The Rolex Yacht-Master
The 1950s and 60s were by far the busiest times to be a Rolex designer. Those were the decades that brought us names which have since gone on to become legend and redefine the watch industry as we know it today.
The Submariner. The GMT-Master. The Day-Date. The Milgauss—all had arrived by the mid-fifties. Then, a little later, the Daytona and the Sea-Dweller. Each one an icon.
After that, everything just seemed to… well, stop.
With the exception of the Explorer II in the early 70s (which was basically a GMT-Master with a fixed bezel) Rolex didn’t release another new model for 25 years.
Of course, there wasn’t really much need. The core family of products in their lineup had put the brand far ahead of the competition. The brand cemented their reputation to such an extent that they were content to simply embark on a relentless program of periodic improvements to the models already available to them.
By the 1980s however, things had apparently grown so repetitive inside Rolex HQ that a certain amount of cabin fever had started to creep in. How else to explain the decision by one unnamed higher-up that the best move for the company was to completely redesign their all-time greatest hit?
The Submariner, practically since its inception, had been the world’s favorite dive watch. An aesthetic and technical masterpiece, it had crossed over from an indispensable tool to a discreet status symbol without breaking a sweat. Now it occupied a position against which all rivals were judged.
The notion of not just tinkering with its DNA but of radically altering it was bordering on the unhinged. But the creatives inside Rolex were set to work on it anyway.
Fortunately, at some point calmer heads prevailed and the idea of a Submariner 2.0 was scrapped. But the work already completed on the project was deemed too good to shelve alongside it. So the watch that resulted was released as the Rolex Yacht-Master. This was the first all-new model to emerge from Geneva for a quarter of a century.
Yet, when the 18k gold ref. 16628 emerged, it stretched the term ‘all-new’ to breaking point. With its 40mm body, rotating bezel and very familiar handset and hour indexes, the Rolex Yacht-Master was quite obviously a Submariner which had merely gotten itself all dressed up.
This was no bad thing. Although, there were already gold versions of the Sub, they still had the origins of a robust and practical instrument for professional divers. The intended allure of the Rolex Yacht-Master, from the outset, was only as a luxurious offering. This was a model destined for life riding on top of the ocean waves rather than exploring beneath them.
More Elegance and Sophistication in Three Sizes
So, while its water resistance was reduced to 100m from 300m, and its bezel rotated both ways as opposed to the Sub’s unidirectional surround, the Yacht-Master was granted more elegant lines and a flatter case back. This created a more sophisticated and arguably more comfortable all day wear.
In addition, shortly into its run, it became the first Rolex sports model to be issued in three sizes—the full size 40mm, a ladies 29mm, and a midsize coming in at 35mm.
It also introduced two never-before-seen innovations. First, a new metal combination with a steel case and bracelet topped with a platinum bezel, dubbed Rolesium by Rolex. Second was the brand’s first ever rubber strap. This was actually a high-tech polymer over a titanium and nickel blade, called the Oysterflex.
The Yacht-Master continues to be a popular presence in the brand’s collection. Although, it doesn’t quite hit the heights of the Sub, (which can be said about just about every other watch ever made, anywhere), it’s still an admired piece. Its wearers are at home striding over polished teak decks or in the privileged environs of the yacht club.
Also, as a pre-owned buy, it makes a very tempting target. Below, we will give you the rundown on the allure of the Rolex Yacht-Master and everything you need to know about securing an example for yourself.
There are a number of factors at play when buying a Yacht-Master that will affect the price.
Most obvious is the size. There are a total of four to choose from, depending on how far you go back into the watch’s history. Where it used to be available in 40mm, 35mm, and 29mm editions, today only the 40mm remains of the three. The midsize 35mm has grown to 37mm, and is now listed on both the men’s and women’s pages of the Rolex website. The ladies 29mm has been discontinued altogether.
It makes the allure of the Rolex Yacht-Master as one of the most versatile offerings, dimensions-wise, in the brand’s catalog, with only the Datejust and the Oyster Perpetual presenting more options.
The other major consideration is, of course, the metal. Contrary to what you might think, the gold pieces are usually costlier than the platinum. This is purely because there is more gold used on the bezel, bracelet and clasp. Platinum on the Rolesium models is used only on the surround. The rest remains stainless steel.
