When introduced in 2012, the Rolex Sky-Dweller was certainly not what anyone expected, however it proves to be the most novel and refreshing Rolex in years. Finally, the “Crown” introduced something entirely new. Not a reworked edition of a GMT, not a slightly redesigned Sea-Dweller, neither another Explorer. No, the Sky-Dweller is totally new, but still it is a Rolex from head to toe. Something else to mention is that the “Sky” was (and still is) the most complicated Rolex to date, not only because of its display but mainly from a user point of view. For all these reasons, it was our duty to review the Rolex Sky-Dweller.
Because the Rolex Sky-Dweller is different – mainly technically and not so much visually, since it really looks like a Rolex – we’re going to do an in-depth review; there’s a lot to tell about this watch. However let’s take a step back. Before it was introduced, people expected Rolex to come with a GMT-plus, a new traveler’s watch with more functions, more precision. Maybe a new sort of world-timer. So when the Sky-Dweller was unveiled it was not exactly what people expected….
Rolex actually introduced THE ultimate gentlemen watch, a watch made for the actual needs of business men – and more. Is the Sky-Dweller a sports watch? Not really and neither is it a proper dress watch. Like some of the watches from the Oyster collection (think DateJust and Day-Date), it’s a casual watch, in-between both worlds, making it a perfect daily companion. However, it depends on the edition. That’s why we’ll review not one, but two very different editions: the sporty white gold / black dial on bracelet (Ref. 326939) and the dressier Everose gold / chocolate brown dial edition on leather (Ref. 328135).
To make short, the Sky-Dweller is Rolex’ vision of the ultimate traveler’s / business watch. It is a timepiece with useful features like a second time-zone and calendar functions (date and month), as well as being adapted to every single situation – meaning a watch that can be worn with a suit or with a more casual attire. This watch was not especially conceived for pilots (this task is designated for the GMT Master) but mainly for people who fly frequently, for their job or their pleasure.
The Rolex Sky-Dweller is also Rolex’ vision of a complicated watch… and it is actually a very complicated watch. However, Rolex always emphasizes its products on the functionality and not the complexity for the complexity. Each function is there for a good reason, for a practical reason. Nothing is added for the fun or the beauty of it. This is actually the reason why, even if technically advanced, the Sky-Dweller looks rather simple. Every aspect has been designed to be practical, easy to use and useful on a daily basis. It is another vision of high-end watchmaking. The “Sky” is, like most watches from the Oyster collection, a tool made to simplify your life, to help you in certain conditions. A Submariner or a Sea-Dweller help divers to practice their sport, a GMT-Master helps pilots while crossing several time-zones and a Yacht-Master II helps sailors to start their regattas at the right moment. The Sky-Dweller will be the perfect companion for travelers. And besides its complexity, it aims to make their lives easier.
The display of the Rolex Sky-Dweller can be divided in 3 areas: local-time, home-time (also called reference-time) and calendar information. The first area is the most common: the local-time, meaning the actual time in the place where you are. It is displayed by the 3 hands on the central axis (hours, minutes and seconds). The second area is the home / reference time. Usually, Rolex displays a second time-zone via a GMT hand and a 24-hour bezel (like in the GMT-Master).
In the case of the Sky-Dweller, Rolex opted for another solution, a sub-dial. It is composed of two elements: a red triangle just below the Rolex logo, which points to the time in a second time zone, which is displayed with a 24-hour scale on a rotating disc. On the picture just over here, local time is 10h09 and in the second timezone (the time of the place to which you will return at the end of your travels) is 7h09. Overall, time-reading is extremely easy.
Then comes the third area of this dial: the calendar functions. The Rolex Sky-Dweller features a complicated annual calendar, displayed in a very convenient and practical way. Instead of a ‘packed’ dial with sub-counters (for the date, the day of the week and the month, like we see on most annual calendars), Rolex chose to make things natural and clean. This annual calendar is composed first of a date window, positioned at 3 (and with the well-known magnifying lens) and of 12 small apertures around the dial, next to the applied hour indices, to display the month. 12 Hours on a dial, 12 months in a year… Why not blending them to make things easier to read. The month is simply indicated in by contrasting colour in the month’s aperture. The black dial edition is adjusted to July (the 7th month of the year) and that the Everose gold edition is adjusted to June (the 6th month of the year). Quite easy and very intuitive.
How does the Annual Calendar of the Rolex Sky-Dweller works?
