When it comes to Rolex watches – particularly its sports models, the Submariner and Explorer II are among the most beloved. And despite the fact that they are both tough, purpose-built timepieces sold at similar price points, Explorer II and Submariner models are just about as different as it gets in many respects.
For instance, the Submariner is a diving watch while the Explorer II is an adventure-ready GMT watch. What’s more, not only does one have a rotating bezel while the other has a fixed one, but the scales and styles of these bezels are different too. Sizes, material options, and colorways are different too, not to mention movements and functionalities. If you’re not that familiar with all the details of the Rolex Submariner or Explorer II watches, comparing these two industry titans can seem daunting.
Therefore, we’ve compiled this review of all the similarities and differences of the Rolex Submariner vs. Explorer II so you can decide which one would suit you best. To keep things as easy to digest as possible, our comparison will be between the newest versions of each watch, which is to say the Submariner Date ref. 12661x and the Explorer II ref. 226570.
About The Rolex Submariner
Submariner Date ref. 12661x Quick Specs
- Introduction Year: 2020
- Case Size: 41mm
- Case Materials: Oystersteel (stainless steel), Yellow Gold, White Gold, Yellow Rolesor (two-tone steel/yellow gold)
- Bezel: Cerachrom (ceramic); Unidirectional Rotating with 60-min scale; Black (LN), Green (LV), Blue
- Dial: Black or Blue (only on the yellow gold and two-tone versions)
- Crystal: Sapphire with Cyclops Magnification Lens
- Bracelet: Oyster
- Functions: Hour, Minute, Second hands; Instantaneous Date
- Water Resistance: 300 meters (1,000 feet)
- Caliber: 3235 Automatic Movement
- Retail Price: Starting at $10,100
About The Rolex Explorer II
Explorer II ref. 226570 Quick Specs
- Introduction Year: 2021
- Case Size: 42mm
- Case Material: Oystersteel (stainless steel)
- Bezel: Fixed Oystersteel Bezel; Marked to 24 Hours
- Dial: Black or White
- Crystal: Sapphire with Cyclops Magnification Lens
- Bracelet: Oyster
- Functions: Hour, Minute, Second hands; GMT-Hand; Instantaneous Date
- Water Resistance: 100 meters (330 feet)
- Caliber: 3285 Automatic Movement
- Retail Price: $9,500
Purpose-Built Watches With Famous History
True sports watches, both the Submariner and Explorer II were built by Rolex with specific jobs in mind – and the hint lies in their names. Unsurprisingly, the Submariner is a divers watch, built to time out scuba dives and withstand the unrelenting pressure of 300-meter (1,000 feet) depths. In fact, this watch has been one of the world’s top diving watches since it was first released back in 1953.
The Explorer II, on the other hand, was originally introduced in 1971 for speleologists who work in deep underground caverns. But like the original Rolex Explorer – the watch that provided its foundation – the Explorer II appeals to adventurers and explorers of all kinds, especially since its popular 40th anniversary remodel. Both timepieces have a pretty long history with Rolex, and over the years, they have been worn and beloved by many famous faces.
The Submariner is famous for its James Bond appearances; author Ian Fleming writes, “He could not just wear a watch. It had to be a Rolex.” Over the years, Sean Connery’s 007 wore a Submariner ref. 6538 and Roger Moore sported a ref. 5513. And as one of the most popular Rolex models ever, we often see the Submariner sported today on the wrists of celebrities and dignitaries alike – whether they’re scuba divers or not.
The Rolex Explorer II has graced its fair share of celebrities and famous explorers too. Hollywood actor, Jason Statham can frequently be spotted at red carpet events sporting a vintage ref. 1655 – the very first Explorer II reference. Meanwhile, Prince Harry prefers a more modern version of the watch and owns the 42mm Explorer II ref. 216570 with a white “Polar” dial.
Rolex Submariner vs. Explorer II: Case, Bezel, and Bracelet
This is where the differences between the Submariner and the Explorer II become very apparent. First up, the Submariner has a colored unidirectional timing bezel that today is available in black, blue, or green. And before Rolex started using modern, scratch-resistant Cerachrom (a.k.a. ceramic) bezels on the Submariner in 2007, it featured an aluminum bezel. The bezel is one of the main selling points of this watch, as its color adds some great personality to the wrist, and is one of the defining characteristics of the Rolex Submariner collection.
The Submariner’s Oyster case clocks in at 41mm, which is water-resistant to 300 meters (1,000 feet) deep. Along with the bracelet, the Submariner’s case can be either constructed from Oystersteel (904L stainless steel), solid 18k yellow gold, or Yellow Rolesor (two-tone steel and yellow gold).
- Submariner 126610LN: Oystersteel, black bezel, black dial
- Submariner 126610LV: Oystersteel, green bezel, black dial
- Submariner 126613LN: Yellow Rolesor, black bezel, black dial
- Submariner 126613LB: Yellow Rolesor, blue bezel, blue dial
- Submariner 126618LN: Yellow gold, black bezel, black dial
- Submariner 126618LB: Yellow gold, blue bezel, blue dial
- Submariner 126619LB: White gold, blue bezel, black dial
This is another big selling point of the Submariner for a lot of collectors — the combinations of alloys and bezels allow for a lot of style and creativity. The Submariner has always featured an Oyster bracelet, but in recent years it was updated with the improved Glidelock clasp, which allows for tool-free adjustment for a perfect fit.
On the other hand, there’s the much more subdued fixed stainless bezel of the Explorer II which matches the case and features a 24-hour marked scale. This feature was specifically built for explorers who need to distinguish day from night – think cave explorers or polar explorers in the height of summer when the sun never sets. Now, the 24-hour fixed bezel of the Explorer II serves as a second time zone display when used in conjunction with the orange 24-hour hand on the dial.
