The small change that makes a BIG difference to the new Rolex Explorer II 226570Zach Blass
It’s fair to say the Rolex releases last week were simply whelming – neither under or over. The highlight of the 2021 collection was the return of the 36mm Explorer and the first ever Explorer in a two-tone configuration. Many expected big changes for the Explorer II, after all, it is the 50th anniversary of the reference. But what we received was a watch predominantly the same, with a more ergonomic and reflective case profile and upgraded movement. Anyone hoping for the introduction of a ceramic bezel or some green anniversary colouring would have been disappointed. In fact, the external changes for the new Rolex Explorer II 226570 were so subtle that you may have missed one small change that makes a big difference.
The subtle switch up I’m referring to can be found on the black dialled Rolex Explorer II 226570. Part of the reason enthusiasts lauded the return of the 36mm Explorer was due to the fact it returned the purists’ diameter for the collection. With incremental changes, Rolex designs typically reflect the aesthetic cues of vintage designs of the past. Sure we had the maxi-case era, but as we saw with the latest generation of Submariners, Rolex is redesigning many of these modern case profiles to incorporate slimmer tapered lugs that evoke vintage designs. The Rolex Explorer II 226570, however, introduced a departure from it’s heritage: removing the floating/mystery hands found on the black dialled 216570.
What exactly does this mean? The now discontinued ref. 216570 had black coatings at the bases of each central hand. Against the black backdrop of the dial it created an aesthetic where the hands appeared to be floating on the dial. With the base coating of the hands blending into the backdrop they appeared disconnected from the centre hand mount, resulting in the floating or mystery effect.
The new Rolex Explorer II 226570 has removed the black base coatings on all hands, resulting in full white gold hands for the hours, minutes, and seconds and a full orange GMT hand.
Why is this a big deal? Outside of the enthusiast community it likely won’t be, but for devout Rolex followers it was a change that did not go unnoticed. The original Explorer II ref. 1655 released in 1971, pictured above, included black coating to the bases of the central hands – creating the floating effect. When the ref. 216570 was released, collectors lauded the return of this small detail – a fitting tribute to the ref. 1655 that started it all. So when eagle-eyed enthusiasts spotted this small change, many were dismayed with the move. The Crown typically makes changes to improve the efficacy of a watch, so perhaps they felt it increased legibility. But the move would have made Rolex traditionalists everywhere shed a tear and pour one out for the now discontinued floating hands.