The Rolex Sky-Dweller Ref 326934 is the most complicated modern Rolex available. It’s also rather polarising. Most collectors have pretty strong views on it one way or another. None can dispute its ingenuity. Its intuitive display incorporates an annual calendar and a dual time-zone. In total the model boasts 11 – 14 patents. Yet it is more accessible price wise than you might expect. Particularly in steel and white gold. Assuming you can find one, of course. Read on to learn everything you need to know about the Rolex Sky-Dweller.
For years, Rolex provided dual time zone functionality via the professional pilot-dedicated GMT-Master. It features a supplementary hour hand coaxially located at the dial centre. Rotating on a 24-hour scale (denoted on the bezel), it was a Rolex invention in 1954.
The first model, the GMT-Master, launched in 1955. The GMT-Master II followed a few decades later. Both have proven their usefulness and versatility. The 24-hour hand was also introduced on the Explorer II. Beyond that, though, we have not seen much from Rolex on the dual time zone front. Other than the standard updates and improvements to established models.
That’s why in 2012, the launch of the Sky-Dweller caused quite a stir. Rolex registered the name before Baselworld, but no one knew anything about the new model. Speculation anticipated a progression of the GMT-Master II. Instead Rolex came out with its first new watch in two decades. One featuring dual time zone displays as well as an annual calendar.
Unlike the GMT-Master, the Rolex Sky-Dweller is for business travellers. Not pilots. The real story though was its complicated movement. The all-new caliber 9001, which today remains the most complex ever developed by the brand. It was also less sporty than the GMT-Master II. Instead the Sky-Dweller took its design cues from the Datejust and Day-Date models. But the familiar fluted bezel held a hidden surprise. In fact, the Sky-Dweller’s mystique turned out to be how simple it is to read and adjust.
The Sky-Dweller displays two time zones at the same time. Local time, and the date, are in the standard Rolex format. But off-set from the dial centre is a 24-hour disc indicated to by a fixed inverted triangle. (You read minutes for both time zones off of the local time minute hand.)
The 24-hour display tracks the wearer’s chosen reference time. This could be home time or the time zone where you spend most of your time for work. The 24-hour scale makes it easy to discern between day and night. The calendar month shows via one of the 12 apertures located beyond the hour indexes. You will notice the color red in the corresponding box instead of white. There’s a lot of information but the delivery doesn’t overcrowd the dial.
Adjusting so many indicators usually requires you to memorise several crown settings. Or necessitates bulky pushers. Or worse still, those annoying little correctors. Not so with the Rolex Sky-Dweller. While it’s true you use the crown for rapid setting of all functions, it doesn’t quite work in the usual way. Instead, you choose the function you want the crown to perform first.Well, the Sky-Dweller employs intelligent bezel technology known as “ring command”. This is the same technology used by the Yacht-Master II. Rotating the bezel interacts with the movement. In doing so it changes which function the winding crown engages. No fewer than 60 components make up the patented, complex mechanical module. You can set the displays in any order, and in both backwards and forwards directions.
Before the Sky-Dweller, Rolex only provided a complete calendar. Although similar, it doesn’t take into account the differing month lengths. Rolex solves this problem by introducing only four extra gear wheels. In doing so it created the simple but ingenious SAROS annual calendar system.
‘Saros’ is a Greek term. It refers to the astronomical cycle governing the recurrence of an eclipse. The design takes inspiration from the cyclical alignment of the Sun, Earth and Moon. Hence the name.
A satellite (Earth) wheel engages a fixed planetary (Sun) gear wheel over one month, driven by the date disc. The ‘Earth’ in turn has its own satellite (Moon) wheel fitted with four fingers for each of the four 30-day months. At the end of these months, one of the fingers causes the date disc to jump two days in a few milliseconds. Hence, the 31 date is ‘eclipsed’. Manual intervention is thus only required on 1 March (following February).
The Rolex Sky-Dweller debuted in 2012. But it didn’t hit mainstream radars until 2017. That’s when Rolex updated the dial and introduced steel versions. Or ‘Rolesor’ versions, as Rolex likes to call them.
‘Rolesor’ is Rolex speak for a combination of Oystersteel and gold. The white Rolesor Sky-Dweller (Ref 326934) features a fluted bezel in 18ct white gold. There’s also a two-tone yellow Rolesor version (Ref 326933). This sees the addition of 18ct yellow gold centre links on the Oyster bracelet and a yellow gold bezel.
For the gold lovers, there’s a full Everose gold version (Ref 326935). And a full yellow gold version (Ref 326938). Both are available on a leather strap as well. Rolex no longer offers a white gold Sky-Dweller.
This use of materials gives the Rolex Sky-Dweller a sportier feel. It also makes it much more accessible. There’s a big price difference between the Rolesor versions and the solid gold ones. Like five figures big. The former offers a lot more gold of course but that’s not to everyone’s taste (or budget).
The earlier – now discontinued – models featured large Roman or Arabic numeral indexes. A more traditional aesthetic that doesn’t appeal to all. Good news if it appeals to you though. Like most solid gold Rolex models, you can find these unworn at a discount on the secondary market.
The new versions offer modern rectangular indexes. Longer hands. And chromalight luminescence. In a similar vein to the Rolex Datejust 41. This completely changed the look of the watch and opened it up to a much wider (and younger) audience. Which is why over night the Rolex Sky-Dweller became the cool kid on the block.