What’s the Difference? The Rolex Yacht-Master Vs. The Rolex Yacht-Master II
Some of the most frequently asked questions we get here at BeckerTime concern the differences and similarities between certain models in the Rolex lineup.
It can undoubtedly be a confusing area for those just starting to discover the brand. There are a number of pieces in the range built for the same sort of work in the same sort of environment. The Submariner and the Sea-Dweller, for instance, both do the same job, except one does it deeper.
When you factor in the vintage market as well it can get even more mystifying. Many of the watches released by the Swiss giant have been around, in one form or another, for decades, going through a seemingly endless succession of upgrades and refinements, and choosing between them takes a fair amount of time-consuming research.
Occasionally, such as with their legendary aviator’s series, a revision is so significant it earns more than just a new reference number and gives rise to a sort of sequel to the original. Hence, when the GMT-Master finally got the movement that delinked its two hour hands, allowing wearers to set them independently of each other, it was launched as the GMT-Master II.
But while the follow-up was practically identical, visually at least, to the earlier piece, some of the models in the Rolex range to have been granted sequel status bear almost no relationship to their namesake whatsoever.
The Explorer and Explorer II is one example, with the former being a starkly elegant all-rounder and its sibling a rough and ready bruiser built for a life underground.
Possibly the biggest disparity between two similarly named models comes in the shape of the Yacht-Masters. In fact, the only real connection shared by the pair is that they can both be described as watches.
Like the Explorers, it is the second of the two that actually has the functionality that justifies its name. The first Yacht-Master has nothing in particular to make a life on the ocean waves any easier, beyond the inherent waterproofness of its Oyster case. The Yacht-Master II, however, performs an incredibly complex, and incredibly specific, task—one of tremendous value to real-life skippers.
You get the feeling Rolex named themselves into a corner when they released the original Yacht-Master, and when they came up with the concept of the spin-off, they found themselves with no other option.
Regardless, it has left us with two fascinating and completely contrasting models.
Below we’ll take a look at both.
The Rolex Yacht-Master
There was something about the 1980s that gave rise to some bizarre decisions regarding several of the world’s most beloved and enduring products.
This was the decade, remember, that inflicted ‘New Coke’ onto a public perfectly content with old Coke. Likewise, someone sitting around a board table in Rolex HQ touted the idea of a completely revamped Submariner, a total overhaul of the company’s most famous and adored timepiece.
It was a notion interesting enough to be accepted and the company’s legions of designers and engineers were put to work to come up with the best way to kill their golden goose.
Fortunately, at some point wiser heads prevailed and the plan to replace the Sub was abandoned, but the work already completed on the new concept was judged too good to shelve altogether.
The Same but Different
What had been created was ostensibly a Submariner in a fancy suit. Not released until 1992, it was promoted as a more luxurious nautically-themed watch—too pretty to be used as a tool for underwater adventures, but perfect to match with a polished teak deck or the tasteful décor of the yacht club.
It was also the first all-new watch to emerge from the Geneva base in nearly 30 years. The last one before that had been the Daytona in 1964.
Of course, we are playing somewhat fast and loose with the term ‘all-new’ here. When the ref. 16628 was unveiled, the blatant similarity to its diving cousin was fooling no one, but it proved itself a triumph nonetheless.
In a textbook case of ‘if-it-ain’t-broke’, Rolex made just a handful of distinctions between the two. Only available initially in 18k gold, it had softer, curvier lines to better match its privileged environs. Perfectly content with 100m of water resistance rather than 300m, it could also have a flatter case back, making it a more comfortable all-day wear, and its solid gold bezel was bi-directional, losing much of its usefulness as an underwater timer.
Beyond that, its dial layout and hands were identical to the Sub and the pair even shared the same caliber, the Cal. 3135.
Take Your Pick
Although it never proved as popular as the watch on which it was so clearly modeled, which is something you can say of just about any watch from any manufacturer, the Yacht-Master definitely found an audience and it debuted with a healthy waiting list already clamoring.
It was helped along by being the first in the Oyster Professional range to be offered in three sizes; together with the ladies model and the full size men’s, a mid-size version at 35mm was also available.
Over its production run, still going strong some 26 years later, Rolex has continued to bring out a variety of models. Although the smallest size has been discontinued, leaving just a 37mm and a 40mm, it can be had in the chocolaty warmth of Everose Rolesor or the crisp coldness of steel with a platinum bezel, a combination developed specifically for the Yacht-Master and called Rolesium.
But the standout of the range has to be the ref. 116655 released in 2015. Debuting the near-indestructible Cerachrom bezel, it tops a lustrous pink gold case, and the watch is secured with the first rubber strap Rolex has ever produced.
This being Rolex however, calling the Oysterflex bracelet a rubber strap is a bit like calling The Beatles a boy band—technically correct, but somehow not. It is actually a flexible titanium and nickel alloy blade overmoulded with a high performance hypoallergenic elastomer (so there!) It means it is able to form to the shape of your wrist and retain all the comfort of a rubber strap, but with the durability of any of the brand’s famously robust metal bracelets. It even comes with the Oysterlock Safety Clasp that guards against accidental opening.
