Rolex’s Yacht-Master collection holds two watches: the time-and-date Yacht-Master and the regatta chronograph (0-10 minute countdown timer) Yacht-Master II. Despite their differences in functionality and appearance, these watches take after a similar blueprint. Both fall under Rolex’s “professional” category, indicating a purpose-built, tool-oriented design. More so than other professional Rolexes, these nautical sport watches are hyper-luxurious and largely made of precious metals.
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In a 2020 interview, British sailor Sir Ben Ainslie confirmed that Rolex gifted him a titanium Yacht-Master 42mm (pictured above). While this doesn’t confirm the eventual release of a titanium Yacht-Master, it tells us that Rolex is aware of its demand. Furthermore, field testing of a working prototype has gone on for nearly three years. Could we see a commercially available version in 2023? While we’re on the topic, we should discuss the Yacht-Master II. With the exception of a 2013 movement upgrade, Rolex’s regatta chronograph has gone unchanged for 16 years. Will it receive an update? Will it be discontinued? How might Rolex approach the Yacht-Master collection in 2023 and beyond? Before getting into predictions, let’s discuss the two models.
A Titanium Rolex Yacht-Master Makes Sense
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I continue to question the likelihood of a titanium Submariner. This hypothetical dream watch would encroach on the market share of Tudor’s all-titanium Pelagos line. Since Tudor is a sister brand of Rolex, it’s in their best interest to avoid this overlap, at least for now. Apart from the Submariner, titanium would be a welcome addition to most professional Rolex models. The brand is clearly flirting with the concept. Last year, Rolex introduced their first all-titanium watch: the Sea-Dweller Deepsea Challenge. This watch is a symbol of technical achievement, but not what you might call an everyday wear. The Deepsea Challenge’s beastly dimensions (50mm diameter, 23mm height) call for a lightweight material like titanium, but don’t highlight its everyday potential. Enter the Rolex Yacht-Master.
Offered in three sizes (37mm, 40mm, 42mm), the slim and contoured Rolex Yacht-Master emphasizes wearability. It’s 1.5mm thinner than the Rolex Submariner: the watch that the Yacht-Master was based on. It also has generously curved (and polished) lugs to create a low profile on the wrist. The Yacht-Master was designed as a sleek and stylized Submariner: the perfect canvas for precious metals like gold and platinum. A titanium version would stray from this, instead embracing utility. Its lesser specifications (100 meters water resistance) place it in a different category the Submariner or Pelagos. A titanium model would be uniquely positioned in Rolex’s catalog: an incredibly wearable, hyper-light tool watch. Titanium is clearly advantageous for professional sailors like Sir Ben Ainslie, but more importantly for commercial success, it makes for a comfortable watch. Not everyone wants 250 grams on their wrist.
Rolex Yacht-Master II Redesign
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Unveiled in 2007, the Rolex Yacht-Master II has maintained the same 44mm design for 16 years. In 2013, the caliber 4160 was replaced by the marginally improved caliber 4161. This upgrade was accompanied by a stainless steel version: the only Yacht-Master II under 0.5 lbs. Make no mistake – this is a big watch. A lot of the Yacht-Master II’s size comes from its ‘Ring Command bezel’: a feature that’s mechanically imperative to the complication but visually redundant with the dial. The bezel displays the numbers 0-10 (just like the dial), also adding large ‘YACHT-MASTER II’ text in case you forgot what you were wearing. Assuming Rolex wants to refresh this watch (or even keep it in the collection), downsizing the bezel would be a good place to start. While the movement requires a rotating bezel, it doesn’t have to be so large. In 2019, industrial designer/watch enthusiast IDGuy proposed a sized-down bezel for the Yacht-Master II, fit with a compass readout. I love this idea – cut down the chunkiness and add some functionality. This all sounds great, but how likely is a Yacht-Master II redesign in 2023?
Predictions and Final Thoughts
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Truthfully, I think Rolex has enough on their plate this year. 2023 is an anniversary year for the Daytona and Submariner: both higher priorities than either Yacht-Master. That said, this collection won’t stay the same forever. Given that a titanium Yacht-Master not only exists, but was created for a professional within the watch’s target market (sailing), I wouldn’t be surprised to see it released in the next few years. I predict that Rolex will slowly start implementing titanium in their peripheral models, which we’re already starting to see happen. I expect watches like the Yacht-Master and Milgauss to receive the titanium treatment before the likes of a Daytona or Explorer II. As far as the Yacht-Master II goes, discontinuation feels just as likely as an update. In fact, our 2022 predictions leaned toward the former. If Rolex does refresh the design, I hope to see a smaller bezel, preferably with some added utility. As with all predictions, only time will tell. Whatever Rolex has in store, I’ll be at Watches and Wonders Geneva 2023 to cover it here on the Everest Journal.