When the Rolex Explorer said goodbye to its 36mm case two years ago, something changed in size. The 39mm version that had been worn on wrists since 2010 was no longer available. The world of horology saw conflicting responses: there was exultation from traditionalists and whispers from those who wanted to take a more daring stand. Then, as if to bridge the gap for those who preferred a more substantial, larger watch, the Rolex Explorer 40, reference 224270, appeared like a celestial body at Watches & Wonders Geneva 2023. This was not just an enlargement, but a deliberate cosmic recalibration that brought the Explorer into line with the constantly changing celestial patterns found in Rolex's catalogue.
Prior to exploring the finer points of design and case size, let us recognise the unique design constraints around the traditional stainless steel Rolex Explorer. Fundamentally, this style is indelibly linked to the world of watches thanks to its recognisable time-only dial, which is embellished with striking Arabic number marks 3-6-9. The canvas has traditionally been painted black, with a few uncommon exceptions such as the mysterious vintage "Albino" versions. The subtle round case, smooth bezel, and flat three-link Oyster bracelet all help to better capture the essence of the Explorer. Rolex treads carefully inside these well-defined lines, aware that straying may change the essence of one of its most beloved and recognisable models.
Ever since the Explorer made its debut in 1953, Rolex has generally stuck to the same formula for creating timepieces, with each new iteration seeking to outperform the one before it. However, the release of the 40mm version, Explorer ref. 224270, in addition to the 36mm reference, 124270, is significant. This is a significant change because the Explorer is the only Rolex sports model that comes in multiple case sizes, with the exception of the Yacht-Master. The introduction of a new size for an already-released model is, in the world of Rolex, a historic occurrence that highlights one of the most important changes to the Explorer collection in the collection's uninterrupted seventy-year history.
One reason for the present Rolex Explorer 36's seeming diminutiveness is that it is marginally smaller than earlier 36mm Explorer models. Notably, the case measures closer to 35.5mm than it does 36mm. The current model's 19mm lug width, down from 20mm in earlier iterations, is another significant factor. Due to the more noticeable tapering on the lugs as a result of this reduction, the overall appearance appears smaller. The thinner bracelet further contributes to the decrease in the surface area of the watch on the wrist. Therefore, it is not only a matter of opinion that the current Explorer 36 seems less than the Datejust 36 or Oyster Perpetual 36, which are both of comparable size.
I think the new Rolex Explorer 36 is really nice, even though my wrists are smaller. But even from my vantage point, I admit that it gets close to the smaller size range for this watch's regular edition. I recognise there are those whose wrists are much bigger than mine who feel the current 36mm Explorer is a little too small. The new Rolex Explorer 40, reference 224270, is a great option for people who love the existing Explorer 36 but would like something a little bit bigger. It has slightly more elegant proportions than its 39mm predecessor, but it doesn't seem noticeably larger.
The new Rolex Explorer 40, reference 224270, has a 40mm diameter and an 11.6mm thickness, which keeps it the same height as its 36mm equivalent. It is forged from Rolex's exclusive Oystersteel. But when held and worn on the wrist, the 40mm version's enlarged diameter gives it a slightly flatter feel. Beyond this, the Explorer 40 keeps the recognisable elements of the 36mm variant that is already in use. The dial is crowned by an anti-reflective flat sapphire crystal, and the watch's reverse side is sealed with a simple, unadorned screw-down caseback. The Rolex Twinlock winding crown, which is positioned at 3 o'clock and has been proportionately scaled to match the larger case, screws down to strengthen the model's water resistance to 100 metres, a feature that has been maintained by earlier Explorer references for many years.
The new Rolex Explorer 40, reference 224270, is finished to the exceptionally high standards one would expect from Rolex: it is neatly and expertly made. This is quite good in my opinion, even though it doesn't have any amazing or detailed aspects that call for notice. Even though it is a luxury brand, Rolex produces more than a million timepieces every year, with the Explorer 40 being one of its entry-level sports versions. Although the claim is not totally false, the term "mass-produced" may seem to belittle the considerable study and engineering put into Rolex watches. These watches are among of the world's best mass-produced products, ever executed. But it's important to understand that, despite being the best luxury brand in the world, Rolex produces watches that are only in a class of their own.