History of the Rolex Sky-Dweller

The Sky-Dweller series is the most recent all-new release from Rolex. Launched in 2012, it marked a continuation of the brand’s move into watches with additional complications which started with the Yacht-Master II a few years before.

Rolex Sky-Dweller

But where that model had a somewhat restricted audience, aimed at a small group who competed in sailing regattas, the Sky-Dweller’s remit was far more universal. A novel approach to the dual time zone feature, coupled with the first annual calendar Rolex has ever produced, made it the ultimate luxury travel watch.

Although its functionality would put the Sky-Dweller in the sports collection, its minimalist profile and precious metal casings landed it in among the dress watches, and it was described in some corners as a GMT-equipped Day-Date.

Yet while its dial design has left opinions split since its arrival, all are agreed that it is a technical and engineering powerhouse.

The Original Trio

The name of the new model was announced long before any other details were released, leading to the customary Rolex rumor mill going into frenzies over just what a ‘Sky-Dweller’ might consist of. Understandably, most assumed a more robust version of the GMT-Master, a piece aimed squarely at the professional aviator, in the same way a Sea-Dweller is the more capable big brother of the Submariner.

Rolex Sky-Dweller

When it was unveiled at Baselworld 2012, it was immediately obvious the hunches were way off. With a traditional fluted bezel and lack of any supplementary pushers on the case, it was clearly made to line up next to the President and the Datejust.

Yet it was full of eccentricities. At 42mm, it was fairly large by Rolex standards, although not by anyone else’s. But it was the challenging face that caused the most bewilderment.

The brand’s typically austere aesthetic, one that prized legibility above everything else, had been replaced by an information-heavy dial, at first glance particularly convoluted and with a strange off-centered sub counter that sliced the lower hour markers in two.

In addition, it was available only in Rolex’s three gold alloys, the yellow and white both on Oyster bracelets and the Everose on a leather strap, ranking them as some of the most expensive pieces in the entire portfolio.

Between its unorthodox appearance and its hefty price tag, the Sky-Dweller didn’t exactly hit the ground running. But when the virtuosity of its complications was laid bare, things started to look up.

How it Works

Of all the features it is possible to build into a mechanical wristwatch, an annual calendar and a dual time zone function are two of the most useful on a day to day basis. The Sky-Dweller was created around both.

Rolex are no stranger to the latter, already having the iconic GMT-Master and the cult favorite Explorer II in the stable. But the new watch represented the first time the brand had ever attempted the former, and it required a level of technical prowess that was impressive even by their standards.

Rolex Caliber 9001

Christening their system SAROS, after the astronomical term used to predict solar and lunar eclipses, Rolex’s mechanism is visually simple yet required their most intricate and complex movement to date. The purpose-built caliber, the Cal. 9001, is made up of 380 separate components and is protected by seven patents. It drives not only the GMT display but also ensures the annual calendar compensates for the differing number of days in various months, meaning wearers only need to manually adjust their watch once every year, at the end of February.

Rolex Sky-Dweller White Gold 326139 Ivory Dial

So, how is it read? On the dial, there is a small aperture above the hour indexes. Each one tallies to its corresponding month, i.e. the eight o’clock denotes August, nine o’clock is September, etc. The SAROS simply fills in one of the windows in a different color to indicate which is the current month.

As for the dual time zone feature, that too is a completely new way of doing things. Whereas Rolex’s other pair of GMT models use a fourth hand to point out the correct time on an engraved bezel, the Sky-Dweller has its controversial disc, printed with a 24-hour scale. An inverted triangle at the top indicates the hour back home, while the local time is read normally.

Setting the Sky-Dweller

Key to all the functionality, and possibly the most impressive element of the whole watch, is the second generation of Rolex’s Ring Command Bezel, originally introduced on the Yacht-Master II.

Rolex Sky-Dweller White Gold 326139 Black Dial

On that model it essentially worked as an on/off switch. On the Sky-Dweller, it is taken to the next level.

Linked directly to the winding crown, each quarter turn of the fluted surround unlocks a different action. From the start position, the first counter-clockwise position lets you adjust the date, in its customary place at the three o’clock. Another turn gives control of the main hour hand. And the final position allows you to set the reference time on the GMT disc.

The crown itself, notoriously the weakest part of any mechanical watch, has only one position, lending the Sky-Dweller an inherent strength.

The revolutionary bezel and caliber combination means there is no need for any extra buttons on the side of the case which would spoil its dress watch credentials; an incredible achievement for a piece with so much going on.

Unquestionably the flagship in Rolex’s travel collection, the Sky-Dweller proved to doubters that the brand was more than accomplished enough to produce an extremely complicated model. And in doing so, they have created something capable of displaying a huge amount of information in the most elegant and sophisticated way possible.


Rolex Sky-Dweller Milestones

2012 The original trio of Sky-Dweller models debut at Baselworld. Available only in 18k gold, the yellow and white versions sit on Oyster bracelets while the Everose piece is given a brown alligator leather strap. The 42mm watch debuts Rolex’s first ever annual calendar complication, powered by an in-house manufactured caliber, the Cal. 9001.
2014 A further three versions are released. This time, there is an Oyster for the pink gold model, and the yellow and white are on leather. In addition, there is slightly more variety on offer.

Where the initial releases had dials that matched the color of their cases, now the white gold watch has a black satin face with contrasting GMT disc, the yellow gold is fitted with a silver dial, while the Everose retains the same deep chocolate as before.

2017 To everyone’s relief, the first hints of stainless steel make their way onto the Sky-Dweller when Rolex announces a pair of Rolesor variants. Bringing the price down steeply, the steel/yellow gold and steel/white gold two-tone models make the luxury globetrotter’s watch more accessible across a wider audience.

It is also given a subtle facelift, with baton indexes replacing the former Arabic numerals and the center hands slightly lengthened to improve readability.