This year, the Watches & Wonders Geneva trade show is once again an online event — only this time, it includes brands such as Rolex, Tudor, Patek Philippe and more. Check back here often for our coverage of this horological mega-show to see all the latest watches.
This year, Rolex will announce its new watches on April 7th. Let the annual swirl of hype, speculation, rumors and general giddiness surrounding the Swiss brand's releases begin. In fact, the predictions began weeks ago, but official release time is now almost upon us — and we can't help but take a stab at The Great Rolex Guessing Game.
Never mind that the rest of the watch industry is also making its major announcements around now, as all that seems insignificant in comparison. With the decline of Baselworld, Rolex now joins the growing Watches & Wonders trade show (previously known as SIHH) which, of course, is taking place virtually.
Though Rolex releases are guarded like state secrets until their big reveal, we're not going in blind: There are discernible cycles and patterns to the brand's strategy, and the collective expertise of the internet has predicted new products with remarkable accuracy in the past. Teasers help, too. Although nothing is certain, here are some likely releases we could see, some we'd like to see but probably won't, and some shots in the dark.
An Upgraded Explorer II
After wide speculation that the Explorer II would be this year's big announcement, it was essentially confirmed by a teaser video the brand released last week featuring dial closeups and imagery of spelunking — the activity for which the watch was intended. Introduced in 1971, how could Rolex ignore this popular sport watch's 50th anniversary? That it got an update 10 years ago for its 40th anniversary is just one more reason to expect something new for its 50th. But what kind of updates might we see?
Just as it got a new movement in 2011, the the Explorer II is ripe for a movement upgrade again — and this has been the treatment other collections have recently received. New movements, new bracelet options and tweaked case size are favorite ways for Rolex to update a model. Currently at 42mm, it would be surprising for the Explorer II to get any bigger, and it doesn't seem likely it'll shrink either — considering the brand doesn't seem to be trending toward smaller cases like the rest of the industry, having upped the sizes of key models last year.
Aesthetically, vintage and vintage-inspired is the order of the day in the watch industry, and even Rolex isn't immune to that. Might a new Explorer II bring back cues from the original reference 1655? The current design is clean and reflects core elements of Rolex's sport watch identity, so it would be surprising to see the Mercedes handset and dot hour markers replaced with the 1655's stick hands and indices. Rather, the brand might offer a nod to the vintage model in a more subtle way, such as through tweaking dial text and fonts.
Other sport watches in Rolex's "Professional" collections (Submariner, Daytona, GMT Master II, etc.) have been treated to the likes of colorful dials and gold cases. That kind of thing just wouldn't fit the Explorer II, as the collection has remained focused on its tool watch roots. So it's a little hard to imagine how new models can be visually differentiated.
But that shouldn't stop us from exercising our imaginations and pontificating on what could be a cool update for the beloved spelunker's watch, so here are a couple spitballs: What about a black ceramic bezel? It would change up the look of the Explorer II that's always had steel bezel, but it just might fit its character. Or...what if — just what if — the watch's famous orange highlights were also available in blue or Rolex green??
A Daytona With a New Color Scheme
This seems quite plausible as a secondary release. Rolex releases new models in multiple collections each year, after all, even if it typically focuses on a single collection for its big announcement. There have been totally unsubstantiated internet rumors floating around of a blue-bezeled Daytona, which would be expected in a precious metal like platinum. Swanky or exotic new versions of the Daytona would be unsurprising, especially if other collections satisfy consumers' craving for 904L stainless steel.
An Upgrade for the Humble Explorer
Rolex often focuses on a certain collection for its major updates. So, even though it's a very different watch from the Explorer II, it's interesting to imagine the simple, often overlooked Explorer getting an upgrade. As one of Rolex's entry-level, historical sport watches, the Explorer is due for a new movement and deserves a little attention.
To make a splash and to capitalize on all the vintage enthusiasm — if you'll humor my fanciful thinking — a modern interpretation of the original's honeycomb dial would be just so damn cool. Though here's why that won't happen: It would be a relatively big move for a brand that is notoriously conservative, and Rolex tends to save the spotlight for one release at a time. If it were to happen, 2023 would be more opportune as an anniversary of the original (honeycomb-dialed) 1953 Explorer. Something like a change in diameter or a white dial version (as the Explorer II offers) seems more likely.
The Submariner on a Jubilee Bracelet
More Rolex sport watches have been offered on Jubilee bracelets for recent years' releases, so the Submariner feels like a candidate for this treatment. Though it's born of use as a diver's tool, it's long since outgrown that function to serve more often as a status symbol today. Witness all the "fancy" versions with cases in gold and dials of various colors: they'd look perfectly appropriate on a relatively fancy-feeling Jubilee bracelet instead of the straight-ahead Oyster. If Rolex goes this route, it'll likely only be for certain higher-end models (rather than the steel-and-black-dial classic), and they'll surely pair it with something tasteful.
Possible Discontinued Models
Rolex giveth, and Rolex taketh away. Though it might not be considered newsworthy by the masses, the Rolex cycle also means some watches quietly go away sometimes. The brand doesn't want to be a mess of overlooked models and more options than anyone can keep track of. (We're looking at you, Seiko). It's hard to predict which will cease production, and it might simply be certain variations from within collections. In terms of major possible discontinuations, the poor old Air King has often remained in the shadows. It should probably either be updated or retired. It could also be retired for the time being only to return as an all new refresh six years from now for its — yes — anniversary.