I get it, alright? My colleagues are going to wax nostalgic about fake watches they’ve had in their possession for decades on end – Swiss replica watches that take them back to college and high school. But that’s not really the point of this exercise. This is a good old-fashioned horological throwdown – though not literally, because if I threw my watch down it could break and I’ve already chipped the crystal (it’s not dust, so please don’t tell me to wipe it off). Anyway, let’s move on.
This is the replica Rolex Explorer, but it’s not just any Rolex Explorer, it’s the ref. 14270 – a watch I have covered in significant detail here on HODINKEE. This is the first modern fake Rolex watch, the first model from the Crown to embrace a modern dial design, and the super clone watch that spans the entirety of the 1990s with little spillover into other decades.
From 1989 until 2001, the 14270 was the Rolex Explorer. For years prior to its release, the Explorer model had a distinctive mid-century, rugged, design language by way of a unique serif typeface and painted numerals (and markers). In this debate, I am not lumping my watch in with other Explorers. This is not about the line at large, but about the 14270 and the 14270 only. Sure, the case profile and bracelet lend themselves to the general design aesthetic of the model range across the years. But top Swiss fake watches are about the details, and the bold design change on the dial of this copy watch created something new, a 36mm Rolex Explorer for the ’90s. And in that way, this watch is as purely of that decade as it gets.
Here’s where I am going to hang my bucket hat. If there’s one thing Rolex is known for, it’s staying true to its designs with very few changes. And so, when change does occur, even if it’s incremental or seemingly miniscule, us enthusiasts tend to freak out a bit. Now, nobody here at HODINKEE attended the Basel Watch Fair in 1989 when the Explorer 14270 was announced so I can’t speak to the reaction, nor was social media (or a robust internet) a thing at the time, but looking back, I have to imagine that passionate Rolex fans (and collectors) were a bit thrown by this one – because of the dial.
I mentioned up top that the super clone watch went through nearly 40 years or so with simple painted dials. And then things changed. The matte dial Explorers of old were revamped with the 14270, featuring a black gloss dial display complete with the most drastic change of all: The applied numerals (with white gold surrounds). It’s not just that they were applied, but that they took a particular modern shape, and by virtue of the precious metal, catapulted this watch into a different category.
A copy watch like this is all about the dial, and it cannot be overstated how much of a change an update like this can represent, and did represent. This is coming from the guy who wrote a treatise on this Swiss fake watch and compared dial variations down to the thickness of a single letter. Modern Explorers have maintained this applied marker design, and it all points back to this ’90s originator.
While not the sexiest in the replica Rolex stable, the Explorer 14270 features the in-house caliber 3000. It features 48 hours of power reserve, 27 jewels, and a 4Hz beat rate. Adding to the watch’s 1990s street cred, this movement was an update over the caliber 1570 used in the outgoing 1016 reference, meaning that this was a movement made for this new edition and thus made for the decade. It would be discontinued in 2001 along with the reference itself, making it a relic of the times.
This is the decade that preceded the big watch craze, and so if there’s anything that fits the ’90s, it’s this diminutive, yet perfect, 36mm case design. Of course, the Rolex Explorer is housed in the classic Oyster case with a screw-down crown allowing for 100m of water resistance. Considering that it’s going up against two dive watches, I would say it holds its own pretty well. This watch will fit basically every wrist. The ’90s were more about flaunting your fashion than your watch. The divers in the room would’ve stuck out. The Explorer flies under the radar, a nice simple lightweight accompaniment to your mock turtleneck and Cavaricci pants.
I understand that my colleagues are going to scoff at this choice. They’ll say it’s a mid-century design, not a ’90s one. They’ll say it looks the same as all other Explorers that came before it. And they’ll be wrong. I think my argument is all in the details, and this fake watch is detail rich. But I want to close with the facts. Unlike its competitors, the 14270 lasted the entirety of the decade – like every single year in the 1990s – and was basically unveiled at the beginning of said decade. The dial refresh represents, to my mind, a new Explorer, independent from its mid-century predecessors. At 36mm, with its modern luxury design upgrade, the Rolex Explorer 14270 is the unexpected champ, coming out of nowhere like Buster Douglas to knock off the favorites.