This type of complication is a first for Rolex, that never went further than a complete calendar on their watches (except a one-off perpetual calendar prototype made by Franck Muller). The annual calendar is a simplified version of the perpetual calendar (or a more complicated edition of the complete calendar… up to you) that takes into account the months with 30 or 31 days. It will require one single adjustment per year, at the end of February.
Rolex created a very simple mechanism called SAROS (after the Greek term that defines an astronomical cycle which governs the recurrence of eclipses, based on the cyclical alignment of Sun, Earth and Moon). Using only four additional gears compared to a normal date complication, it is made, like always at Rolex, to provide great efficiency and reliability. It starts from a fixed planetary gear wheel (inspired by the sun) right at the center of the movement. Then, a satellite wheel (inspired by the movement of the earth) engages the planetary wheel in one month, driven by the date disc. The satellite wheel (that recalls the movement of moon) is fitted with four fingers, for the four 30-day months (April, June, September, and November).
Daily use of the Rolex Sky-Dweller and adjustments
How do you usually adjust the time and the calendar functions of your watch? Normally, via the crown. However, having both the winding capacity, a date, a month, a local time-zone and a reference time-zone to adjust via a single crown makes things a bit complicated (and we all know that crowns with many positions are fragile – and thus not Rolex’ choice.) The second solution are pushers, integrated in the caseband. Not the most convenient and neither the most elegant solution. What Rolex did is creating an adjustment via the bezel, that they call “Ring Command Bezel”. Instead of pulling the crown in X positions or pushing small buttons, you simply rotate the crown in one of the 3 positions and then the selected function (date, local time or reference time) can then be rapidly adjusted in either direction using the winding crown.
This patented “Ring Command Bezel” mechanism is composed of no less than 60 components. The best is that actually no one can imagine that this so-typical Rolex fluted bezel (that can also be found in the Day-Date and the DateJust) is such a complication and that it actually rotates. It is clever, it makes adjustments easier and it improves reliability. Once again, Rolex knows its business.
The Rolex Sky-Dweller is powered by a specific movement, developed especially for this watch: the Calibre 9001. It is one of the most complicated movements that Rolex ever developed (together with the Calibre 4161 of the Yacht-Master II, also mixing this Ring Command Bezel, with a chronograph movement). It is of course chronometer certified by COSC, it boasts 72 hours of power reserve, it features the Paraflex shock absorbers, a large variable inertia balance wheel and the blue Parachrom hairspring (antimagnetic). And even with the Ring Command Bezel and the SAROS (annual calendar) mechanism, it is built to last a lifetime (and even more).
As you can see, we chose to review two opposing editions of the same watch. One in dressy Everose gold case, with a chocolate brown dial and a matching leather strap. The other with a sporty black dial on white gold case and bracelet, looking close to some of the sports watches from the brand, like the Submariner or the GMT Master II. It is impressive to see how a same watch, depending on the options chosen, can be so different. One is warm and elegant – you have to look at this brown dial in the flesh, seeing it changing colour depending on the light… such a nice tone of brown. The other is much more in the vein of Rolex’ iconic sports watches, with a white gold case and Oyster bracelet, and a matte black dial.
Don’t expect it to be the usual dress watch, as the case measures 42mm in diameter. However it remains wearable but not that easy to hide under a tight cuff. You have to look at the “Sky” like a dressy / casual, daily option, that could be worn with a suit during a meeting or with a pair of jeans while traveling back home.
Conclusion about the Rolex Sky-Dweller
Once again, Rolex created an impressive piece of engineering; a watch that looks extremely simple, that has all the features required by the people who need this type of watch, that sets new standards in terms of adjusting and that, besides this apparent simplicity, is extremely complicated. Rolex is not here for the show. They are here to make user-friendly, qualitative, and very reliable luxury products – and this Rolex Sky-Dweller is a great demonstration of Rolex’ capacities. It is not Haute-Horlogerie, where some complications are here for the pleasure of the owners (like a tourbillon for instance), where parts are finished by hands during days and weeks. No, Rolex defines another concept, luxury products made for daily-life, to help you in what you’re doing. And that might explain why they are the most well-known watch brand in the world.
Prices: 34,400 Euros in 18k Everose Gold, on leather strap with chocolate brown dial (Ref. 328135) and 42,600 Euros in 18k white gold, on bracelet with black dial ( Ref. 326939). rolex.com.