The Beckertime Comparison Series: The Men’s Yacht-Master Versus the Ladies Yacht-Master of the 2000s
The original run of Rolex’s Yacht-Master collection was launched in 1992, making it a relatively recent addition to the portfolio.
During that first decade, the range expanded considerably, but there was evidently still plenty of fine-tuning and refinement left to do.
The watch had already gone through a fairly turbulent time, as seems to be the way of all new Rolex releases, by the time the 2000s hit.
The State of the Collection
With the arrival of the new millennium, the Yacht-Master could be had in three different sizes (a first for a Rolex sports model), and each one was available in a choice of two metal types. (They were not, however, all the same types).
The smallest, a 29mm, was obviously aimed at a female audience, while the largest, which came in at 40mm, was technically meant for men. However, the trend for women wearing larger watches was coming into season during the era, and the Yacht-Master’s opulent and relatively soft styling made the 40mm an ideal unisex piece. But for those who couldn’t make up their minds, the mid size 35mm was the perfect compromise.
The basic collection looked like this:
|ref. 16628—Solid yellow gold|
|ref. 16622—Rolesium (a steel case and platinum bezel)|
|ref. 168623—Yellow Rolesor|
|ref. 169623—Yellow Rolesor|
Strangely, the full size watch didn’t have a two-tone Rolesor variant in 2000. In fact, it would take until 2005 before Rolex issued one, the ref. 16623.
The eagle-eyed among you will have spotted something unusual between the three sizes. The 40mm models are still five-digit references whereas the two smaller versions have graduated to six digits.
The reason behind this is all down to their respective movements. The first generation of the 29mm and 35mm models had been driven by the Cal. 2135. This second iteration progressed to the Cal. 2235 in 1999.
It is actually not unheard of for Rolex’s ladies watches to get a caliber upgrade before the men’s. It happened with the Lady-Datejust as well, the first in the series to get a 28,800vph movement at the tail end of the 1970s, about four years before the 36mm model. However, the women’s watches do tend to get overlooked somewhat, with all the headlines usually reserved for the movements powering the men’s collection.
In truth though, the switch to the Cal. 2235 was probably a little redundant here. The outgoing mechanism was still a superb performer, holding the record for highest first time pass rate at the COSC. And the distinctions between it and the Cal. 2235 were negligible to say the least.
The new engine had a minutely thicker mainspring, slightly larger teeth on the reversing wheels and four extra jewels slotted in somewhere. Other than that, and a more straightforward layout for the calendar module to make servicing easier, there was basically nothing to choose between them.
It seems even more curious that the smaller Yacht-Masters were given new power plants when you consider the 40mm version, which you imagine to be a stronger seller, was still using the Cal. 3135. By 2000, that caliber was already 12-years old, and wouldn’t be superseded by the Cal. 3235 in the current models until 2019.
Although there was a fair amount of variety within the Yacht-Master collection, across all three sizes, the choice of different dials was actually fairly limited. The series was still very much in its infancy of course, and so each model had only a handful of carefully selected faces from which to choose.
The Rolesor versions of both the 29mm and 35mm could be had with a white, silver or champagne dial, along with a sunray blue which was especially popular. The 40mm solid yellow gold piece, and the Rolesor which came along later, had the same except the all-gold model swapped the silver dial for a slate grey one.
One other option, on the white dialed model, was the inclusion of ruby hour markers. The stones followed the time-honored shape of the Yacht-Master’s traditional indexes, a mixture of round dots, batons at the 6 and 9, and an inverted triangle for the 12. (The date display, along with the Cyclops lens, accounted for the 3 o’clock position).
At some point in the early 2000s, Rolex also started issuing mother of pearl variants as well, something the brand has long offered in their top-of-the-line ranges, and these could be specified with rubies as well.
The MOP examples of any of the brand’s watches have generally become highly sought after, with each wafer thin sliver of the material used for dials offering a completely unique look in tone, color and structure. So, even in a mass production item like a Rolex watch, every model becomes a one-off.
As for the steel and platinum Rolesium pieces, they initially had just one choice, and that was a dial which was also made of platinum. Although undoubtedly a luxurious combination, it seemed to divide opinion, with opponents criticizing the lack of contrast. In fact, the only thing which broke up the wall-to-wall monochrome was a bright red seconds hand, and even that did little to energize the visuals. But the admirers loved the watch’s extremely understated aesthetics, its ‘stealth wealth’ vibe, with only those in the know recognizing it for the lavish article it was.
The Rolesium Yacht-Masters would get another dial selection in 2012, in a cobalt blue, which livened things up considerably. But we will look at that era in more detail in a separate article.
Rolex’s flagship nautical watch was still rather finding its feet during the first decade of the 2000s. Looking at it now, the range seems particularly sparse, a world away from the contemporary catalog, which is one of the most stylistically diverse of any in the brand’s Professional Collection.
However, there is no denying its opulence in materials and the timelessness of its overall design.
In our next post we will take a look at 2010 to the present, when the model went through so many changes that it has started to look like a completely different watch to the one Rolex started out with.
— Featured Cover Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.