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Rolex Explorer vs Oyster Perpetual (2020): What’s The Difference?

There has always been an allure to owning a Rolex, not least because of its ability to keep on ticking even after you’re long gone. It is, after all, a brand known not only for its timeless appeal but also for the seemingly impossible price tags its watches owe largely to unmatched craftsmanship. But those who do dream of a milestone purchase may find some hope with the less prohibitive prices of the Rolex Explorer and the Oyster Perpetual.

Both watches come with a storied past and with understated designs that appear more similar than one would imagine. Nonetheless, there are some nuanced differences between the two, and this could largely make or break your choice. Here, we take a look at two of the longest-established catalogues from Rolex to help you see which luxury wristwatch is worth aspiring for.

Rolex Explorer vs Oyster Perpetual Comparison Chart

ModelRolex ExplorerRolex Oyster Perpetual
 39mm ModelRolex Explorer Black Dial Stainless Steel Rolex Oyster Automatic Mens Watch 214270Men's Rolex Oyster Perpetual 39 Black Dial Luxury Watch (Ref. 114300)
PriceCheck PriceCheck Price
Sizes39mm26mm, 31mm, 34mm, 36mm, 39mm
Model CaseOystersteelOystersteel
Available Colors39mm: Black39mm: White, Blue, Red Grape, Dark Rhodium, Black 

36mm: White, Blue, Red Grape, Steel, Black

34mm: White, Silver, Champagne, Olive Green, Blue, Red Grape, Black

31mm: Black, Dark Grey, Red Grape, Blue Azurro, Silver, White

26mm: Olive Green, Silver, Pink, White, Red Grape
CrystalScratch-resistant sapphireScratch-resistant sapphire
Precision-2/+2 sec/day, after casing-2/+2 sec/day, after casing
OscillatorParamagnetic blue Parachrom hairspringParamagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring
Dial DetailsHighly legible Chromalight display with long-lasting blue luminescencen/a


The Rolex Explorer traces its history from modified Oyster Perpetuals worn during the first successful climb of Mount Everest in 1953.

Compared to the Rolex Explorer, the Oyster Perpetual has a simpler dial.

Rolex watches carry a heritage of timeless elegance, and the Explorer and Oyster Perpetual are no different in sharing this illustrious history. In fact, the Oyster Perpetual is, in essence, the forefather of the Explorer line.

During the Himalayan expeditions, a modified Oyster Perpetual was famously worn by Sir Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay in their ascent of Mount Everest back in 1953. And it was only after the successful climb that the timepieces bore the Explorer name on the watch itself.

Interestingly, it was only in 1959 when the Explorer began to differentiate itself from the Oyster Perpetual line, carrying the design which the catalogue is known for today. This includes the 3, 6, 9 Arabic numerals, the now iconic upside down triangle, and the baton markers.

On the other hand, the Oyster Perpetual remains the quintessential Oyster. Defined by simplicity, elegance, and functionality, it draws its name from its waterproofness (“Oyster”), and on the patented self-winding watch movement which relies on the motion of the wearer’s wrist (“Perpetual”). Today, the timepiece is, as Rolex calls it, the “purest expression of the Oyster concept”.

Design and Construction

The Rolex Explorer and Oyster Perpetual come in similar durable casings and resistant balance wheels. However, the timepieces differ in their bezels and bracelets.

Both the Explorer and Oyster Perpetual are equipped with a 3132 calibre (left) and feature a perpetual motor (right).

The Rolex Explorer shares the same design DNA as the Oyster Perpetual. Firstly, both watches come in a 39mm Oystersteel monobloc middle-case, with a screwdown case back and a winding crown.

Oystersteel is a brand-specific steel alloy that is extremely resistant to corrosion, and which acquires a pristine sheen when polished. Meanwhile, the similar winding crowns feature a twinlock waterproof system, making both timepieces water resistant up to 100 meters.

However, the Explorer brandishes a smooth bezel as opposed to the Oyster Perpetual’s high-polished and domed bezel. And although the two watches use the same steel material for their bracelets, the more rugged Explorer sports the Oysterlock that features a snap-fit lever, safety clasp, and 55mm comfort extension link. In contrast, the Perpetual employs the Oysterclasp bracelet that uses a folding clasp with a cover.

Underneath, the Explorer and Oyster Perpetual are similarly equipped with the 3132 calibre. The movement is perpetual, mechanical and self-winding on both watches. These Rolex timepieces also feature the patented blue Parachrom hairspring that makes them more resistant to magnetic fields and shocks.


