Unusual Rolex with a cool bezel system to set and adjust the Annual Calendar and travel time.
Expensive entry price.
The Sky Dweller is currently the most complicated watch in the Rolex catalog. The watch, introduced in Baselworld 2012, is available in Everose and White Gold which we review here, but also in Yellow Gold. All versions are available in a choice of dials and either with a massive bracelet of the same metal or an alligator strap with a deployant buckle.
Rolex Sky Dweller
Designed to be what Rolex perceives as the ultimate travel watch, the Sky Dweller is the most complicated watch made by Rolex to date. It carries an Annual Calendar module with a very clever bezel actuated adjustment system, and a dual timezone indication. Housed in the classical Rolex Oyster case, it shares family characteristics with Rolex’s flagship Day Date model. Like the Day Date, the Sky Dweller is only available in precious metals, and carries a fluted bezel.
The watch has a rather substantial case diameter of 42mm, and an imposing presence. On this writer’s 7.5 inch wrists, it works fine, and looks particularly handsome. And to his aesthetic preferences, the Everose (Rolex-speak for a special rose gold which reportedly will not develop a patina or tarnish over time) model with a chocolate dial is particularly pleasing. But yet, the white gold version shown above also beckons with its quiet elegance.
The hands, dial and case
As mentioned, the Sky Dweller looks like the Day Date. Built on a massive Oyster case with a fluted bezel, it bears those family resemblances. The case diameter is substantially larger at 42mm. The Day Date is either in the traditional 36mm case, or the newer 40mm case. The proportions are very well designed that unless the Sky Dweller is placed next to the Day Date, it is quite hard to tell that they are different in size.
The dial is rather interesting.
Unlike the simpler dial of the regular Day Date model, the Sky Dweller features a dial which have to carry a lot of additional information. The usual local time display is taken care of by regular hour and minute hands. The hands are skeletonised and tipped with SuperLuminova for a touch of lume to be visible in the dark. The sharp needle of a center seconds hand completes the elegant trio of hands.
As a Dual Timezone watch, the Sky Dweller shows the second timezone, which can be set to UTC or to home time when travelling, on a rotating disc at the center. A fixed, inverted red triangle marks this reference time.
The hour hand can be moved forwards and backwards in one hour increments when setting the local time. Moving the hour hand pass midnight, causes the date, seen through the built in loupe which Rolex calls the Cyclops, to instantaneously jump forward one day. However when setting the hour hand backwards over midnight, the date remains unchanged. For example, when travelling from Singapore to Zurich, we usually set the watch to destination time before take off. This makes it easier to adjust to the new timezone as we start telling our body clocks the destination time as early as possible. As the Singapore Airlines flight takes off at 1:40am in Singapore, we typically set the watch to Zurich time just after boarding. Which, without DST is 6 hours behind, at 7:40pm the day before. Moving the hand backwards in one hour increments to 7:40 is done in an easy step (more about this ingenious system later), but the date remains unchanged, and requires another step to adjust the date. This is inconvenient for international travel, and seems to be a detail that have might have slipped Rolex.
We find this curious, so we decided to do a little experiment. We tried on a friend’s celebrated Rolex GMT II, and found that it does revert its date when the hands are turned backwards. The date jumps forward instantaneously at the stroke of 12, but when the hands are turned back, the date start to move back slowly until about 9:45, the date change is complete. Perhaps the Sky Dweller also does this as well, we did not get to try it, but the Rolex PR representative did confirmed to us that the Sky Dweller’s date does not change back.
The Annual Calendar
The Sky Dweller also has another trick up its sleeves. A particularly innovative annual calendar which Rolex calls Saros – after the astronomical phenomenon of the same name – that requires only one date adjustment a year, when the month changes from February to March. Annual Calendars were first shown by Patek Philippe in 1996 when they unveiled their Ref. 5035. Patek celebrates their 20 years of the Annual Calendar with a whole range of watches which we covered in detail here. The annual calendar automatically differentiates between 30-day and 31-day months. It displays the correct date throughout the year and requires only one adjustment a year – on 1st March, as February only have either 28 or 29 days.
The Saros mechanism is based on only two gear ratios and four gear wheels added to the traditional Rolex instantaneous date calendar. The simplicity leads to better reliability of the system. The original Patek Philippe 315 S-QA Annual Calendar movement used in the Ref. 5035 was more challenging to create than movements running perpetual calendars. And resulted in a movement which have even has more parts: 316 to the perpetual’s 275.
The months of the year on the Sky Dweller are indicated in 12 discreet apertures around the circumference of the dial, outside the hour markers: January at 1 o’clock, February at 2 o’clock, and so on. The current month is identified in a contrasting colour.