Even the Rolesor examples, steel and gold, are more expensive with the precious metal forming the center links of the bracelet, as well as the bezel.
So we end up with the strange situation where a platinum watch acts as the starting point for the Yacht-Master.
If we take the 40mm model as an illustration, you can acquire an excellent condition piece for around the $6,500 to $7,000 mark. This is not far off what you would pay for a vintage steel Submariner. A Rolesor watch from the same era will add about 15% on to that. And, that is at the low end. However, an all yellow gold version starts well into five-figures.
In general, the larger the watch, the higher the price. So, you can pick up 35mm or 29mm versions of the above for less money. The 37mm only arrived a couple of years ago. As such, it hasn’t had time for many pre-owned examples to appear on the market. The entry-level 37mm are, therefore, actually more expensive than the cheapest 40mm currently.
Rose gold is another relatively recent addition, and so also tends to be a high price option. The latest series has red gold as the only Rolesor choice; there is no current yellow gold half and half. On top of that, the Yacht-Master was granted its first Cerachrom bezel in 2015, fitted to a rose gold case.
With both being fairly new to the game, the Everose Rolesor model comes in at around $12,000 to $13,000. The ceramic surround watch, complete with the Oysterflex bracelet, is closer to $20,000.
At the very top end, there are a couple of gemstone-enhanced pieces. The just released ref. 116695SATS, only in 40mm, features a bezel encrusted with 32 sapphires, eight tsavorites and a triangular diamond above the 12 o’clock. It can be had with or without a full pavé dial, with prices starting well north of $50,000. There is also a standard, Cerachrom-bezeled rose gold model with a diamond-drenched dial for not much less.
In all, with the Yacht-Master being a comparatively modern release, it is perhaps too early to speculate on how good a future investment it is likely to be. However, with the 35mm and 29mm already out of production, it would not be surprising to see pre-owned examples of both start to accumulate in price.
With its excellent size range, the Yacht-Master is a true unisex option. Rolex has long recognized its collective appeal by issuing the watch with a wide choice of dial colors as well as metal types.
When the first of the series made its debut, it was as an 18K yellow gold, 40mm model with a white dial. It was quickly joined by others sporting faces of blue, champagne or mother-of-pearl.
The success of the watch was clearly demonstrated by some fearsome waiting lists developing, and so a couple of years later Rolex released the mid-size and ladies versions, still in all yellow gold and with a similar options list.
Five years after that, the first of the steel and platinum Rolesium models were unveiled across all three sizes. With their more accessible price points, the allure of the Rolex Yacht-Master grew in greater popularity. Also, they added brown and silver dial colors to the range.
Rolesor didn’t make its entrance until 2005 with the ref. 16623 (40mm), the ref. 168623 (35mm) and the ref. 169623 (29mm). The two-tone combination of steel and gold has been emblematic of Rolex since it was first used on the Datejust way back in 1948. It drops in and out of favor from time to time, but it will always be the quintessential brand look and it is presently enjoying something of a resurgence.
The Supercase and Sunray Dial
The last notable update came in 2012 when the Yacht-Master followed suit with the rest of the sports watches and graduated to the Supercase, with its thicker lugs and crown guards. That year, the Rolesium model was also granted an eye-catching cobalt blue sunray dial which became one of the most instantly coveted pieces in the collection.
As for the bezel, unlike its contemporaries with similarly rotating surrounds, the Yacht-Master doesn’t use an inlay of any kind. Instead, the component is forged from a solid piece of gold or platinum. Rolex embossed and raised its numerals from the surface. This is the opposite of, say, the Submariner’s engraved markings. The only exceptions, of course, are the latest Cerachrom pieces with their ceramic inserts. Graduations are to 60 minutes with stick indicators for the first 15.
Although touted as the luxurious alternative, the Yacht-Master is only presented on two of the more utilitarian bracelets in the Rolex range. The three-link Oyster is first choice for all of the hardiest professional watches. It’s a tough, unshowy but exquisitely engineered item.
The Oysterflex, exclusive to the Cerachrom models and the only rubber strap the brand has ever attempted, switches up the look of the watch like nothing else. It takes the model from opulent traditionalist to full-on sport mode. With an alloy core reputedly as strong as any of the metal options, the overlaid polymer forms to the shape of the wearer’s wrist after a period of wear, making it even more comfortable.
