Rolex is long known for a company that moves by evolution rather than by revolution. Every Spring at the Basel Watch Show in Switzerland, Rolex announces slight updates to its watches.  Unlike other Swiss watch brands who mimic the auto industry where there is a new body type every three years, there are no wholesale design changes across the Rolex line.  Typically, new Rolex improvements are introduced in a specific watch, and then those improvements roll out as other models are upgraded years later.  For example, Rolex’s Parachrom hairspring was first introduced quietly in the Rolex Daytona, and then formally announced in the Rolex GMT 116710 a few years later.  Now, all modern Rolex watches are outfitted with Parachrom hairsprings.

As Rolex movements and other technical aspects evolve over the years, case and dial design changes as well.  Starting in the early 2000’s Rolex watch cases became boxier and had thicker lugs. Case design changes introduced in the Rolex Turn-O-Graph and the Rolex DateJust included thicker cases, less rounded and thicker lugs, and the introduction of solid bracelet links along with milled bracelet clasps.  Rolex’s design changes intended to stifle the common criticism at the time that Rolex wristwatches looked small compared to the industry trend to larger watches, and the bracelets and clasps did not feel as robust as other wristwatch brands.  The Rolex Submariner and GMT models are good examples of stouter looking case designs as compared to their original 1954 counterparts.

Heartier feeling Rolexes are certainly welcomed upgrades,but to some the changes at the expense of Rolex’s traditional design ethos of clean lines with smooth transitions to other elements.  The boxier shape cases do not have the smooth transition between the case sides and the bracelet is frequently cites as a discernable difference between the new and the traditional. 

Rolex’s last two sport watch redesigns indicate that there might be a change in the wind on case design. The updated Rolex Explorer II 216570 unveiled in 2012 and the recently re-introduced SeaDweller 4000 are Rolex’s two latest models utilizing the case profile and styling similar to the original models.  The Rolex Explorer II originally introduced in 1971 was designed for cave explorers whereby the dial required high contrast hands and a bright orange 24-hour hand such that explorers could discern daytime and nighttime hours.  Over the years, the Explorer II morphed into practically the same watch as the GMT 16710 sharing the same case and smaller 24-hour hand design.  The only difference between the Explorer II and the GMT 16710 was the bezel; the GMT bezel rotated whereas the Explorer II was fixed.  Lost was the orange 24-hour hand and the hour and minute hands were not blacked out in the middle section and thus did not have the floating hand effect that made the original Explorer II stand out in a crowd. 

Then 2012 came around, and to everyone’s surprise Rolex rolled a much revised Explorer II with features that returned it to its design roots.  The new Explorer II 216570 kept all the latest technical upgrades including Chromolight lume, Parachrom hairspring, and Paraflex shock jewels, but brought back the orange 24-hour hand and floating black hands.  Rolex gave the watch more presence by making it in 42mm in diameter rather than the traditional 40mm.  The slight size increase provides watch face visibility, especially with its correspondingly larger hands, without making the watch an anvil on one’s wrist.  The new Explorer II 216570 blends new world technological advancements with old world charm.

2013 also brought an updated classic, the Rolex SeaDweller 4000. Discontinued with the introduction of the DeepSea SeaDweller in 2008, the Rolex SeaDweller 4000 was thought to be replaced by the much larger and heavier DeepSea in the Rolex dive watch line-up. Like the Explorer II 216570, the re-introduction of the SeaDweller 4000 brought updated Chromalight luminescence, solid link bracelet, milled Oysterlock clasp, and ceramic bezel.  In a nod to the original SeaDweller, the updated version kept the sleek lines, matte black dial, and thicker crystal.  The reintroduction of the SeaDweller 4000 brought smiles to many because it looked more like the original. 

The Rolex SeaDweller 4000 and Explorer II 216570 certainly exemplify what  French critic and novelist Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr said (loosely translated) back in the 1800’s,  “As more things change, the more they stay the same.” In the case of these two watches, we think Rolex did a good thing.  And…. Fourtané is one of the few Rolex dealers in the United States that offer both old and new.  Visit Fourtané to see and feel both original and modern day Explorer II’s and SeaDwellers. 

-Sheldon Smith