The Rolex Sky-Dweller 2017 Steel and Gold watch hands-on
When it was presented in 2012, the Rolex Sky-Dweller was greeted both with enthusiasm and with some doubt too by enthusiasts and those in the know; the Sky-Dweller is a complicated watch both technically and aesthetically and it detached itself from the tradition of a brand that has always based its prestige on communication simplicity.
If I take a look at a gold Rolex Sky-Dweller today and compare it with its new steel and gold versions presented in 2017, I realize that the 2012 coupling of the central hours dial and the applied Arabic or Roman numerals is slightly 'unnatural'; the two styles seem to overlap each other rather than fuse together, thus making the dial aesthetically 'busy', even more so if you are one of those Rolex fans that are all for the formal cleanliness of your timepiece. There is not much to object when it comes to the cleverness of the complication - I will come to that in a minute -, but, as it often happens when you buy a car, it is its aesthetics that trigger your choice, while its technical side is usually the prerogative of a few die-hard fans and it only comes out during the use.
2017; the turning year for the Rolex Sky-Dweller.
The year 2017 marked the real turning point for the Rolex Sky-Dweller. It is certainly not just a product or its variations that make the fortune of a collection, you should also evaluate the commercial and marketing policies of a company if you want to fully understand the success (or failure) of a watch, but, in this case, it is clear that it was the product that took the biggest step forward. If you want to represent the evolution of this timepiece through a purely qualitative graphic, it is easy to agree on the fact that the Rolex Sky-Dweller in steel and gold has greatly expanded the range of potential customers.
Among all the potential customers of the Rolex Sky-Dweller, a range of buyers had been completely left out, as they were not able or - they were unwilling - to spend a figure close to € 37,000 or € 46,000 (the current retail price) for the gold versions of this watch (the real market price, however, is lower). Is it just a matter of choosing a more or less noble metal? In my opinion it doesn't work like that, even though the lowering of the retail price can have an immediate effect; it's like opening the doors of a stadium to a mass of people, who are looking forward to attending the concert of their favorite band for the first time. Furthermore, and from my personal point of view, the design of the Rolex Sky-Dweller has radically changed.
The design of the Rolex Sky-Dweller 2017.
The design of the Rolex Sky-Dweller has changed. I am using the word 'design' improperly here to express what Italian people would consider as the 'style' of an object. From a technical point of view, minus the continuous improvements to which each product is subject to during its industrial life cycle, nothing has really changed here or, if it has changed, we are not aware of it. Aesthetically, if you look at the 326933 reference in steel and yellow gold that is the version closer to the original yellow gold reference, you can see the new family feeling of the Rolex Sky-Dweller fusing together with the rest of the Rolex collection.
It looks like a complicated version of the Rolex Datejust 41 Oystersteel and Yellow Gold, rather than a dedicated collection. The Rolex Sky-Dweller has achieved that formal balance that is familiar to the entire Rolex production and the choice of inserting the applied indexes on the dial (a choice that Rolex reserves to the entry-level versions of its collections to separate them from its top-of-the-range-collections) gives the Rolex Sky-Dweller an enviable formal balance that brings out the small dial of the reference hour and fully eliminating that feeling of chaos that I feel when, for example, I come across a Rolex Sky-Dweller in gold with Roman numerals. This new declination has also the advantage of making the complication with an annual calendar even easier to interpret. A balanced style combined with an extreme functionality; two pillars of the Rolex philosophy.
The Rolex Sky-Dweller is the most complicated Rolex watch ever.
The Rolex Sky-Dweller is the most complicated Rolex ever, even more complicated than the Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 that I wrote about a few days ago. The idea of conceiving the Ring Command allows for the "hiding" of the complication that is in itself something that intrigues fans and buyers alike. In the case of Rolex it is a necessity as well as a brilliant idea; could you ever imagine a modern non-chrono Rolex with different crowns or buttons on the case? The Yacht-Master II, albeit being deliberately a niche product, is a watch that those who buy Rolex timepieces would rarely consider as an alternative.
Is the Rolex Sky-Dweller complicated to adjust? Nothing easier than that, but some effort is needed to learn how to adjust it; firstly it must be charged (an automatic watch must be charged manually starting from zero so as not to affect the watch's accuracy and precision) and this operation is performed by pulling out the crown in position 1 and then rotating it clockwise for 25 times (as Rolex suggests, but also a few more rotations won't hurt either). The crown is then pulled out to position 2, the last one, to adjust the time, but only after turning the fluted bezel counterclockwise (3 clicks and after checking that it is in a neutral position, i.e. completely screwed in clockwise).
From this moment on the central hands (the local time) and the de-centralized 24-hour disc move in an integrated way (and together with the date); the minutes hand and the number aligned to the red triangle identify the reference time, i.e. the city or the time zone you left from. By turning the Ring Command to the right and by a single click, the hours hand can be moved independently from the minutes one (always through the crown in position 2) and adjust the time of the destination city. Obviously, a Rolex Sky-Dweller manages the time zones of the main cities, those for which time differences are measured in whole multiples of hours.
The Date and Month adjustment of the annual calendar
The Date and Month adjustment of the annual calendar must be done immediately after adjusting the local time and the reference time. The first step is to rotate the bezel clockwise by a single click, from this moment on the crown handles the change of date and month. The months of the year on the annual calendar of the Rolex Sky-Dweller are represented by small rectangular windows positioned above the hours and minute indices that turn red and snap at the change of the month.
Turning the crown counterclockwise until the desired day and month have been found completes the Rolex Sky-Dweller setting. The adjustment of the current Date and Month is perhaps the longest operation to carry out and in some ways slower than all the other ones, because, if you haven't used your watch for a while, you will have to go through every day and month until you have reached the desired date, since the two mechanisms are directly integrated with each other. It is also true, however, that the operating logic is very simple and this makes everything easier to adjust the timepiece.
Why the Rolex Sky-Dweller
You can buy a Rolex Sky-Dweller because you are a frequent-flyer, an executive or a freelancer travelling the world and/or simply because you like it; possibly the main reason behind this purchase. Truth is that the Rolex Sky-Dweller retains all the flavor of a classic Rolex with a sporting edge given by its 24-hour dial that reminds us of the sporty Oyster Perpetual and that breaks free from the pure classicism of a watch that, aesthetically speaking, sports the architecture of a Datejust 41 and this is actually one of its strengths. It is the perfect synthesis between the aesthetic concepts expressed by the two different worlds.
Even without knowing that this is a complicated watch, you can 'perceive' at first glance that there is an intriguing and pleasant sense of complication and, considering how much Rolex has always tried to stay away from a mass concept of 'complicated watch', this is a rather reassuring discovery. One of the strengths of the Rolex Sky-Dweller is that Rolex has entered the ranks of the complicated timepieces in an original and very personal way, while offering something useful and easy to use, which is both in line with Rolex's language and of high technical value; the 9001 caliber.
The availability of the Rolex Sky-Dweller is today's biggest challenge for those who want to buy it, because the steel and gold version is hard to find and can easily be found at a higher retail price than the recommended price. 15,900€ for the steel and yellow gold version (easier to find) is a retail price that puts it in direct competition with the Yacht-Master II, against which it wins in terms of usability and elegance (unless you are a skipper and only want to own a Yacht-Master II). The story is slightly different when it comes to the version in steel and white gold (just the fluted bezel); its recommended price is €13,350, but the market has currently driven the prices to about a €3,000 higher figure.
These are pricing logic results driven by the availability of the Sky-Dwellers on the market and by Rolex's desire to keep the market value of its watches high, while still reducing the stock on the gray market; an inevitable move for a brand that, today, manufactures more than a million watches per year (approximate, according to rumors). Price assessments left aside, the Rolex Sky-Dweller is one of my favorite Rolex watches; the possibility of having functions and the charm of a complicated Rolex at the price of a Sea-Dweller - whose use is, however, limited - is a huge advantage and this is what, in my opinion, triggered the new fashion of the Sky-Dweller and led many to turn their eyes (and money) towards the most complicated Rolex ever.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®