The Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 watch hands-on
There is so much noise in the background, both on-line and on glossy paper, about the Daytona once owned by Paul Newman, the modern Daytona and the classic Oyster Perpetual that it almost made us forget that Rolex is actually a manufacturer capable of crafting complicated watches. It is possibly not the manufacturer’s complicated watches that fill the most of the bottom-line as much as the Submariner, the Datejust, the Day-Date or the Daytona do, but the ability of Rolex to craft complicated calibres is second to none and the only constraint to their further development is possibly linked to the company’s image and mission (as well as to the logic of standardization that becomes necessary when such a big manufacturer is involved in large economic scale manoeuvres). It is not a technological limit, but rather a choice.
Considering that the eyes of, at least, ten Rolex collectors I know are currently focused on the current references and on the older Daytona references, it is quite natural to think that a Rolex Yacht Master II does not easily make it to the frequent conversations that we hold during the first meetings of our community.
The complicated Rolex watch; from the Sky-Dweller to the Yacht-Master II
In the last year, the Rolex Yacht-Master II has been replaced by the Rolex Sky-Dweller on the complicated timepieces wish-list of many fans; simply take a closer look at the relationship existing between the demand and the supply of the Sky-Dweller and the quotations that this watch has reached to better understand what I am talking about. The Sky-Dweller has been finally made in steel and it has thus unleashed that full potential that had been still left unexpressed, since the Sky-Dweller had been left confined within a positioning that could really be defined as ‘elitist’. The 4161 calibre hosted within the Rolex Yacht-Master II is the result of an idea to provide professional skippers with an instrument to wear around their wrist to accurately measure the count-down time at the start of every race.
Given that a person, who buys a mechanical watch and, in particular a Rolex timepiece, does so to get their hands on something exclusive, rather than functional, it is also true that the Rolex Yacht Master II represents a tool-watch as much as the Sea-Dweller could be historically considered one among diver’s timepieces.
Rolex boasts an unparalleled bond with the world of regattas that is more long-lived than the relationship the manufacturer has with other sports, so much so that, for many years, the brand has been associated with sailing categories, such as the Farr 40 class and with regattas, like the Sydney-Hobart. And these two are just two examples of the many existing partnerships.
Those 5 or 10 minutes (depending on the type of match race involved) before the start of a regatta are the most adrenaline-filled minutes for a skipper and their crew and being able to take some last-minute decisions can be decisive for the final victory. The ability to have a dedicated and precise timing that serves as a reference is therefore essential. Most Regatta watches on the market (a fast-growing niche) feature a sector on their dial, within which is a running multi-colored disc. The Rolex Yacht-Master II, on the other hand, features a dedicated counter on the dial, coaxial to the bezel, equipped with a graduated scale ranging from 0 to 10 minutes and a well-visible arrow-shaped counter.
A simple and ingenious method to activate the Count-down function and use the Rolex Yacht-Master II as a Flyback chronograph.
The timer setting is extremely simple and is achieved by combining the bezel, the crown and the button located at 4 o'clock in this very sequence. The first operation to carry out is to rotate the bezel counter-clockwise, so as to activate the small count-down counter adjustment system. The bezel will automatically lock after a 90° rotation or when the "Yacht-Master II" writing will appear on the right hand side of the watch (the rotation axis of the crown ideally cuts the writing in half). Subsequently, you need to push the button located at 4 o'clock. The crown is then un-screwed until it locks in position 1; from that moment on, you can control the adjustment of the (jumping) 10-minute scale in one-minute intervals, by rotating the crown clockwise.
After you have stopped the minute counter on the desired value, you simply need to rotate the bezel clockwise until it clicks into the position where the “Yacht-Master II” writing is again aligned at the bottom (-90 °, back to the original position). At the end of this rotation, the two minute scales, located on the bezel and on the dial, respectively, will be fully aligned. By fully screwing back in the winding crown, you can restart the count-down (using the button located at 2 o’clock); the red hand in the middle will start running and, simultaneously, the minutes count-down will be activated.
During the count-down, the hand can be stopped using the button located at 2 o'clock or you can re-set the full count-down with the button located at 4 o'clock (Flyback). In the second case scenario, the countdown will start from the original position. When the count-down has completed, the minutes hand will also stop, while the seconds hand will continue to run indefinitely. The Rolex Yacht-Master II is a true chronograph with a Flyback function.
The 2017 Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 reference has replaced the previous reference by introducing a series of updates that are part of that continuous refinement process that is part of the brand's DNA and that, in the last couple of years, saw Rolex intensively focus on its collections and revamp the aesthetics and proportions of its watches; a clear example of this is the Rolex Datejust 41.
The new version is now equipped with Mercedes hands, thus aligning itself with the family feeling of the other Oyster Perpetual divers, like the Submariner. Moreover, new applied indices located at 12 and 6 ‘clock have been launched (arrow-shaped and rectangular-shaped, respectively); these replace those trivial square-shaped indices that were present on the previous version of the 116880.
The Ring Command and the 4161 calibre.
It is not only for the 35,000 hours needed for its development or the 360 components that make it up that the 4161 calibre deserves some mentioning, but it is mainly the whole user experience that makes the Rolex Yacht-Master II extremely interesting. The Ring Command bezel is integrated with the calibre and is an active part of the user experience. The level of complication and perfection required by this mechanism (firm clicks and no play) are more challenging than in any other Rolex timepiece and make this watch extremely attractive.
At the same time, as per the usual Rolex tradition, the complication is concealed through a simplified aesthetic, although the dial is still more complex and crowded than those standards that Rolex has made us accustomed to, and this is one of the reasons why a Rolex Yacht-Master II is rarely a first choice when it comes to selecting a timepiece.
Why a Rolex Yacht-Master II?
Is a Rolex Yacht-Master II maybe too complex to be fully appreciated by a passionate Rolex fan or by whoever wants to own a Rolex timepiece? Surely it is not the first choice of a first-time buyer, who would probably not be able appreciate its complication – which is actually extremely simple to understand and use - unless you are a big fan of both sailing activities and watches and you can afford to spend €17,350. I am a former yachtsman, but I am not too fond of this sport and I purely consider the Rolex Yacht-Master II as a great engineering development and a product that others have copied, but without achieving the same result.
The ability to interact with the movement through a component that is not exclusively the crown or the chrono buttons represents, in my opinion, a plus side, and I can fully perceive its value. This timepiece is not as balanced as a Daytona and it is purposefully very sporty but, as I said before, it serves a very specific goal and if you consider its retail price - comparable to the market price of a Daytona – I have now figured out that this is a Rolex that I have never seriously taken into consideration; my mistake!.
(Photo credit: Horbiter®'s proprietary photo-shooting)
Gaetano C @Horbiter®