There is big news, and there is Rolex big news, and in some ways, ne’er the twain shall meet. At Baselworld this year, Rolex debuted a first for the company: the very first, ever, Rolex delivered on a rubber strap. Now, for most companies this would have little effect on watch enthusiasts other than to evoke (very) tepid interest at best, and boredom at worst – but this is not an ordinary rubber strap, this is an official, designed-and-tested-and-thoroughly-obsessed-over-by-Rolex rubber strap. And thereby hangs a tale.
The Rolex Yacht-Master 40 mm 126655, as we have mentioned in some of our previous coverage, occupies a somewhat particular place in Rolex’s lineup of sports watches; it shares water-resistance and a turning bezel with the Submariner (the latter is water resistant to 300 m while the Yachtmaster standard model is water resistant to 100 m). It is certainly not a tool watch; the Yachtmaster is offered in either platinum and steel, or gold and steel (that’s Rolesium and Rolesor, lest we forget) and is either quietly or unequivocally luxurious depending on what size and metal you go for (Rolex makes the Yachtmaster in both 35 mm and 40 mm sizes).
The Yachtmaster’s history goes back to the first introduction of the watch in 1992, although the name, interestingly enough, appears on the dial of a prototype Yachtmaster Chronograph from the late 1960s (a watch so legendary I am actually forced to use the word; one of three known is in the collection of Mr. John Goldberger; we covered it – and a host of other remarkable ultra-rare watches from his collection – in a very memorable episode of Talking Watches). The term “Yachtmaster” is also, incidentally, used for a certificate of competency in yachting which is issued by the Royal Yachting Association, although we’re unaware of any specific association between the RYA and the Yachtmaster watch.
Now, this newest version of the Rolex Yacht-Master 40 mm 126655 does take a few pages from the existing Yachtmaster playbook: 100-meter water resistance, a bidirectional turning bezel, and a dial and hands that echo the Submariner. There are also a couple of features that may make vintage Sub enthusiasts wonder if Rolex mightn’t have an exceedingly subtle sense of humor; the gilt coronet and “Rolex,” and the red lettering, both features which according to HODINKEE founder Ben Clymer would have, had they appeared on a Rolex dive watch, made it instantly the single most popular watch in the modern Rolex inventory. The case is rose gold – Rolex famously makes their own, called Everose, in their own foundry, with a bit of platinum mixed in to prevent discoloration – and the bezel, rather than being some other precious metal (as is the case in the “standard” Yachtmasters) is in black Cerachrom – a very technical-looking matte black that contrasts sharply with the gold case. Somehow, between the rose gold, the Cerachrom bezel, and the new Oysterflex bracelet this manages to be the most luxurious and at the same time most technical Yachtmaster yet (leaving aside the Yachtmaster II, which we recently reviewed right here, but that is a watch that marches to the beat of a different drummer entirely). The two different versions of the Everose Yachtmaster (40 mm and 37 mm) sport different movements; the larger uses the caliber 3135 and the smaller, the newer 2236, which sports the “Syloxi” silicon balance spring (first used by Rolex in 2014).
The Rolex Yacht-Master 40 mm 126655 Oysterflex bracelet is, in a nutshell, quite a piece of work. One of the most endearing traits of Rolex as a company is that it tends to demonstrate what we can only describe as a laudable degree of corporate obsessive-compulsive disorder when it comes to research and development, and it does so, often, without making any sort of fanfare about it at all. In this case we do know a little bit about the Oysterflex, however – it is basically designed to have the hypoallergenic and comfort properties of a rubber strap and the durability and shape-retention properties of a bracelet.
At the core of the Oysterflex bracelet are metal inserts made of titanium and nickel, which are used to affix the bracelet to the clasp and watch case; over those is a sheathing of “high-performance black elastomer.” “Elastomer” is a portmanteau word, formed from “elastic” and “polymer” and is a general term for natural and synthetic rubbers. In addition to the materials complexity of the Oysterflex bracelet, it is also shaped in a rather unusual fashion – there are ridges molded into the the wristward face of the bracelet, which are intended to allow the bracelet when worn to better approximate the natural curvature of the wrist.
They might look a bit odd but in practice, the design works out quite wonderfully; this is easily the most downright comfortable and organic-feeling rubber strap I have ever worn, and like the entire watch manages to be both extremely technical in feel, and very luxurious at the same time; I doubt whether any company has ever taken so much trouble over the design of a strap (for all that Rolex prefers the term “bracelet” in describing the Oysterflex, habit dies hard and you’ll probably find yourself calling it a strap, just as we did). On the wrist, the two stabilizing ridges do exactly what they are supposed to: keep the watch from shifting, as heavier watches on rubber straps are wont to do, without requiring you to have the strap uncomfortably tight. The Everose Oysterlock clasp does a superb job mechanically and also looks fabulous into the bargain; the quality of finish on the clasp and case may not seem terribly elaborate at first, but it is as technically flawless as anything I have ever seen at any price, on any watch.
What we have here, in other words, is a very Rolex interpretation of luxury. Yes, this is a gold watch, and a gold Rolex, and wearing a gold Rolex always carries with it, shall we say, certain semiotic complexities. However there is also another side to the watch, and to the Rolex approach to luxury in general: the taking of such pains to produce technical perfection that technical perfection becomes a luxury in itself.