The Explorer II’s Oyster case measures 42mm, which is water-resistant to 100 meters (330 feet) deep. While Rolex produces precious metal versions of the Submariner, the Explorer II has always been exclusively made in stainless steel. The current Explorer II is only offered on a steel Oyster bracelet with an Oysterlock clasp. The two variations are the dial colors, which can either be classic black or “Polar” white.
- Explorer 226570-0001: Oystersteel, engraved Oystersteel bezel, white dial
- Explorer 226570-0002: Oystersteel, engraved Oystersteel bezel, black dial
To be honest, when it comes to the Explorer II, collectors are much more concerned with the dial color of the watch, with the white examples typically worth more than the black dial versions on the secondary market.
Rolex Submariner vs. Explorer II: Dial and Hands
The dial of the Explorer II is iconic for a few reasons. First, there’s the iconic orange 24-hour hand, originally designed to help polar and cave explorers distinguish night from day (as an AM/PM indicator) but now serves as a GMT hand. Then there are the dial colors – available in effortlessly cool black and the coveted “polar” white. The Explorer II Polar dial is cool and clean whereby the white background is outfitted with luminous plots and Mercedes hands that are outlined in black.
The black dial on the other hand has a different appeal. While it boasts the same features, the darker color highlights the stainless steel bezel, lume hour plots, and lume-filled Mercedes hands (this time in white gold rather than finished black). It’s a sleeker look, and the orange 24-hour hand shines against the black in the best way possible.
Explorer II 226570 Dial Colors:
- White a.k.a. Polar
The current Submariner collection also offers two dial color choices: black or blue. However, while black dials are available across all current-generation Submariner 41 models, blue is only available on Yellow Rolesor or Yellow Gold Submariner references. It’s worth pointing out that the previous generation of the Submariner (the 11661x series) also had a green dial on the steel Submariner with a green bezel (known as the Hulk) and a blue dial on the white gold Submariner (known as the Smurf); however, Rolex opted to switch to black bezels on the newest versions.
Submariner 12661x Dial Colors:
- Black (Oystersteel, Yellow Rolesor, Yellow Gold, White Gold models)
- Blue (Yellow Rolesor and Yellow Gold models)
Both the Submariner and the Explorer II include the Mercedes-style hands at the center, coated in long-lasting Chromalight luminescence that glows blue in the dark. There are also the lume-filled geometric hour markers, which include batons at 6 and 9, an inverted triangle at 12, and circles at the remaining hours. Finally, both of these Rolex models have a date window at 3 o’clock, magnified by the Cyclops lens protruding from above.
Rolex Submariner vs. Explorer II: Movement
Both the latest Submariner and Explorer II watches benefit from Rolex’s newest generation movements. These movements not only provide longer power reserves than their predecessors but also plenty of improvements in precision, durability, and reliability.
The Submariner Date runs on the Caliber 3235 time and date movement while the Explorer II is powered by the Caliber 3285 GMT plus date movement. Both of these automatic Rolex calibers are produced in-house. Furthermore, they both offer a 70-hour power reserve, and are chronometer-rated with a guaranteed accuracy rating of -2/+2 seconds per day, after casing.
Rolex fitted both the Submariner’s Caliber 3235 and the Explorer II’s Caliber 3285 with paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairsprings and high-performance Paraflex shock absorbers for optimal resistance against magnetism and daily wear.
Rolex Submariner vs. Explorer II Prices
The manufacturer’s suggested retail price (MSRP) of the steel Submariner with a black bezel and the Explorer II differs by $600. The Submariner 126610LN retails for $10,100 while the Explorer II 226570 retails for $9,500. However, the green bezel version of the steel Submariner is more expensive, retailing for $10,600. Of course, two-tone and full gold Submariners have even heftier sticker prices.
Explorer II and Submariner MSRP:
- Explorer II 226570 (black or white dial) MSRP: $9,500
- Submariner 126610LN MSRP: $10,100
- Submariner 126610LV MSRP: $10,600
- Submariner 126613LN and 126613LB MSRPs: $14,700
- Submariner 126618LN and 126618LB MSRPs: $37,950
- Submariner 126619LB MSRP: $40,650
Of course, if you’re at all familiar with the Rolex watch market, you’ll know that the retail prices don’t tell the whole story. Thanks to the immense popularity of Rolex sports watches, particularly steel models, it’s almost impossible to buy current production Rolex Submariner and Explorer II watches at retail — they’re all sold out! The current values of the Submariner and Explorer II on the secondary market are a more realistic measure of what these watches would cost to buy right now.
Pre-Owned Rolex Submariner and Explorer II Market Prices:
- Pre-owned Explorer II 226570 Black Dial: starting at $12,795
- Pre-owned Explorer II 226570 White Dial: starting at 13,795
- Pre-owned Submariner 126610LN Price: starting at $16,995
- Pre-owned Submariner 126610LV Price: starting at $25,795
- Pre-owned Submariner 126613 Price: starting at $19,995
- Pre-owned Submariner 126618 Price: starting at $55,995
- Pre-owned Submariner 126619 Price: starting at $45,995
As you can see, the Submariner is valued significantly higher than the Explorer II on the secondary market. Yet, pre-owned Explorer II watches still sell higher on the secondary market than their official sticker prices.
Whether you prefer a classic diving watch or a robust adventuring GMT watch, both the Submariner and the Explorer II are fantastic modern Rolex sports watches. While they each bring something different to the table, they both benefit from Rolex’s solid designs and expert engineering.