The Watch Of The Open Seas: History Of The Rolex Yacht-Master
The Watch Of The Open Seas: History Of The Rolex Yacht-MasterRafael Dominguez2019-12-13T10:56:56-05:00
In the year 1992, Swiss watchmaker Rolex would debut a new model line at the Baselworld show that was strikingly similar to the already-popular Submariner. It featured the same 40mm Oyster case with a rotating bezel, the same chronometer-certified caliber, and the same Oyster bracelet.
Seemingly the only difference between the two was the white dial of that first Yacht-Master, a style which has never been an option on a Sub, and the inferior depth rating of 100m when compared to the Sub’s 300m.
Yet, the Yacht-Master was well-received upon launch, and with the passing of time, the yachting-inspired model has evolved and pioneered its own path within Rolex’s catalog.
Read on with us as we go back to the beginning and track the catalysts that paved the way for the most recent Yacht-Master release, the Yacht-Master 42 (226659), to become one of the hottest sports timepieces of the year.
History Of The Rolex Yacht-Master
We’ve broken down our overview of the Yacht-Master into the following segments:
The first Yacht-Master watch was launched in 1992 under reference number 16628. It featured a yellow gold case, a bidirectional graduated bezel, and a matching full-gold Oyster bracelet. Its dial was white with black hour indices, while at center were gold Mercedes hands, and beating inside was the 3135 movement.
Rolex ref. 16628. Instagram: @m_j_watches
Previous to the Yacht-Master’s introduction, Rolex had not released a new model line in a quarter century. So, why did they go with the Yacht-Master, a design that risked being a detractor from their existing Submariner? Let’s take a look at the inspiration.
The sport of yachting is one which demands precise timing and extreme coordination of the entire crew for optimal performance, particularly in offshore competitions.
Rolex believed their waterproof and chronometer-grade timepieces to be more than qualified to handle the knocks of a regatta and keep ticking accurately. The brand is also notorious for their marketing prowess, which led them to act quickly in establishing an association with the sport.
Beginning in 1958 with their first sponsorship of a race, the relationship has endured until today, when the brand sponsors over a dozen international yachting events.
Nevertheless, it’s hard to deny that there exists a large gap between first contact in 1958 and the release of the yacht-inspired timepiece in the early ’90s. Why wasn’t the Yacht-Master released earlier on?
Well, Rolex played around with the idea of yachting chronograph early on, though it never materialized. All that’s left of these trials are an extremely limited number of Daytona ref. 6239 chronograph prototypes with a 39mm case (vs standard 36mm) and modified regatta dials.
The Submariner/Yacht-Master Theory
Unfortunately, the Yacht-Master concept was scrapped and would not reappear until decades later.
When it did return, none of the previous Yacht-Master’s DNA was there. Furthermore, the 1992 Yacht-Master was bizarrely similar to the 16610 Sub of the time.
Interestingly enough, Rolex folklore tells of a time in the ’80s when the brand sought to update their Submariner. What resulted was less of an update and more of an overhaul, manifested as what we know now as the first Yacht-Master.
Apprehensive of the repercussions that making such aggressive design changes to their staple offering could bring, the brand chose instead to release the watch intended to be a new Submariner as the reborn Yacht-Master instead.
The move worked, and the new Yacht-Masters started flying off the shelves. The Yacht-Master was perceived as a more luxurious Sub, though its bidirectional bezel proved useful for on-the-fly countdowns which are critical in sailing competitions. The waterproof nature of the Oyster case further cemented the Yacht-Master as the ideal first mate.
In 1994, just two years after the debut of the 16628, Rolex would introduce the same design but in smaller case sizes. These were:
Ref. 68628: Yacht-Master “Mid-Size” in 35mm
Ref. 69628: Yacht-Master Ladies’ in 29mm
This marked the first time that Rolex ever offered one of their sports models in a smaller case size; all previous instances of case size changes were increases as opposed to reductions. It has been speculated that the smaller cases were intended for the Asian market.
In the same year, Rolex also offered the same 16628 but this time with a deep blue dial. Blue dials tend to make for broadly-liked watches, and coupled with the gold case and bracelet, the new version was once again a hit.