The Rolex Explorer has a bolder, sportier, and more legible dial whereas the Oyster Perpetual revels in its simplicity and timeless form.

The Rolex Explorer’s dial (left) has a luminescent display. On the right, a closer look at the details of the Oyster Perpetual’s dial.

When it comes to the dial, both the Explorer 39mm and Oyster Perpetual 39mm exhibit an aesthetic that is distinctly Rolex. But don’t let this simplicity fool you. The hour markers are fashioned from 18ct gold—crafted largely by hand—that lends a stately appeal to the timepieces while also ensuring they don’t tarnish.

Nonetheless, simplicity is the virtue of the Oyster Perpetual, with its dateless and numberless dial, and hours marked by baton indexes with plain-stick hands. Even the lines of text are unassuming and its this plainness that captures the ethos of why Rolex made these watches in the first place.

Similar to the Oyster Perpetual 39mm, the Explorer 39mm also pays homage to its heritage through the dial’s design. However, unlike the Perpetual, the Explorer evokes the adventurous spirit which laid the foundations for this line.

It’s evident in the dial, with the now iconic 3, 6, 9 Arabic numerals, arrow markers, and Mercedes hands. Moreover, the watch features a blue luminescent Chromalight display that improves the legibility of the dial at night or low-light conditions.

If you’re looking for a sportier watch, then the Explorer certainly delivers. But if you want a dressier piece with a simpler form, the Oyster Perpetual is for you.

Sizes and Colors

The Rolex Explorer comes only in one size, which is 39mm, while the Oyster Perpetual includes 39mm, 36mm, 34mm, 31mm, and 26mm pieces in different dial colors.

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual comes in different sizes and configurations.

A key difference between the Rolex Explorer and Oyster Perpetual is that the latter does come in several sizes and configurations. This is interesting, considering it is part of the Classic catalogue, whereas the Professional line, to which the Explorer belongs, is more popular for customizability.

Currently, the Explorer comes in 39mm, with a take-it-or-leave-it black dial. If you need a larger watch, you’ll have to look to its sibling, the Explorer II, which comes in at 42mm. With the Explorer II, you can also choose between black or white dials.

On the other hand, the Oyster Perpetual line comes in five sizes—39mm, 36mm, 34mm, 31mm, and 26mm. The 39mm model, for instance, comes in white, blue, red grape, dark rhodium, and black. Meanwhile, the smaller 34mm and 36mm pieces feature dial colors unavailable in other sizes, like Olive Green and Silver.

The hour markers across the Oyster Perpetual line also varies, with the 31mm brandishing Roman numerals, and the 36mm featuring double batons on cardinal points.


For those looking to get their first Rolex, the Explorer should be a great balance between a sports and dress watch. On the other hand, the Oyster Perpetual is better suited for those looking for a simple yet elegant timepiece.

Although they are still quite expensive, both the Rolex Explorer and Oyster Perpetual make the dream of owning a Rolex a little closer in reach. Of course, these watches will not have all the features and functions of the other Rolex timepieces. But it’s this simplicity that explains their appeal

The Explorer and Oyster Perpetual remain largely faithful to their origins, taking pride in a heritage that gives due emphasis to function and fashion. Both pieces have been certified for precision and accuracy, and are crafted to last a lifetime.

Choosing between the two, then, will depend on the kind of watch you want. The Oyster Perpetual’s simple form has a timeless appeal that makes it a great dress watch. On the other hand, the Explorer offers a bolder aesthetic, one that captures the spirit of adventure sportier individuals might prefer.


📌 Are the Rolex Explorer and Oyster Perpetual COSC-certified?

Yes, both watches are certified by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute. This means that both wristwatches have been tested for precision and accuracy.

📌 Does the Rolex Explorer come in a larger size?

The current Rolex Explorer only comes in a 39mm size. However, the line does include the Explorer’s larger sibling, the Explorer II, which comes in at 42mm.

📌 Is the Rolex Oyster Perpetual a good investment?

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual is a great entry-level timepiece with an accessible price. Not only does the watch boast an illustrious history, it also comes in several sizes and configurations to suit your design preferences.

📌 How long does a Rolex last?

A Rolex watch can last a lifetime, especially under good care, which includes regular services every 5 to 7 years.

Last update on 2020-11-22 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

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Mari Bassig
Mari Bassig

Senior Editor, writer and researcher passionate about gadgets, social media, and music.