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Not only is the Explorer one of the oldest Rolex watch models still in production today but it is also one of the simplest. And that straightforward, yet instantly recognizable, design is one of the biggest appeals of the Explorer. Today we’re looking at three generations of the Rolex Explorer by comparing the 214270, 114270, and 14270.

Rolex Explorer
The Rolex Explorer Watch

Rolex Explorer 14270

Rolex introduced the Explorer ref. 14270 in 1989 to replace the long-running Explorer ref. 1016. Compared to its predecessor, the Explorer 14270 offered plenty of modern updates while still retaining the fundamental design of the beloved Rolex watch model.

Like all the Explorer references that came before it, the 14270 includes a 36mm stainless steel case and stainless steel three-link Oyster bracelet. However, the case is fitted with a scratch-resistant sapphire crystal rather than an acrylic crystal.

Rolex Explorer 14270
The Explorer 14270 featured a slew of modern updates

Furthermore, while the dial of the 14270 features the familiar Explorer layout (comprising of a black background, Arabic numerals at 3, 6, and 9, an inverted triangle at 12, and baton indexes for the remaining hours), Rolex did upgrade the dial with a glossy finish rather than matte and furnished it with applied white gold markers. Another update to the Explorer 14270 was the movement. Rolex fitted it with then-new Rolex caliber 3000.

The Explorer 14270 was in production until 2001 and the watch received some notable updates over the course of its history. For instance, lug holes were eventually phased out from the Explorer 14270 around the mid-1990s. What’s more, early examples of the 14270 used tritium for luminescence then Rolex switched to using Luminova in the late-1990s.

The 14270 was the first Explorer with a sapphire crystal

Note that the 3, 6, and 9 hour markers are not lumed. It’s also worth mentioning that the most collectible versions of the Explorer 14270 are the “Black Out” editions, nicknamed after the black-enameled 3, 6, and 9 numerals. These were only made from 1989 to 1991 then Rolex reverted to white-enameled numbers.

Rolex Explorer 114270

In 2001, Rolex introduced the Explorer ref. 114270 to house the new Caliber 3130. The majority of the design carried over from the later examples of the ref. 14270.

Rolex Explorer 114270
Explorer 114270 with an updated movement

This includes the 36mm steel Oyster case without lug holes, sapphire crystal, glossy black time-only dial with white gold applied markers coated with SuperLuminova (which is essentially the same as Luminova but a different brand name), and a steel Oyster bracelet. However, the bracelet did benefit from solid end-links resulting in a sturdier construction.

Unless you’re opening up the caseback for a view of the automatic movement inside the watch, the Explorer 114270 and the 14270 are remarkably (at least when comparing later versions of the 14270).

Rolex Explorer 214270

The biggest change to the Explorer model came about in 2010 when Rolex unveiled the ref. 214270. Instead of the restrained 36mm case that had always been a part of the Explorer’s character, the modern Explorer now has a larger 39mm case. Plus, a closer look at the dial reveals that the “Explorer” name moved from the upper part of the dial to the lower portion. Moreover, inside that larger case is the updated Caliber 3132 equipped with Paraflex shock absorbers for better resistance to accidental knocks.

The Explorer 214270 is still in production today however, this particular reference is often divided into two categories by Rolex enthusiasts. Versions from 2010 to 2016 are referred to as Explorer 214270 “Mark I,” characterized by a shorter handset and non-lumed 3, 6, and 9 numerals.

Rolex Explorer 214270
Explorer 214270 with a larger 39mm case and MK I dial

At Baselworld 2016, Rolex announced an updated dial design for the Explorer 214270. This time the watch included longer Mercedes-style hands and luminous 3, 6, and 9 numerals. Some observers assert that the shorter hands of the Mark I dials were a result of Rolex mistakenly carrying over the same handset of the smaller 36mm Explorer to the then-new 39mm case. However, there are others that not only minded them but also claim that these may be future collectibles (much like the Blackout Explorer models) due to the short production run.

Explorer 214270, 114270, and 14270 Comparison Chart

142701989 – 200136mm3030Non-Lumed Numerals
Black enamel then white
1142702001 – 201036mm3130Non-Lumed Numerals
White enamel
Mark I
2010 – 201639mm3132Non-Lumed Numerals
Shorter Handset
Mark II
2016 – Present39mm3132Lumed Numerals
Longer Handset
The Explorer 14270 with a classic 36mm case

Regardless if you opt for the discontinued 36mm size or the current 39mm size, the Rolex Explorer is a fantastic luxury watch all around. With its iconic look, understated design, top-tier quality, and impeccable wearability, an Explorer is a worthy addition to any watch collection.