Two-Tone Rolex Explorer 124273-0001 That is a combination of four words that I would not at all have expected to say six months ago. And when I first saw them back in April, when Rolex dropped the unexpected ref. 124273, I’ll admit I was caught off-guard. An Explorer with gold? Isn’t that antithetical to the Explorer’s no-nonsense spirit and disrespectful to the legacy of Rolex’s least-changed sport watch? It might very well be, but it’s also the recipe for a watch that I immediately knew I needed to get on my wrist and test for myself.
It’s easy to get jaded in the watch world today. There’s so much “us too” design happening – something becomes successful and then everyone else makes their version of it. There’s so much “heritage” and “DNA” floating around that prevents watchmakers from experimenting. To see Rolex, as storied and conservative a brand as you’ll find anywhere, in any industry, go out on a limb and get weird like this was genuinely inspiring to me. That they could keep me on my toes and show me a watch that put me at a loss for words got me seriously excited.
So how does the watch stand up? I’m a longtime lover of the Rolex Explorer 124273-0001 and the proud owner of a vintage (all-steel) Explorer that I wear all the time, and I can truly say that the two-tone Explorer ref. 124273 delivers on its promise of being something familiar and something surprising all at the same time.
The Explorer has one of the more straightforward histories when it comes to Rolex sport watches. There are only a handful of references, very few wacky variations, and the design has remained mostly unchanged since the watch debuted in 1953 with the reference 6350. At that point, the watch already had most of its defining characteristics. It used a 36mm stainless steel Oyster case as the foundation and featured a black dial with 3-6-9 numerals, framed by a polished steel bezel. Those characteristics would remain largely unchanged for 57 years, with the reference 1016 itself being produced for nearly half of that span.
The big shake-up came in 2010 with the introduction of the ref. 214270, which upsized the case to 39mm for the first time. To call this controversial amongst Explorer enthusiasts would be an understatement. Die-hards like myself find it hard to consider any watch that isn’t 36mm a true Explorer, as the more reserved size and understated personality are key parts of what make this watch unique within the Rolex catalog. But, Rolex is going to do what Rolex is going to do, and this certainly doesn’t seem to have hurt sales or diminished general interest in the Explorer. Just ask anyone who’s tried to buy a ref. 214270 and they’ll tell you just how hot they are.
If you want a more detailed breakdown of the Explorer’s history and references, be sure to check out James’s review of the ref. 214270 Explorer here. He has a fantastic breakdown with photos and there’s no reason for me to rehash that all here.
As anyone who lived through the 1980s can attest, the new Explorer draws from a lineage of two-tone Rolex sport watches. Still, there was a not-insignificant amount of outrage when Rolex first dropped this watch back in April 2021. The punters couldn’t stomach a pure tool watch like the Explorer being pushed into two-tone territory. But there’s a ton of precedent for this. It’s nothing new, and, honestly, shouldn’t come as any surprise.
Historically, Rolex Explorer 124273-0001 has been making two-tone versions of the GMT-Master and the Submariner for over half a century. They’re extremely collectable and part of the general watch landscape. You wouldn’t bat an eye at someone rocking a two-tone Sub with an inky blue dial or a killer root beer GMT on a Jubilee bracelet, would you?
And, if we want to go even more hardcore, do you remember the Deepsea Special? This is the most toolish of Rolex tool watches, created to brave the Mariana Trench on the outside of the bathyscaphe Trieste in 1960. It’s a dive watch that’s massive, rugged, and only borderline describable as a wristwatch at all. But it was two-tone. You can see Deepsea Special 1 in Talking Watches with Reza Ali Rashidian in all of its steel-and-gold glory. Now, go ahead and tell me with a straight face that bimetallic construction makes this watch any less hearty or tough. I’ll wait.
If historical precedent isn’t enough for you, then just look at what Rolex has been doing over the last few years with the Professional watches. The Explorer verging into precious metal territory shouldn’t come as any surprise. We’ve seen a rapid increase in the number of gold Daytona models available, the Submariner revamp included two-tone, yellow gold, and white gold variants, and we’ve seen GMT-Masters in everything from white gold with meteorite dial to Everose-and-steel two-tone configurations. Rolex wants you to think of their sport watches as more than just steel tool watches, and the Explorer is just the latest to join the party. And if you just can’t handle it, don’t worry, the watch is still available in an all-stainless-steel configuration.