Any Rolex fan worth his or her salt knows that the Submariner is the champion of the dive watch category, a lifelong companion for underwater adventures and your go-to model if you want to hint at a sporty, active lifestyle. However, what if you are looking for a Rolex that can handle more than a splash but hint at the luxury sailing yacht you’ve got docked in the marina? In this case, the Yacht-Master has got you covered, a tooled-down and dressed-up nautical sports watch that has finally detached itself from the sporty Submariner. Marking a first for the 42mm edition of the Yacht-Master, the latest reference introduced at Watches and Wonders 2022 now comes in a yellow gold case. Combined with the black Oysterflex bracelet and the sleek black ceramic insert on the bezel, the elegant Rolex Yellow Gold Yacht-Master 42 Watch 226658 is more in line with the high-end nautical spirit of the collection.
Since Hans Wilsdorf introduced the Oyster in 1926, Rolex and waterproof watches have been synonymous. From the iconic Submariner to 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 has partnered with select yacht clubs around the world since the early 1950s. As the sponsor of prestigious regattas like the exciting Rolex Fastnet Race, the Crown even developed a watch, the Yacht-Master II, with a specific regatta countdown function for competitive sailors. The introduction of the Yacht-Master in 1992 surprised and then failed to engage Rolex fans. It certainly looked like a Submariner, but it had been tooled down and dressed up in a solid gold case, characteristics that seemed at odds with the professional dive watch vocation of the Submariner. Although the similarities with the Submariner were evident, the water-resistance of the Yacht-Master was reduced from 300 to 100 metres and the luminous dot was removed from the bezel. Without the useful regatta countdown function of the Yacht-Master II and its lower water-resistance, the Yacht-Master was positioned as a luxurious nautical watch – and the lifestyle associated with high-end nautical sports – designed to catch the eye of yacht owners, not deckhands or divers.
Obviously, the name chosen for the Rolex Yellow Gold Yacht-Master 42 Watch 226658 wasn’t a random choice – nothing is random at Rolex – and clearly speaks to the potential profile of a yacht owner, not a deckhand. 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. However, it wasn’t until 1999 that the Yacht-Master really got the wind in its sails with a more contemporary monochrome colour scheme provided by a steel case and platinum Rolesium bezel (ref. 16622) and Oyster bracelet. Then in 2015, the Everose (ref.116655) introduced two major aesthetic updates: the bezel featuring a black ceramic insert and an unexpected black rubber Oysterflex strap introduced on board the Yacht-Master and now used on the Sky-Dweller and Cosmograph Daytona. The contemporary black rubber strap and the matte ceramic insert were a winning move and clearly demarcated the Yacht-Master as a separate collection. Overnight, the 2015 Yacht-Master looked radically different from its full-metal counterparts, imparting a sleeker, more stylish and more modern vibe. In 2019, the standard 40mm case size for men was joined by a larger 42mm case in white gold, a diameter that differentiated it one step more from the 41mm Submariner Date. The handsome black-tie combination of white gold and matte black Yacht-Master worked well but we think that the latest mix of yellow gold and matte black details works even better.
The reason is simple: white gold can be confused with stainless steel and although the crisp contrast of the white and black is handsome, the yellow gold case broadcasts ‘luxury nautical watch’ with even more conviction. Sharing the same specifications as the white gold model, the latest Rolex Yellow Gold Yacht-Master 42 Watch 226658 differs in just one aspect: its solid 18k yellow gold case. Crafted from a solid block of 18k gold, the middle case is polished and the overall impression is one of elegance. Despite being the largest Yacht-Master, its tapered lugs and relatively slim height mean the watch sits broad and flat on the wrist and works well on smaller wrists (photographed here on Brice’s 16.5mm wrist). The hallmark bidirectional rotating bezel has a matte black Cerachrom insert with raised and mirror-polished graduations and numerals. Cerachrom, a proprietary material developed and patented by Rolex, is a hard ceramic material that is virtually scratch-proof, corrosion-resistant and impervious to ultraviolet rays meaning it won’t fade over time. The ceramic is sandblasted to give it an attractive grainy texture and a more technical, contemporary finish. The knurled yellow gold edge means the bezel has a good grip, and the hermetically screwed-down caseback with its fine fluting ensures that only Rolex watchmakers can access the movement. Like all Yacht-Masters, the case is endowed with a Triplock winding crown and the dial protected by a sapphire crystal with a Cyclops lens at 3 o’clock to consult the date. The black lacquered dial, which reinforces the slick aesthetics of this Rolex Yacht-Master 42, features applied yellow gold hour markers (triangular, round and rectangular) that are treated with Rolex’s own luminescent material known as Chromalight that emits a long-lasting blue glow in the dark. The hallmark Mercedes hour hand, the minute and the central seconds hand with its round counterweight are also crafted in gold with the same luminescent treatment as the hour markers.
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 robust 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 ten times more precision than a traditional 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 matte black elastomer strap that has become a distinctive feature of the Yacht-Master replicates the robustness and reliability of a metal bracelet with its hidden infrastructure of flexible and curved metal blades. It is, in our opinion, one of the most comfortable straps on the market today. The Oysterlock folding clasp in 18k yellow gold is fitted with a Glidelock extension system allowing for adjustments of 15mm without tools. Some identities take longer to forge than others and Rolex is not exactly known for overnight makeovers. After thirty years, the Yacht-Master has finally consolidated its identity and is practically impossible to confuse with a Submariner today. Without a doubt, the black bezel and Oysterflex models create a slicker, smoother and more sophisticated character than the opulent two-tone Oystersteel and Everose gold. And although many will be attracted to the understated black-tie appeal of the white gold ref. 226659, the more dynamic combination of yellow gold and black captures the luxurious nautical spirit of the Yacht-Master perfectly. While I doubt that Rolex is a slave to fashion trends, the rise of yellow gold is undeniable along with the return of the hedonistic fashion and style that ruled the 1980s and 1990s. However, combined with the sandblasted black matte ceramic and the rubber bracelet, the potential for bling is contained and this 226658 conveys a sexy, contemporary attitude.