Clever design of the programmable countdown timer. More useful than just for timing regattas.
Beautiful execution typical of Rolex.
Polarised view from horology enthusiasts on the aesthetics. Love it or hate it. Big, bold, in your face.
Among the hard core Rolex collectors, lies a quiet discontent. One watch polarises the community like no other Rolex ever has. It is big. It is bold. It screams its model name in your face in huge text on the bezel. It carries the same reference number as the watch it replaces. And yet, like the other Rolex professional watches, it is born out of a professional need. That of the skipper of a yacht. This is the Rolex Yacht-Master II. The programmable regatta countdown flyback chronograph from Rolex. We took a close look at it, examine its raison d’être, and give you the plain verdict: Awesome or not. Read to discover!
The Rolex Yacht-Master II
The Yacht-Master II occupies a place within the Rolex hierarchy of professional watches. This is a special category of watches that Rolex designs and intends for use in a specific profession. The Submariner and Sea Dweller were designed for professional diving, initially developed with diving specialists COMEX. The Explorer was developed with explorers to summit Everest, the GMT series for PanAm pilots. The Daytona Cosmograph was derived for use on the race track, though when it first appeared in 1960, it was merely labelled Chronograph, but was quickly nicknamed the Daytona, after the famous race circuit.
The Yacht-Master first introduced in 1992 as a Ref. 16628 in yellow gold is a curiosity. It is not a professional yachting watch, but a Submariner with stronger aesthetics and made with more premium case and bracelet materials. The Yacht-Master was only available in precious metals.
Based on the success of the Yacht-Master, Rolex unveiled the Yacht-Master II in 2007. This is a totally different kettle of fish. This is a true professional yachting watch incorporating a flyback chronograph and a programmable countdown timer. Two models made the debut lineup, a yellow gold Ref. 116688 and a white gold Ref . 116689. Both are professional regatta watches and equipped with the new manufacture caliber 4160. This new movement was derived from the then new in-house caliber 4130 used in the Daytona Cosmograph. To the 4130 base, Rolex added the additional features to make the 4160 the first watch in the world to be equipped with a programmable countdown function from 1 to 10 minutes with a mechanical memory.
For Baselworld 2013, Rolex released a stainless steel version, the Ref. 116680 which featured an upgraded movement in the form of the C.4161. It remains unclear what changes were made to the movement, but we expect this to be routine upgrades to improve chronometry and serviceability.
And for Baselworld 2017, the Yacht-Master II was revised yet again. The updates were mainly dial side aesthetic changes, but the C.4161 now gains Rolex Chronometer Certification. The 2017 Editions were released in stainless steel, yellow gold, white gold and platinum. Curiously, Rolex chose to retain the reference numbers, and used 116680 for the new 2017 Edition of the Yacht-Master II in stainless steel.
The dial, case and hands
The case is the standard Rolex Oyster case, but much larger with a 44mm case diameter. The review sample was in 904L stainless steel. The case is water resistant to 100m, and is equipped with a Triplock crown. Interestingly the pushers for the chronograph is not screw down, despite the Triplock capabilities of the crown. Perhaps this is not a real concern, as the depth rating is only 10 atm.
The bracelet is also in solid 904L steel, with the Oysterlock clasp with the usual 5mm comfort extension built in. Rolex has retained the same case shape and dimension since the 2007 introduction. The case and bracelet is solidly built, as one would expect from Rolex.
The watch features a Cerachrom, Rolex-speak for ceramic, bezel in a mesmerisingly beautiful blue shade. This bezel is not changed since its introduction in 2007, and carries the countdown numbers of 0-10 in huge arabic numerals. And the name “Yacht-Master II” screaming out loud at 4 to 8 o’clock position. Normally, this author would find this screaming announcement to be a aesthetic disaster, but somehow, in this huge case, coupled with the calming blue hue and the bold graphics, it seem to be quite in character. Acquiring a strong, masculine persona. And yes, we say it, it is a rather handsome watch.
