If a conservative bastion of watchmaking like Rolex proposes a 42mm white gold watch on a black rubber strap as the epitome of sporty elegance, well, you’ll have to admit that times have changed. Rolex seems to have tapped into the zeitgeist for larger luxury sports watches doubling up as watches that can be worn just about everywhere with just about anything. Released during Baselworld 2019, the Yacht-Master was revisited in a larger 42mm case with sleek black tones and the new-generation calibre 3235. It also marks the first time the Yacht-Master has appeared in white gold, so let’s take a closer look at Rolex’s “watch of the open seas”, the Yacht-Master 42 White Gold ref. 226659.
The call of the sea
When Hans Wilsdorf presented the Oyster in 1926, the world’s first waterproof wristwatch, he paved the way for Rolex’s outstanding and ongoing tradition of water-resistant watches. From the iconic Submariner to hyper professional deep-sea divers like the Sea-Dweller, the sea and all things maritime are a natural habitat for Rolex’s robust tool watches. Rolex also enjoys a long-standing relationship with the world of sailing and since the early 1950s has partnered with select yacht clubs around the world. As the sponsor of prestigious regattas, like the exciting Rolex Fastnet Race, Rolex even developed a watch, the Yacht-Master II, with a specific regatta countdown function for competitive sailors.
Below: Sir Francis Chichester, the first person to sail single-handed around the world from west to east, a nine-month journey from August 1966 to May 1967. Next to it, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual he was wearing on his wrist during this voyage.
But what about wealthy yacht owners and sailing club members who prefer to watch regattas as opposed to participate in them? Men who want a sporty looking watch that can definitely take a plunge but with enough panache to wear to a cocktail or a more formal event? Welcome the Yacht-Master 42, Rolex’s luxury nautical sports candidate.
Theory of Evolution
Rolex is the most Darwinian of watch brands, generally known for introducing evolutions as opposed to revolutionising the scene with brand new collections year after year. Careful, well-thought-out ameliorations on existing models tend to be the norm at Rolex and most of the time it’s a tweak on the dial or an ‘exciting’ upgrade to steel. Change comes slowly at Rolex and only to improve upon an existing species.
This explains why the debut of the Yacht-Master in 1992 was hailed as such a groundbreaking, surprising event: a full 25 years had passed since Rolex’s last release (1967 Sea-Dweller). But there was another reason why the Yacht-Master surprised and then failed to engage Rolex fans and that was its non-tool watch status. Unlike the Submariner, the solid gold case of the Yacht-Master was not really compatible with a rugged, professional dive watch. Although it picked up on many design cues and was fitted with the same calibre as the Submariner, the water-resistance was reduced to 100 metres and its vocation as a professional dive watch was redirected to activities above deck.
Tooled down, dressed up
Although Rolex will never officially confirm whether the Yacht-Master was the result of an aborted plan to revamp the Submariner in the 1980s, the Yacht-Master was positioned as a luxurious nautical watch, a statement watch that you can wear on the deck of your yacht, get splashed by ocean spray and still look, well, affluent.
The first generation Yacht-Master appeared in 1992 with a 40mm yellow gold case (ref. 16628) and a white dial. Sharing the same dial with no numerals, the same hands, the same date window with Cyclops lens, the same 60-minute bezel, the same Triplock crown, and the same movement as the Submariner, the differences lay in the more refined, more rounded aesthetics, the thick solid gold (bidirectional) bezel and the large raised mirror-polished numerals.
Over the years the Yacht-Master has appeared in a mid-size 35mm men’s version and even a 29mm ladies’ model (1994). Today it exists in three sizes: 42, 40 and 37mm. It wasn’t until 1999, however, that the Yacht-Master really got the wind in its sails with a steel case and platinum bezel model (ref. 16622) called Rolesium, which is still going strong today. By 2005, two-tone Yacht-Masters joined the line-up and in 2015, the Everose (ref.116655) introduced two major aesthetic updates: the bezel featuring a black ceramic insert and a daring black rubber ‘Oysterflex’ strap.
Overnight, the 2015 Yacht-Master looked radically different from its metal counterparts. It was suddenly more contemporary, sleeker and more dramatic with its rich red gold case and contrasting matte black features.
Sized up, toned down
Sporty look but luxurious materials (and price…) This white gold Yacht-Master 42 proclaims its independence from the Submariner.
The 2019 Rolex Yacht-Master 42 follows the style mandates of the 2015 model playing heavily on the textures card but tones down the colour scheme and ups the size. With its more discreet 18k white gold case and matte black bezel and strap, you could say that this is the black-tie model of the Yacht-Master family. It is also the largest model of the Yacht-Master with a 42mm diameter, no doubt a move designed to differentiate it one step further from the 40mm steel Submariner Date with a black dial and bezel.