Issued in a broad variety of sizes, metals and dial colors, the allure of the Rolex Yacht-Master flourishes for one of the most adaptable pieces in the Rolex family. There is the perfect example out there for everyone.
As we’ve covered, the Yacht-Master comes in enough different sizes to fit just about anyone.
The 40mm was first and has endured for the watch’s whole duration. While not especially large by today’s standards, it is the size that suits the wrists of many men. It’s also being worn by an increasing number of women. The softer lines of the Yacht-Master when compared to the Submariner, even with both being given so-called Supercases, also contributes to its appeal across genders.
The 35mm mid-size was conceived to attract a far-eastern market, while the 29mm was only ever seen as a ladies watch. The Rolex collection is conspicuously short on pieces exclusively for women, with only the Lady-Datejust, Pearlmaster and smaller sizes of the Oyster Perpetual for company.
As the trend for mens full size Rolex watches started to take hold in the 1990s and 2000s, Rolex did away with the ladies model altogether and increased the mid-size to 37mm. The two remaining sizes still manage to cover all bases.
However, we are starting to see the first green shoots of a return to more modest dimensions in timepieces, so the now-discontinued smaller Yacht-Masters could well be due a revival. One to think about if you are pondering a future investment piece.
Unlike its namesake, the Yacht-Master II, the first watch in Rolex’s nautical family, doesn’t possess much in the way of functionality designed to make the life of the average skipper any easier.
The sequel’s programmable countdown and mechanical memory is the crown at its most uncharacteristically flamboyant. Whereas, the original Yacht-Master is much more in line with the brand’s usual minimalist approach.
So, you get the simplicity of a three-hand timekeeper with the addition of a Quickset date feature. First introduced on the caliber 3035 from 1977, the Quickset allows the wearer to adjust the date using just the crown, rather than having to advance the hands through 24-hours.
Since its unveiling, the movement inside the Yacht-Master, the 40mm model at least, has been the follow-up to that mechanism, the Rolex Caliber 3135. Debuting in 1988, it is the most widely-used and successful engine the brand has ever produced, powering more of the lineup than any other. A big, solid workhorse of a caliber, it remains an industry leader some 30-years after its launch.
The 35mm and 29mm versions are both powered by the smaller Rolex Caliber 2235, the third generation of Rolex’s movements built specifically for their ladies collection. It is based on the architecture of the Caliber 3135, however, just drastically reduced in size. Also, the Caliber 2235 holds the record for the most consistently accurate caliber ever certified by the Official Swiss Chronometer Testing Institute.
The latest addition to the range, the 37mm mid-size, is driven by the Cal. 2236, the first time Rolex has incorporated silicon technology into one of their watches. Issued in 2014, the Syloxi hairspring inside the Cal. 2236 supposedly needs no lubrication, is unaffected by temperature changes and is impervious to magnetic fields; all killers of mechanical watch movements.
Every caliber inside every Yacht-Master watch is, of course, COSC-rated.
The only other hint of extra utility with the piece is its rotating bezel. Useful as a timing aid, the wearer can line up the 12 o’clock triangle with the main hands and read off the elapsed minutes. The surround on the Yacht-Master revolves in both directions, as opposed to the Submariner’s, which is unidirectional—an added safety feature for a dive watch, meaning if it ever gets knocked, it will underestimate the amount of air supply left, rather than overestimate.
With its Triplock crown, the Yacht-Master is still water resistant to 100m, but is by no means intended as a diver. Yet the resilience of the renowned Oyster case ensures it can more than withstand a good soaking. This makes it an ideal watch for a boat captain.
The initial Yacht-Master landed in the early 90s. Only the Sky-Dweller and the second in the series, the Yacht-Master II, are more recent arrivals at Rolex. As such, it is a little too soon to start using words like ‘vintage’ to describe collectible editions.
It might have passed its quarter century but, unlike so many classics in the brand archives, no minute dial discrepancies have crept in, no slight variations in font or text that usually set devotees’ hearts fluttering. Built with modern processes from the start, it is also unlikely we will see any form of patina develop that separates one watch from another and piles significant premiums onto older examples.
Nevertheless, there are a number of variations that have become especially desirable on the pre-owned market.
The Rarity Value
As we know, any retired version of a popular model immediately starts to attract interest from buyers. The allure of the Rolex Yacht-Master also begins with its inherent rarity value. This only increases over time and is one of the main factors that influences future prices.