The main difference between Ref. 116680 (2013) and Ref. 116680 (2017) dials are as follows:
- most visibly, the hour minute hands on the 2017 edition have changed from slim hands to larger ones. The minute hand is skeletonised, and the hour hand carries the iconic “Mercedes” hands.
- an inverted triangle now marks the 12 o’clock hour marker and a rectangle marks the 6 o’clock in the new version, where the old one had square markers all round.
And that’s all! The bezel remains the same. The other graphic elements remains the same. The main dial remains in white lacquer, and the markings in blue. The hour markers are filled with blue Chromalight.
Legibility of the time, and all functions work well. This is critical in a professional race watch, as the heat of the race often gets the better of one, and it is easy to be confused and mis-read critical information.
The purpose of a regatta chronograph is not only to track racing time but also to count down the critical minutes before the racers cross the starting line. This is because, unlike an automobile, the yacht is not able to do a standing start. The yachts will have been already moving when they cross the starting line.
The “Fleet Race”, which takes place on a course marked by buoys, begins with a five, seven or ten-minute countdown at the end of which the yachts begin sailing the course. This countdown is pre-determined by race officials. During this decisive interval of time, the competitors strategically array themselves on the startling line – based on winds and, most importantly, keeping clear of other competitors – in order to cross the line as close as possible to the starting signal. It is the skipper’s role to ensure that his yacht will cross the start line as soon as possible after the starting signal to ensure a head start, but also not to cross the line before the signal to avoid penalty points.
A good start determines the success in this test of skill, tactics and technical expertise. And the standard regatta watch will not only have to be tough enough to withstand the rigours of racing, and the water, but also perform the countdown, and chronograph timing.
The Yacht-Master II regatta countdown
When it was first introduced in 2007, the Yacht-Master II was the only chronograph with a programmable countdown function. This is implemented by the use of the bezel, which is not a diving bezel, but is bi-directional. Rolex calls this the Command Ring. To activate the setting of the countdown function, the bezel is turned 90° counter clockwise. Then the pusher at 4 o’clock is depressed. The crown is then unscrewed, and pulled into its first position. Now the countdown hand, with the red triangle can be set as desired. It is set by moving the crown in one direction, which moves the hand in one minute intervals forwards. The hand retrogrades back to 10 after going past 0. Once the desired time is set, the crown is pushed back, screwed down, and the bezel returned to the “home” position. And the regatta timer is ready.
At the sound of the first gun, the skipper starts the chronograph as per normal. This begins the countdown function. As the chronograph is a flyback, he can reset the countdown at any time by depressing the pusher at 4 o’clock. This is necessary if the skipper needs to re-synchronize his watch to race time.
The flyback works also to reset the countdown hand to the nearest minute. That is, for the first half of the minute it will retrograde back, and for the second half it will forward to the nearest minute. This feature is useful in regatta timing, as the second gun can sound for the race to begin,
Once the chronograph is stopped and reset, the countdown hand returns to its pre-programmed position, ready for the next race.
The movement is the Rolex in-house manufactured 4161, which is based on the Rolex 4130 used in the Daytona. The original Yacht-Master II had the 4060 movement, which was updated in 2013 to the 4161. In its latest iteration, the C.4161 carries additional minor modifications to meet the Rolex chronometer specifications of +/-2 seconds a day.
As is usual for Rolex, there is no display back, and the movement is not visible. We did not open the case back to view the movement. But we did see the movement out of its case in Baselworld, The photograph above is a stock pic from Rolex, and shows the movement. The chronograph features an integrated column wheel with a vertical clutch engagement.
Finishing is up to the usual Rolex specifications. Very well executed engineering level finish with no extraneous decorations. The movement is a proven to have been a robust one, with good chronometry capabilities. It is certified to both Rolex Chronometer Certification as well as COSC standards. The standard Rolex innovations of the Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring is fitted.
The competitive landscape
In recent years, the competitive landscape (or seascape) has started to be quite well populated. When Rolex introduced the Yacht-Master II in 2007, it was probably the first with the regatta countdown feature. In our current non-exhaustive survey, we include the following which we feel are interesting alternatives. At S$25,120 with GST, the Yacht-Master II in SS is reasonable value and compares well with the competition.
Ulysse Nardin Marine Regatta (S$ 24,500 with GST) is perhaps the best place to start. The UN features a world premiere of a bi-directional chronograph hand which automatically switches to countdown to count-up. This on itself is an interesting complication, requiring some 650 component in the in-house UN-155,caliber. The UN has a longer power reserve of 3 days.
Bremont Regatta (S$9,000 with GST) is a more modestly priced competitor. It is a highly technical watch from Bremont, and lends much of its technology, mostly in materials, from the F1 and aerospace industry. The Bremont is a more regular chronograph dial with many sub-dials, which may tend to be a bit confusing in the melee of a race.
Omega Seamaster Diver 300M ETNZ (S$ 10,100 incl GST). The case is also in titanium with a ceramic bezel. The movement is quite advanced, featuring an in-house column wheel chronograph Omega C.3300 with Co-Axial escapement and a silicon balance spring. The watch is rated to a depth rating of 300m, while the Rolext is only rated to 100m. The Omega case is also 44mm, and it features a non programmable 5 minute countdown system incorporated into the 30 minute totalizer at 3 o’clock.
Maurice Lacroix Pantos S Regatta ( € 6,990 which converts to approximately S$10.700). The Maurice Lacroix is housed in a forged carbon fibre cage, and is rated to 200m. The movement is quoted as ML162, and we are not able to confirm the source of the base movement. The case is 45mm diameter so larger compared to the others. However, instead of 5 minute count down and 15 minute counters, it features a huge aperture on its dial revealing a rotating disc showing a count down from 10 minutes. This is shown as blue markers indicating “Ready” to 6 and then 5-0 section marked in red. At the 0, the pointer in the aperture indicates “Race”.
What the Yacht-Master II has going for it is the effortless way to set the programming for the countdown via the Command Ring. And also the fact that as it is a Rolex, resale prices would remain higher than its competition.
As we hinted earlier in the review, we were prepared not to like the watch. It is large. It featured screamingly bold graphics. It seems rather expensive for a sports chronograph.
But as we got used to the watch, it is quite attractive. Very masculine, as we mentioned. The functionality is intuitive once one learns it, and it works flawlessly. The chronometry is excellent. And the wrist presence is quite imposing, though not in a negative way, but rather ascribes some gravitas to the wearer. The colour scheme of blue and white with accents of red, coupled with a clean dial sans sub-dials is outstanding in making it clear and legible. It has many things going for it. And eventually we succumb and fall in love with the Rolex Yacht-Master II.
Rolex Yacht-Master II Specifications
Case: Oyster, 44 mm, steel
Monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown
Diameter: 44 mm
Material: 904L steel
Bezel: Bidirectional rotatable Ring Command bezel. Blue Cerachrom insert in ceramic, engraved numerals and inscription
Winding crown: Screw-down, Triplock triple waterproofness system
Crystal: Scratch-resistant sapphire
Water resistance: Waterproof to 100 metres / 330 feet
Movement: Perpetual, mechanical, self-winding, regatta chronograph
Calibre: 4161, Manufacture Rolex
Precision: -2/+2 sec/day, after casing
Centre hour and minute hands, small seconds hand at 6 o’clock. Programmable countdown with mechanical memory and on-the-fly synchronization. Stop-seconds for precise time setting
Oscillator: Paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring
Winding: Bidirectional self-winding via Perpetual rotor
Power Reserve: Approximately 72 hours
Bracelet: Oyster, flat three-piece links, 904L steel
Clasp: Folding Oysterlock safety clasp with Easylink 5 mm comfort extension link
Dial: White, with highly legible Chromalight display with long-lasting blue luminescence
Certification: Superlative Chronometer (COSC + Rolex certification after casing)
Price: S$25,120 with GST.