Rolex’s latest watch is designed for life’s explorers

The new Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer watch nods to an adventurous history

Gold Rolex watch with a yellow background
‘Oyster Perpetual Explorer’ in Oystersteel and yellow gold, £8,700
(Image credit: Rolex)

Rolex’s history of creating tool watches can be traced back to the 1930s, when the timepieces it provided to explorers became an integral part of an expedition’s kit. In 1953, when Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay reached the summit of Mount Everest, it was with their white Rolex Oyster Perpetual watches. Building on this success, Rolex released the first Explorer watch later the same year.

The toughened case and clear design codes are still present in today’s Rolex Oyster Perpetual Explorer, with the ‘3’, ‘6’ and ‘9’ numerals making for quick and easy legibility. The Explorer’s design bulked up over time, but this year’s new model cuts a neater silhouette, returning to its original 1953 case size of a restrained 36mm.

Less, in this case, is definitely more. The timepiece’s smaller proportions are drawn in yellow Rolesor – a mix of 18ct yellow gold and Oystersteel, Rolex’s own corrosive-proof brand of strong steel – which has been a recurring feature of the brand’s designs since it was first patented in 1933. The juxtaposition of soft warm gold against the cool solidity of steel makes an effective foil for a glossy black lacquered dial. The watch’s markers and hands, coated in a luminescent material that emits a vivid blue glow in the darkness and promises to last for an impressive eight hours, will be hard to miss for adventurers in both urban and extreme settings.


Overall, the design of the Rolex Explorer has generally remained consistent since its first inception. After its Everest expedition, the introduction of a reinforced case and a clearer dial made for a more practical watch, guaranteeing its continued popularity among the intrepid. While the preoccupation of adventurers may have changed from discovering new land to protecting the land we have, their wristwatch of choice remains the same. 


This article originally featured in the July 2021 issue of Wallpaper* (W*267), available for free download

Hannah Silver is the Art, Culture, Watches & Jewellery Editor of Wallpaper*. Since joining in 2019, she has overseen offbeat design trends and in-depth profiles, and written extensively across the worlds of culture and luxury. She enjoys meeting artists and designers, viewing exhibitions and conducting interviews on her frequent travels. 

With contributions from