The Platinum (Rolesium) Yacht-Master
The next update to the model line would come in 1999 with yet another home-run: the Rolesium Yacht-Master. The new watch featured a stainless steel case and bracelet with a platinum dial and platinum-insert bezel. Rolesium, a term registered by Rolex back in the ’30s for a combination of steel and platinum in a watch, was finally put to use.
The new platinum Yacht-Master ref. 16622 was not only more accessible than the previous all-gold varieties, it was also more versatile. This would lead the 16622 variety to become the face of the Yacht-Master line.
In fact, many online resources erroneously label it the first Yacht-Master ever; this should offer an idea of how emblematic it is in the watch industry.
The 16622 also presented a new dial and hand style that would mark Rolex as a whole through to the modern day. The new Yacht-Master boasted what is now recognized as the “maxi dial”.
The maxi dial is characterized by oversized hour indices as well as larger hands at center. To the untrained eye, the difference may be difficult to spot, though experienced collectors will note the change instantly.
The maxi dial became the style of choice for all modern Rolex sports watches, though it got its start in the 1999 platinum Yacht-Master. A Submariner would first feature a maxi dial in 2003, with the release of the 50th anniversary Rolex Submariner “Kermit” (16610LV).
All versions of the Yacht-Master produced after the introduction of the maxi dial would also feature the new dial design. This included the blue, gold, and white dial versions from years past.
The 2005 debuts possessed a 40mm steel case, a yellow gold bidirectional bezel, and a two-tone Oyster bracelet. As far as dials, many of the previous styles were also available like the black-on-white, though mother of pearl version were also introduced.
The Yacht-Master II
It was during Baselworld 2007 when Rolex would introduce the Yacht-Master’s younger and much larger sibling, the Yacht-Master II. Whereas the original Yacht-Master was very close functionally to the Sub, the Yacht-Master II was completely the opposite.
It can be said that the only overlap between the YM and the YMII is be the name, as the second iteration looks like a whole new watch. This time, though, it’s clear that the watch has been designed with the needs of yachting professionals in mind.
The first Yacht-Master II were marked by a 44mm Oyster case, an Oyster bracelet, a white dial, and a blue Cerachrom (ceramic) Ring Command bezel. The first two references, 116688 and 116689, were made of yellow gold and white gold, respectively.
Powering the YMII was another innovation – Rolex’s in-house calibre 4161. It features the COSC-chronometer certification and 72-hour power reserve that are today’s standard, though they were industry-leading at the time. Most notable, though, was the 4161 movement’s functions.
In later years, Rolex would go on to release Rolesor and full-steel versions of the Yacht-Master II, both of which have been relatively successful. The Yacht-Master II has certainly earned a spot in the brand’s catalog, and is sure to stick around for next couple of decades.
The Six-Digit Yacht-Master
Twenty years after it debuted as the 16628, the Yacht-Master would see in 2012 the modernization that had been sweeping Rolex’s other model families.
Aside from receiving a new six-digit reference number (116622), subtle aesthetic changes were also present, as was an outstanding new dial option – the Cobalt Blue dial.
The case was now a “super case”, which retained the 40mm diameter but was styled differently. The bezel was now completely platinum, where previous versions were made of steel with a platinum insert. The Oyster bracelet had likewise been upgraded.
A platinum bezel / platinum dial option was still part of the collection and therefore received the same upgrades. Unfortunately, this iconic “albino” look would be completely discontinued in 2017.
The Oysterflex Yacht-Master
The subsequent and most recent significant change to the Yacht-Master family took place in 2015, when Rolex first introduced the Everose Yacht-Master 40 ref. 116655.
Rolex Everose Yacht-Master on Oysterflex bracelet
The newest iteration of the YM possessed some new features. The case was made of Everose, and the bezel now boasted a black Cerachrom insert. Securing the watch to the wrist was another Rolex first – the Oysterflex rubber ‘bracelet’.
Before the 116655, no Rolex watch had ever sported a rubber band. The brand still refers to it as a bracelet given the metal elements within the band, but these are not obvious even with the watch in the hand.
This same style of Yacht-Master would receive the next update in 2019, when Rolex introduced the Yacht-Master 42 in white gold.
With the recent changes that the Yacht-Master line has had, it is clear that Rolex intends to keep this model family alive and well for years to come. Consumers are likewise responding to each new release, offering plenty of feedback with their pocketbooks.
If you’d like to read up on any of Rolex’s other model families, make sure to check out some of our extensive watch guides below: