IN-DEPTH: The Rolex Yacht-Master 116655Felix Scholz
The story in a second
Rolex releases an Oysterflex bracelet (comes with new gold Yacht-Master attached). Rolex fans can’t even deal.
The big question
Will the introduction of the Oysterflex bracelet devalue Rolex’s luxury proposition, or are they finally catching up with trends?
The Yacht-Master is Rolex’s view on the perfect luxury lifestyle watch. First introduced in 1992 it’s less frequently seen on wrists than their other lines. This is because the proposition of the Yacht-Master is very specialised. The ideal Yacht-Master customer is literally someone who owns a yacht. Someone who is active but doesn’t necessarily get their hands dirty with fouled rigging, and just as likely to need to suddenly don a dinner jacket as dive into the ocean. For this rare breed of individual the Submariner is a little too functional and the Datejust not quite robust enough.
As a result of this the Yacht-Master has been perennially stuck between the two worlds of form and function and has never really seemed comfortable in its own skin. The 116655 is set to change this. The combination of Everose case and Oysterflex bracelet that is at the heart of the watch unashamedly and unequivocally declares that this latest Yacht-Master is at home in both worlds.
The big news here is that the case is hewn from 18ct Everose gold, the first time this metal has been used on the Yacht-Master. Everose is Rolex’s in-house red gold alloy, and it contains a few drops of platinum to ensure that the colour will not change over time. Other than that it’s a standard Oyster case, complete with Triplock crown and a depth rating of 100-metres. The Everose Yacht-Master is actually offered in two variations. Today we’re looking at the reference 116655 that measures in at a genteel 40mm. There’s also a 37mm version available (aimed primarily at ladies) which goes by reference 268655.
What you really notice about this case design is how much more refined it is when compared to that of the Submariner or GMT. Even though both are 40mm, the softer lines and gentler curves of the Yacht-Master make it a very different watch. The buttery soft Everose only adds to this perception.
The dial and bezel
This is where things get interesting. First, let’s talk about the bezel. This black on matte black Cerachrom bezel is something completely new for Rolex and when I first saw it through glass in Basel, I was in love. Fast-forward a few months and after spending a few days up close and personal with the bezel (which is bi-directional by the way), I’m still into it. It initially surprised me because the matte Cerachrom with high gloss markings in relief somehow feels un-Rolex to me. But this is the Yacht-Master, it’s always been defined by its bezel with raised numerals and markings set against a matte background. It makes sense within this context, even if it’s a little out of place in the wider Rolex family. It’s really hard to capture in pictures the three-dimensionality of the raised details but they add an almost sculptural quality to what is otherwise a very flat watch.
“It’s really hard to capture in pictures the three-dimensionality of the raised details but they add an almost sculptural quality to what is otherwise a very flat watch.”
The bezel also makes the watch look incredibly stealthy. So much so that at Time+Tide we’ve gone ahead and nicknamed it the #stealthmaster, which was promptly changed by an Insta-follower to #wealthmaster. Also appropriate.
The bezel is only part of what makes this watch so ninja-luxe (sorry, we just can’t help ourselves). The dial is the other significant factor. It’s the first black dial on a Yacht-Master, and somehow, despite its matte appearance it has a dramatic effect. If it were glossy, like most other black dialled Rolex’s it would look a lot more blingy, especially given the gold case. However, it’s a matte dial and it completely tones down the look. Interestingly the first thing I thought when I saw the dial was ‘wow, Rolex have done a vintage dial’ due to the gilt logo and red line model name. But this isn’t Rolex jumping on the retro trend. The Yacht-Master has always had red dial text (and no depth rating), but the text looks completely different on a black background. For the logo, they could have gone with applied Everose, but I’m glad they decided on gilt printing. The warmth of the text offsets the coldness of the polished Chromalight indices to create a dial that is wonderfully balanced and that always opts out of shouting when it can whisper.
The real surprise about this watch isn’t the bezel or the matte dial. It’s the brand new Oysterflex bracelet. Trust Rolex to massively over-engineer what, on the surface at least, looks like a simple rubber strap. The Oysterflex bracelet is anything but simple. Rolex tell us that the Oysterflex is as supple and comfortable as rubber, and as durable as a metal bracelet. And I believe them. At the heart of the bracelet is a thin blade of titanium/nickel alloy that forms the shape of the bracelet and also allows it to attach to the case and clasp. So if you were hoping to buy an Oysterflex and attach it to your Sub, you’re out of luck (for the moment) – it’s currently only compatible with this Yacht-Master. Over this alloy blade Rolex mould the black elastomer, which is (as you’d expect) soft and comfortable. The comfort factor is only improved by the ingenious wings on the inside of the bracelet, which provides some cushioning and helps ventilate the bracelet on sweaty days. Seriously, why has no one else thought of this? Before trying on the Yacht-Master I was skeptical about the Oysterflex bracelet, but now I’m convinced. It’s super comfortable. However it’s not perfect.
The bracelet has a few limitations. Oddly, the ends do not sit flush with the case. Given that Rolex isn’t in the habit of overlooking the small details I’m sure there’s a good reason for this, but a flush finish would have looked better. The larger issue for me is the lack of flexibility in sizing. The bracelet itself comes in a range of sizes, with the correct size being fitted when you purchase the watch. Beyond this your adjustment is limited to the micro-adjustments on the clasp. Cutting the strap to length (as is common with rubber straps) is not an option due to the bracelet’s metal core. Not earthshattering problems but a pain if I wanted to lend my watch to my small-wristed brother, for example.
Full disclosure – the Yacht-Master I reviewed was a demonstration model, part of a collection of all the new watches that travels around the country taking part in photo-shoots and sales meetings. These watches are identical to the production versions except for one thing – the movement isn’t functional. That’s why the time is always 10:11:31. So I can’t comment on the sweep of the hands or accuracy over time. The movement in the 116655 is the Calibre 3135, the same movement that powers the Submariner, so it’s very much a known quantity. Expect rock-solid reliability and flawless accuracy. The movement in the 37mm 268655 is a little more noteworthy. It’s the Calibre 2236, a movement that debuted last year in the ladies Datejust Pearlmaster. This movement is the first to integrate Rolex’s new Syloxi silicon hairspring, and its inclusion in the 37mm is almost cool enough to make me want the smaller version.
On the wrist
In a word – comfortable. Even though the gold case adds heft, the new bracelet is a dream to wear, and the size and proportions of the case make it unobtrusive on the wrist. And as I mentioned before the watch is surprisingly stealthy for a solid gold Rolex. There’s a lot of black going on between the dial, the bezel and the bracelet, which mitigates the flashes of the Everose. Outside of platinum models this is probably the best example of stealth wealth from Rolex we’ve seen in a while. It really is a perfect marriage of sporty and luxury.
Rolex Yacht-Master 116655 Australian Pricing
At the time of writing the 40mm Yacht-Master 116655 has an RRP of $38,450 AUD.
Oysterflex, Everose, Cerachrom, Chromalight. This watch is packed with cool tech that’s bound to impress.
For the watch forums
What models will we next see get the Oysterflex makeover? Submariner? Sea-Dweller? No one knows, but that won’t stop the speculation.
Who’s it for?
While yacht ownership is not mandatory, the 116655 is for someone who owns a super yacht (think the Venus), rather than a Bermuda sloop.
What would we change?
I’d like to see the ends of the Oysterflex fit the case perfectly. Otherwise we’re all good.
Images by James Geer.
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