The annual calendar jumps instantaneously at midnight directly to the 1st of the month following a month with only 30 days, and does not show 31 in those months. In Patek’s interpretation of the Annual Calendar, the mechanism starts to engage before midnight, and the watch shows the intervening 31 for a brief period before turning to 1. The Rolex method is more elegant, although it is not an innovation. The Moser Perpetual 1 and the MB&F Legacy Perpetual shows that an instantaneous jump from 30 to 1 is possible even for a perpetual calendar.
Innovation: The Ring Command
The Sky Dweller is equipped with a very special system to set the watch’s functions. Rolex calls it the Ring Command. The system is based on a rotating bezel. The bezel can be set in three positions,and in combination with a pulled crown will select a function to be set: the date, local time or reference/home time. With the crown in home position, the bezel can be turned, but does not affect the settings.
The system is based on a complex mechanical module comprising of more than 60 components. At the heart of the mechamism is a double cam and levers to engage various gear trains within the movement. One of these cams is activated by pulling out the winding crown, the other is driven by rotating the bezel to activate setting wheels located in the middle case of the watch.
The Command Ring is not a gimmick. It is a genuine innovation to simplify the adjustment functions of an annual calendar, which is usually adjusted via numerous pin pushers on the case side or by a crown with many extensions. Neither are particularly elegant solutions. So Rolex chose to invent the Command Ring. In our simple testing when we had our hands-on with the watch, that once we learn the functions, it was easy to use and almost fool proof.
Innovation: Everose as compared to rose, pink, yellow, white gold
The Everose case is of particular interest. Noticing that pink gold cases often tarnish or take on a patina after years of service on the wrist, Rolex went about in their usual intrepid way, to create a pink gold alloy which remains the same forever. The name they selected? Everose, kind of hinting at Forever Rose, which they introduced in 2005. All Rolex pink gold watches since are in Everose.
Traditional rose gold is copper and silver, with the proportions higher in copper. To begin, all colours of watch gold cases are 18kt gold. The gold karat content is its proportion of the precious metal and denotes its purity out of a scale of 100% pure as 24k. so 18k gold is 18 parts out of 24 is gold, thus 75%. This requirement is set by law. The other 25% may comprise of other metals, or ceramic (as in Hublot’s Magic Gold). The other metals are usually copper and silver.
The higher the copper content in relation to silver, the redder the alloy. Red gold is 75% gold, 25% copper, and has a higher copper content than rose gold (75% gold, 22.5% copper, 2.5% silver). White gold is an alloy of gold with a white metal, like silver or manganese. For example, an alloy of 75% gold and 25% silver makes 18k white gold. By varying the ratio of gold copper/silver and other adding other metals, one can get anything from white, red, yellow, or greenish-yellow colored gold. As long as the total weight of the other metals in the alloy adds up to 25%, the resultant gold can be classified as 18k. This link shows an interesting diagram explaining this.
The exact proportions of the Everose gold is not known as it is patented and trademarked by Rolex. But we do know that platinum is used instead of silver. The resultant alloy is stabilised by the presence of platinum, and has a hue that is somewhat less pink than regular pink gold, and has a more lustrous white/grey shine.
In typical Rolex fashion, the alloy is not only concocted by metallurgists in-house, but like all the precious metals used by Rolex is also made by the in-house Rolex Foundry.
The movement: Rolex Caliber 9001
As is usual in a Rolex, the Sky Dweller is not equipped with a sapphire case back, and we did not have the tools to open the case to photograph the movement.
From the technical details released by Rolex, it is safe to assume that this is a built like any standard Rolex movement. With the attendant robustness and engineering excellence which is common to Rolex calibers.
The C.9001 is protected by seven patents, it is the most complex calibre ever developed by the brand. Its architecture, manufacturing and innovative is designed for ease of use and reliability. The usual Rolex details are present, like the Parachrom hairspring with the Rolex overcoil, Microstella eccentric weights system for fine adjustment, and the Paraflex shock absorption.
We can expect the Sky Dweller to operated as described, and to continue operating for a long time. The Caliber 9001 is developed and manufactured in-house in Rolex, and is not only COSC certified but also Rolex Chronometer Certified. It also carries the standard Rolex 5 year warranty.
Competitively, among the other Annual Calendar watches, we did not find any other which show dual timezones as well as being encased in a water resistant case. The Sky Dweller is rated to a depth of 100m. And none of the competitors are rated to +2/-2 s a day, nor comes with a 5 year warranty. For the purposes of price comparison, we use the Everose model with an alligator strap and deployant buckle, which retails in Singapore for S$ 53,180 with GST. This converts to CHF 38,400.
Of course in a discussion on Annual Calendars, we need to mention the various Patek Philippe. It was Patek who started this complication in their Ref. 5035 in 1996. The latest series of Annual Calendars are exemplified by the Patek Philippe Ref. 5936 which we reviewed here (CHF 42,300 in white gold or rose gold in an alligator strap with a gold deployant buckle). The price is rather comparable to that of the Sky Dwellers. Finishing on the Patek Philippe, especially the on the caliber 324 S QA LU 24H is to a much higher haute horlogerie level than the C.9001 in the Sky Dweller. The case, dial and hands are both almost equally well finished, and there is only aesthetics separating them. The Patek lacks a second timezone display, as well as water resistance of more than the nominal 30m.