All told, the most recent addition to the original Yacht-Master family takes the range in a new direction. Alleviating some of the grandstanding of the yellow gold models, the black bezel and strap becomes instantly more sporty while still preserving an unapologetically opulent bearing.
Captain or landlubber, we can all breathe a sigh of relief that the Yacht-Master failed to rob us of the Submariner, but it remains a wonderfully versatile and handsome creation in its own right.
The Rolex Yacht-Master II
When it was released, the Yacht-Master II really accomplished two tasks. Outwardly, its main purpose was to help skippers time the convoluted starting procedure of a sailing regatta. Its secondary objective was to address the Rolex detractors who have long been critical of the lack of complicated watches in the lineup.
The core of the brand’s output has always been simple, elegantly practical models, minimalist in design and built to last several lifetimes. For over a century, the chronograph has been as complex as they have gotten, or have needed to.
By 2007, it seemed as if they had finally had enough of the sneering and decided to come out swinging. The Yacht-Master II represented a massive departure for the company, usually the very definition of Swiss discretion.
Not only was it by far the most complicated piece ever to bear the Rolex name, its styling was also a world away from the typically subtle and reserved look fans had come to expect.
From its enormous 44mm dimensions and prismatic dial to its bright blue look-at-me bezel, it stood out from the rest of the catalog like a clown at a country club.
However, while its appearance immediately split opinion, even the most vocal of the brand’s faultfinders were silenced by its concept, its functionality and its sheer audacity.
The Regatta Timer
Rolex has never shied from creating watches aimed at the smallest of demographics. The Explorer II, for example, is the only model I’m aware of targeted exclusively at speleologists.
There may well be more sailing regatta skippers than cave divers, but it probably isn’t by much.
The relationship between Rolex and seafaring goes back to the fifties, so professional sailors have had a long wait for a watch of their own. Now that it is here though, it has certainly rewarded their patience.
Created to help coordinate the chaotic departure sequence of yacht races, it packs in an ultra-complex programmable countdown, and it was the first watch in the world with a mechanical memory and flyback function.
How it Works
With the wind being what it is, boats competing in a regatta can’t just sit at the starting line waiting for the off. Instead, they have to be maneuvered back and forth without crossing for a predetermined length of time before the race begins. The start of this sequence is signaled by a gunshot and is followed by two other signals at set intervals—usually 10 minutes in total.
Any yachts crossing the line too early are slapped with a penalty, while those crossing too late could find themselves out of the race before it begins.
So, being able to precisely time each stage of the procedure can mean the difference between winning and losing.
With split-second judgments involved, skippers need to be able to synchronize their watches with the official race clock, and adjust it on the fly if necessary.
It was a multilayered problem for Rolex and one that took all of their hard-won engineering prowess to solve.
There are only a limited number of elements that can be brought into play on one watch, so Rolex gave key responsibility to the Yacht-Master II’s bezel. While rotatable surrounds date back decades, helping divers keep track of their immersion times or travelers fight jetlag, this new watch introduced a whole new approach.
Now, instead of being a somewhat passive onlooker, the ‘Ring Command Bezel’ becomes integral to the entire operation. Directly linked to the interior mechanism, turning it through 90° unlocks the programmable operations, with the crown being used to set the countdown duration on the horseshoe-shaped inner gauge. Returning the bezel to its starting position locks and memorizes the setting.
The top pusher at two o’clock starts the countdown, with the small sub dial showing the elapsed seconds and the arrow-tipped hand counting down the minutes.
But, if the skipper has started his countdown too late or too early and needs to adjust it to match with the race clock, simply pressing the lower of the pushers causes the seconds hand to ‘fly-back’ to its starting position, and the arrow hand to go to the nearest minute, compensating for any discrepancy.
All functions that would be a breeze for a digital watch, but when you are working with gears and springs, it takes the sort of virtuosity far beyond most manufacturers.
On its release, the Yacht-Master II was fitted with the Cal. 4160, a heavily reworked version of the Daytona’s Cal. 4130, complete with its Rolex-specific vertical clutch.
By 2013, after a reported 35,000 hours of development, they perfected the purpose built Cal. 4161 especially for the Yacht-Master II.
Their most complicated watch to date necessitated their most component-heavy caliber, and the new movement is constructed from 360 separate parts.
Along with driving all the watch’s complex functions, it retained the legendary accuracy of the Superlative Chronometer certification, accurate to within +2/-2 seconds a day.
The Modern Yacht-Master II
After the subtlest of facelifts for its 10th birthday, pretty much the only subtle thing about the watch, there are now four variations of the Yacht-Master II. The Everose Rolesor or all steel models are possibly the two most adaptable, while the all gold piece is for the born extrovert. Completing the range is a Rolesium version similar to the original series Yacht-Master.
Although it hasn’t exactly opened the floodgates for waves of hyper-complicated offerings to come pouring out of Rolex HQ, the Ring Command bezel concept has been carried over onto the Sky-Dweller, which arguably offers even more functionality even without extra pushers cluttering up its case design.
The Yacht-Master II though started it all. An incredibly impressive performer with an unmistakable look, it is not only a world away from its namesake, it is in a league of its own.