The Beckertime Comparison Series: The Men’s Yacht-Master Versus the Ladies Yacht-Master of the 2010s
To recycle an old football cliché, the contemporary Rolex Yacht-Master range really is a game of two halves.
For a series comprised of only 12 watches, you will not find one anywhere else in the brand’s canon with such a down-the-middle divide in its aesthetics. On the one hand, you have the classic Yacht-Master look—a luxuriously softened Submariner, all swoops and gentle lines, and precious metals in all the right places.
On the other, there is the out-and-out sports watch, with bezels of high-tech, indestructible ceramic and sitting on the world’s most over engineered rubber strap.
The difference a simple switch of bracelet and surround has on the overall visuals of the piece is staggering. Pluck someone new to horology off the streets and show them examples from both ends of the Yacht-Master scale and they would likely think they were looking at completely separate collections.
It is a phenomenon unique within Rolex’s output. If you take the two most well-stocked and chameleonic watch families they offer; the Day-Date and Datejust, both of them have massively different styles within their respective groups. But a Datejust is always a Datejust, whether it is in all-steel with a smooth bezel or in yellow Rolesor with a fluted frame and intricate Jubilee bracelet—the underlying basics are always there and immediately identifiable, and that’s not even taking into account the limitless dial color options.
The only other series which even comes close to the Yacht-Master’s split personality is the Daytona, and for the same reason. It too has examples with metal bezels and bracelets, which look a world away from those with Cerachrom surrounds and Oysterflex bands.
So, from being one of the more stuffy and conservative models on the books when it was released, the Yacht-Masters have been transformed in recent years into some of the most dynamic. Below, we look at how and when that metamorphosis started, and compare the men’s and women’s versions of this impressive name.
The Yacht-Master in 2010
The Yacht-Master turned 18-years old in 2010, making it still one of the youngest pieces in the catalog.
As today, the collection was available in three sizes, a first for a Rolex tool watch. They weren’t, however, the same three sizes you will see in the current series.
The smallest was a 29mm, not officially called a Lady Yacht-Master, but a lady’s Yacht-Master all the same. The largest was the 40mm, the first size to be launched back in 1992, and very much marketed as a men’s watch. In-between was a fairly unusual mid-size, coming in at 35mm. This was aimed both at women who wanted a larger model, and at men with more slender wrists—it found a welcoming audience in the Far East, for example.
As for variety, it was actually quite limited. The 40mm still had the solid yellow gold model, the ref. 16628. But it was discontinued in short order in 2011, and never replaced. That left just the yellow Rolesor watch (the ref. 16623, which was likewise retired, in 2016) and the so-called Platinum Yacht-Master, the ref. 16622. These had steel cases, topped with platinum bezels, a combination Rolex call Rolesium.
The first of them had been released in 1999, with dials also made of platinum. While undoubtedly a classy addition, it had had its critics for the perceived lack of contrast in the makeup and so, in 2012, another version was launched to run alongside, this time with a deep cobalt blue sunray dial. This was a far more eye-catching piece and so, of course, seemed to offend that section of the Yacht-Master’s fan base who preferred the former monochrome look. It is literally impossible to please everyone, even if you are Rolex!
As for the 29mm and 35mm models, they both had Rolesium and yellow Rolesor versions as well, with a small selection of different dial options between them, including mother-of-pearl.
But, while the popularity of the watch was growing, it appeared to be a model still searching for an identity. There was something just a little (whisper it) old fashioned about it, and it was a model in need of a thorough shakeup.
In 2015, it got just that.
The Rolex Yacht-Master Comes of Age
That was the year the Yacht-Master completed its hat-trick of firsts. It was already, as mentioned, the first Rolex sports watch released in three sizes. The platinum-and-steel combo of Rolesium was another feature that debuted with the model (and it is so far the only piece in the brand’s lineup with it). And to round it off, the 40mm ref. 116655 launched in 2015 brought with it the very first appearance of the Oysterflex rubber strap.
Of course, as we all know, calling the Oysterflex a rubber strap is akin to calling The Beatles a boy band. It actually consists of an inner ‘blade’ made of a titanium nickel alloy, which is covered in a high-performance black elastomer. So it has the strength of any of Rolex’s other metal bracelets, but with the advantage of the outer coating forming to the shape of the wrist over time, resulting in an extremely comfortable all-day wear. The strap is tiered as well, with a pair of vanes on the underside which lift it up and away from the skin, allowing air to flow beneath it, keeping the whole thing cool.
Along with the new shoes, the ref. 116655 became the first Yacht-Master in Everose (Rolex’s proprietary rose gold alloy) and the first to be given a Cerachrom bezel.
The end result of all these never-before-seen elements blended together was like getting virtually an all-new watch collection. In a stroke, the former out-datedness of the model was blown away, and in its place was something utterly modern and state-of-the-art. The tone of the metal and the deep black of its individual elements were the perfect duo, carried over onto the black dial with its indexes and handset outlined in Everose gold.
2015 was also the year which witnessed the end of the 29mm and 35mm models, both replaced by a new 37mm. So that was technically the end of any semblance of there being a Lady Yacht-Master, but the smaller ref. 268655 was certainly qualified to fill the gap of a unisex model, especially with its Everose and Cerachrom finish.
2015 and Beyond
The Yacht-Master has continued to evolve over the last five years. In 2016, the yellow Rolesor versions disappeared from the range and were replaced with new two-tone watches, this time with Everose taking on the precious metal parts. Available in both 37mm and 40mm, they share just two dial colors; black and brown. The latter, especially, is a wonderfully thought-out piece, with one of the warmest visuals of any Rolex.
As for the Rolesium models, there remain just three in the collection. The 40mm has both the platinum and cobalt faces, the 37mm still has just the platinum for some reason.
The Everose examples, with their ceramic bezels and jet black straps, have two dial options apiece. The traditional black is another beautifully executed pairing, but for sheer opulence, it is also offered with a full diamond pavé as well.
And finally, the next step in the Yacht-Master story was unveiled in 2019 and came as a surprise to almost everyone.
Bringing the model back to a three-size collection once again, the ref. 226659 emerged as a 42mm, the first time the YM had broken the 40-mil barrier.
For many people, this newest creation is the best of them all. Cast in 18k white gold (case, crown and clasp) and fitted with the black Cerachrom bezel and Oysterflex bracelet, it is as ‘stealth wealth’ as you could ask for. Effortlessly walking that line between straight up tool watch and sophisticated, low-key luxury, it is the perfect modern-day Rolex and it would not be a surprise to see the range of 42mm examples grow considerably over the next few years.
So there we have it, the last 10-years of the Rolex Yacht-Master. What the future holds is impossible to tell (as it is with any Rolex model) but for now, the collection is a wonderfully well-balanced one, offering something for any taste.
Although they may not be the first port of call for every new collector, the Yacht-Masters are certainly growing in popularity, a welcome break from the ubiquitous Submariners and GMT-Masters seen around the average boardroom table.
— Featured Cover Photo: BeckerTime’s Archive.