Lange also have their Lange Saxonia Annual Calendar (approximately CHF 45,000 in gold with alligator strap, tang buckle). The L085.1 is pure Lange and finished to very high haute horlogerie levels, and arguably far superior to the treatment on the C.9001. And as is typical of Lange, the case, dial, hands and even the strap and tang buckle receives the same attention to detail and high level of finishing. But like the comparison with the Patek Ref. 5936, the Sky Dweller’s case, dial and hands are also executed to near perfection, and what separates them is a matter of aesthetics and preference. As noted, the Lange does not feature a second timezone, nor have any water resistance above the nominal.
The IWC Big Pilot Annual Calendar (S$49,600 approximately converts to CHF 37,000 in red gold, Santoni leather strap) is another potential candidate. The IWC Big Pilot has an interesting story linked to the history of IWC, and is quite a beautiful watch, in red gold, with a Santoni strap and a magnificent blue dial. The link to to Antoine St. Exupéry’s “Le Petit Prince” endears it even more to collectors. The IWC is limited to 250 pieces. But it neither has a second timezone, nor a higher depth rating for water resistance than the nominal. Arguably the movement finishing carries only minimal decorations, and tends to a high engineering finish, and perhaps roughly comparable to Rolex’s C.9001.
And finally, just for comparison, if only for the similar simplicity of the Annual Calendar movement, we consider the Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH) Annual Calendar Single Button Chronograph. It comes with a titanium case with a water resistant rating to 100m, and a pleasantly low price tag of CHF 5,555 before tax. The annual calendar movement is almost as simple as the Sky Dweller, only contributing to 9 additional components. And as the MIH is based on the Valjoux 7750, it carries a chronograph, implemented as a single button as well as the Annual Calendar. It too does not have the ability to display a second timezone. The case, dial, hands and movement are not finished to any haute horlogerie standards, in fact they are rather rough and machined only to meet engineering requirements. Not that there is no attraction in that, on the MIH, it seems perfectly in harmony with the concept. But ultimately, the Rolex is more refined in every aspect.
The Rolex Sky Dweller is the most complicated watch that Rolex has ever made. The watch certainly has an imposing and impressive presence. Strapped on the wrist, it looks the part of a luxury timepiece which is well designed and brilliantly executed. It tells the tale of its owner as someone who has knowledge to select a superior watch, the substance to understand its functions and the means to buy it.
But the image is just one of its many virtues. The Command Ring system is very clever. The annual calendar is brilliant, and the dual timezone function a boon for the frequent traveller. And being a Rolex in a oyster case, it will prove to be extremely rugged and up to any task. The Sky Dweller is one of our favourite Rolex models. The only con is the high price, but when seen in the light of the competition, it is no more expensive than its rivals.
Rolex Sky Dweller Technical Specifications
Reference (case – bracelet): 326935 – 72415
CATEGORY Classic watch
CERTIFICATION Superlative Chronometer (COSC + Rolex certification after casing)
CASE TYPE Oyster (monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown)
DIAMETER 42 mm
MATERIAL 18 ct Everose gold, polished finish
BEZEL Fluted, bidirectional rotatable Ring Command for function setting
CASE BACK Screw-down with Rolex fluting
WINDING CROWN Screw-down; Twinlock double waterproofness system
CRYSTAL Scratch-resistant sapphire, Cyclops lens over the date, double anti-reflective coating
WATERPROOFNESS 100 metres (330 feet)
CALIBRE 9001, Manufacture Rolex
Mechanical movement with bidirectional self-winding via Perpetual rotor on ball bearing
PRECISION −2/+2 sec./day, after casing
FUNCTIONS Centre hour, minute and seconds hands
24-hour display on off-centre disc
Second time zone via independent rapid-setting of the hour hand
Instantaneous annual calendar at 3 o’clock with Saros system and unrestricted bidirectional rapid-setting of the date
Month display via 12 apertures around the circumference of the dial
Stop-seconds for precise time setting
OSCILLATOR Frequency: 28,800 beats/hour (4Hz)
Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring
Large balance wheel with variable inertia
High-precision regulating via four gold Microstella nuts
Traversing balance bridge
High-performance Paraflex shock absorbers
JEWELLING 40 rubies
POWER RESERVE Approximately 72 hours
COLOUR Sundust, sunray finish
HOUR MARKERS Roman numeral appliques in 18 ct pink gold
HANDS 18 ct pink gold with phosphorescent material
TYPE Oyster, three-piece solid links
MATERIAL 18 ct Everose gold, polished centre links, satin-finished outer links with polished edges
CLASP Folding Oysterclasp
Easylink 5 mm comfort extension link