With the Yacht-Master, that includes an all yellow gold model, the first type to be released but one that has been missing from the roster for a few years now. Yellow gold, like bicolor Rolesor, is a look that drifts on the whims of fashion. However, both are completing a full circle at the moment and coming back into style.
Available in all three of the original lineup of sizes, a yellow gold model in 29mm or 35mm has the added bonus of being in not only a withdrawn metal type but also in a size no longer made.
Another good bet for a possible investment piece is the ref. 116622 we touched on earlier. Still featured in the current collection and so missing that exclusivity factor (for the moment), the 40mm Rolesium piece comes with either a dark Rhodium or light grey dial or, presently the most popular choice, a blue face textured with a metallic radial pattern, known as sunburst. That particular option arrived in 2012 and has proved a great success. But, Rolex wouldn’t be Rolex if they didn’t abruptly drop a well-performing model from the family at any time, for reasons known only to them. Whether it will happen to the cobalt blue Yacht-Master is impossible to forecast. However, it would not be the most surprising event ever.
A bit more of a risk, and strictly for those with especially deep pockets, is one of the rainbow bezel pieces. No longer in the catalog, the gem-sodden bezels and dials come with an enormous buy-in price. But, these could well be a gamble that pays off in the years to come.
The Rolex Yacht-Master Timeline
Rolex finally gave up their plans to overhaul the Submariner in 1992 with the release of the Yacht-Master ref. 16628. This was an 18k yellow gold variation on the dive watch theme. It was also designed to appeal to a more genteel audience than the tough-as-nails Sub.
It shared the same Caliber 3135 movement and 40mm dimensions. Yet, it needed to be water resistant to only 100m rather than 300m and afford to have a slimmer profile with a flatter belly. It also had more graceful contours and a softer overall silhouette.
It was still very clearly cut from the Submariner cloth, in the same way a Range Rover is just a Land Rover in a fancier shell.
The Allure of the Rolex Yacht-Master Underlined by its Luxurious Pretensions
The white dial original was joined by a small range of alternative colors (blue, gold and mother-of-pearl). The allure of the Rolex Yacht-Master proved enough of a draw to Rolex’s core target audience that in 1994 they brought out both 35mm and 29mm models. This made it the first professional watch in the brand’s history to be offered in three sizes. These smaller examples were also forged exclusively in yellow gold, underlining the watch’s purely luxurious pretensions.
The next big upheaval followed in 1999, when the Yacht-Master debuted a previously unseen metal combination; a stainless steel case and bracelet, crowned with a platinum bezel. A patented concoction known as Rolesium, it was rolled out across the collection and was the answer to many a fan’s wish for a more accessibly-priced substitute for the expensive, and fairly flashy, gold pieces.
Another well-received option came to light in 2005, when Rolex’s trademark Rolesor made its first appearance. The bi-color gold and steel blend sat in-between the two other offerings price-wise, and some further dial colors—silver and brown— entered the series too.
Less Bulk, More Presence
In 2012, the Yacht-Master received its version of the Supercase Rolex had given many of the other tool watches in its stable. Only fractionally bigger around the lugs and crown guards than the previous body, it certainly did not have the bulk of the Submariner’s new physique, but was nevertheless granted slightly more presence on the wrist.
The biggest shakeup to the series so far emerged in 2015 with the arrival of the Yacht-Master’s first Cerachrom bezel, and Rolex’s first ever rubber strap; the massively over-engineered Oysterflex. Joining the two innovations was a larger mid-size model, up from 35mm to a more in-keeping-with-modern tastes 37mm.
At Home Above the Water
The combination of a rose gold case with all-black dial, bracelet and surround has given the Yacht-Master some sporty aspirations which it has been missing up until now, and brought it to the attention of a younger crowd.
Although originally intended as an opulent version of the Submariner, the Yacht-Master has lately become very much its own entity. There is none of the rough and ready nature of the dive watch about it. The Yacht-Master’s home is aboard a luxury sailboat or a regatta racer.
Interestingly though, because of the difference in reputations between the two models, you can take possession of the more lavish of the pair, complete with its platinum embellishments, for about the same price as an all-steel Sub.
The relative newcomer to the Rolex family is quickly becoming a favorite among fans who want to stand out just that little bit more.
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