did need something special, given it is its 50th anniversary, but alas, Rolex will do as Rolex wants and disregard their customers and competitors. While it might be a bit frustrating from time to time, their steadfast dedication to only giving us what they wish to plays a large part in their appeal. Love or hate them; you have to admire their ability to grip the watchmaking community every single year no matter what.