If for any reason your first glance at the watch led you to believe it was a Submariner, a quick look at the price tag will clearly establish its identity. This Yacht-Master 42 reference 226659, in white gold costs EUR 25,700 while the Submariner Date ref. 116610LN costs EUR 7,850: that’s a difference of EUR 17,850 (if ever you can find a Submariner Date at retail price… but that’s another debate)
A case study in textures
The case, for the first time in the Yacht-Master’s relatively short history, is crafted in 18k white gold straight from Rolex’s proprietary foundry. All the gold surfaces are polished for a more elegant feel and the lugs benefit from the 2015 update when they were whittled down and given more of a curve.
The distinctive white gold, bidirectional rotating bezel of this Rolex Yacht-Master 42 is filled with black Cerachrom ceramic. Developed and patented by Rolex, Cerachrom is a hard ceramic material that is practically scratch-proof, corrosion-resistant and impervious to ultraviolet rays. The matte black ceramic has been sandblasted to provide a more technical, contemporary finish and provides the background for the raised black numerals marking 0-60 minutes. The numerals and markers are first moulded into the ceramic and then polished to contrast with the sandblasted bezel.
Add to this the remarkably flexible and resilient black rubber strap and you can see how important textures are to this watch: the cold, sleek feel and weight of white gold; the rugged, slightly gritty sandblasted ceramic; the knurled bezel and fluted caseback; the prominent and raised numerals; and the agreeable warm and supple texture of the rubber strap.
The black lacquered dial, which reinforces the sober aesthetics of this Rolex Yacht-Master 42, features applied 18k white gold hour markers. The hallmark Mercedes hour hand, the minutes hand and the central seconds hand with its round counterweight are also crafted in white gold, and like the hour markers, are treated with Rolex’s very own luminescent material known as Chromalight that emits a long-lasting blue glow in the dark. As a model that is equally as happy in an executive suite as on the deck of a yacht, all Yacht-Masters have a date window at 3 o’clock magnified with Rolex’s hallmark Cyclops lens.
Originally used for dive watches, the rubber strap went upmarket in the 1980s onboard Hublot’s daring precious metal/rubber strap combination. The Rolex Yacht-Master 42, like the 2015 model, is fitted with a matte black rubber strap. Not just any black rubber strap mind you, but a black elastomer strap with a hidden infrastructure made up of flexible metal blades that replicate the robustness and reliability of a metal bracelet with the flexibility and comfort of a rubber strap. An Oysterlock folding clasp in 18k white gold fitted with an extension system (Glidelock) allows you to adjust the length of the strap by about 15mm without tools!
From our experience, it might seem big on the wrist and protrude quite a lot… But believe us, it certainly is one of the most comfortable straps you’ll find on the market.
This Rolex Yacht-Master 42 reference 226659 is fitted with the latest-generation automatic movement developed and manufactured by Rolex: calibre 3235. First introduced in 2015 to replace the long-serving calibre 3135, calibre 3235 is now Rolex’s flagship date-function movement and is protected by no fewer than 14 patents! The most significant innovation is the new Chronergy escapement. Made from anti-magnetic nickel-phosphorous, about half of the beefy 70-hour power reserve can be attributed to the newly designed escapement. A Parachrom hairspring fitted on Paraflex shock absorbers, also insensitive to magnetic fields and temperature variations, offers 10 times more precision that a tradition hairspring in case of shocks. Calibre 3235 was the first movement to receive Rolex’s own certification as a Superlative Chronometer with a tolerance of just -2/+2 seconds a day (more stringent than COSC).
The name of this watch couldn’t be more appropriate. Yacht-Master refers to the master of the yacht, not the deckhand or cabin boy. Clearly, this is a statement watch with a lot of style that makes its point without shouting. It is also a versatile watch: sporty but not a cumbersome tool watch, robust but sleek enough to wear at more formal engagements. Far less flashy than the Everose model, the combination of white gold and black give this watch a distinctive, elegant personality. As for the 42mm diameter, it seems that Rolex is only answering a demand of the market. I know some here might disagree on this increased diameter, but many collectors are asking for larger watches… The people have spoken.
Price & Availability
The Rolex Yacht-Master 42 reference 226659 has a retail price of EUR 25,700. Regarding availability, it is now for sale in stores. Demand appears reasonable and the watch doesn’t suffer the same shortage or premium as some other Rolex models (in steel, though).
More information rolex.com.