Rolex announced no fewer than 16 new watches for 2021. The brand's sport watches were naturally the most anticipated as the Explorer II celebrates its 50th anniversary, but there are some more exciting releases you won't want to miss. They include some unexpectedly funky dials, some subtle but important updates and a couple of notable sleepers. Even small changes from Rolex are big news, so here are the takeaways from Rolex's 2021 releases.
The next-generation Rolex Explorer II is upgraded all around
There were predictions of something big for the Explorer II's 50th birthday, but that didn't materialize. Rather than a massive departure from the model that's known and loved, the 2021 Explorer II is simply the new generation, packed with all the latest Rolex tech and features. Though visually almost identical to the previous reference, the biggest news for the Explorer II is its movement: Rolex's automatic 3285 upgrades various features compared to the outgoing caliber, including a longer power reserve of 70-hours. (It's the same movement that was introduced in the GMT Master II in 2018.)
In addition to the movement, the Explorer II is refined all around. Those refinements include the use the brand's own Chromalight illumination for better low-light visibility of the dial, a slightly thinner case, and the latest Rolex Oyster bracelet. You're basically getting the same great Explorer II with black or white dial options as before — only better.
The OG Rolex Explorer shrunk to 36mm and got a two-tone version
The Explorer and the Explorer II are very different watches, but Rolex likes to focus on a single collection for its major updates. Although the Explorer isn't having a birthday until 2023 (it'll be 70), it's this model that got the major changes — and by "major" we mostly mean a 3mm difference in diameter and a new movement.
Shrinking from 39mm to 36mm makes a big difference in how this classic mountaineering watch will wear. The 36mm size is that of the original model from 1953, but it also fills a void in the brand's current sport watch lineup (as most other Rolex sport watches are 40mm and above). In addition to a new size, the Explorer also got the latest automatic movement, the Rolex 3230, and the dial itself is also now produced in black lacquer, with the hands and indices getting Chromalight lume.
It's also notable and unexpected that the Explorer is now available in two-tone steel and gold (or "Rolesor") for the first time (in addition to an all-steel version). This is in contrast with the watch's longstanding rugged character but in line with other Rolex sport watches that are offered in swanky variations.
The Rolex Daytona got a range of meteorite-dial versions
It's Rolex practice to introduce some "exotic" variations of existing watches alongside major new releases. These are usually interesting dial executions, and this year, the brand has again turned to meteorite. Other models to get the meteorite dial treatment in the past included the GMT Master II, but this year it was the Daytona in the hot seat. Three versions of the Daytona feature meteorite dials, and they're paired to 18k white, yellow or Everose gold cases.
The Rolex Datejust 36 with new exotic dials are the brand's most eye-catching 2021 debuts
They're already being called the "Jungle Datejusts" — three new Datejust 36 models with striking palm leaf dial motifs. For the steel version this also handily fits into the industry's overall green dial trend, but two other models feature two-tone cases with the same palm motif rendered in yellow gold and gray. A fourth model features a striking "fluted" pattern, apparently based on the iconic fluted bezel.
The Rolex GMT Master II "Pepsi" and "Batman" are now sold on Oyster bracelets
Quietly appearing on the Rolex website without any fanfare or even an announcement were a couple subtle but significant changes to existing models: The "Pepsi" and "Batman" versions of the steel GMT Master II, otherwise known as the 126710BLRO and 126710BLNR, respectively, were previously and controversially only sold on a Jubilee-style bracelet. Now, many Rolex fans will be pleased that they also come on the brand's Oyster bracelets. The price is nominally $200 less for the Oyster version than the Jubilee version — but you can't usually get these at MSRP anyway.