Part of the reason why people love Rolex, and in turn watches like the Yacht-Master 16628, is because the brand produces some of the most uncompromising sports watches in the industry. Although Rolex may have originally built much of its now-legendary reputation by being a manufacturer of durable, precision tool watches, Rolex sports models are now universally recognized status symbols, regardless of the specific materials used in their construction. Though many of Rolex’s most famous purpose-built sports watches are now available in two-tone and solid gold configurations, one specific Rolex sports model that has always been purpose-built for a luxury lifestyle is the Yacht-Master.
First appearing in the early ’90s, right after Rolex completed its transition towards becoming a full-on luxury manufacturer, the Yacht-Master has always been a rather indulgent collection. Even the “Yacht-Master” name itself is a pretty good indicator that the model isn’t exactly aimed at the working-class. Over the years, the Rolex Yacht-Master has been produced in a wide variety of sizes and configurations, and every reference has always featured precious metals somewhere in its construction. The inaugural Rolex Yacht-Master 16628 in 18k Yellow Gold set the tone for the collection, and is easily one of the most unapologetically opulent Rolex sports models that was ever put forward.
While many of Rolex sports watches have histories that date back to the 1950s or 1960s, the Yacht-Master is a more recent addition, having only just joined the collection in 1992. Not including the 1971 launch of the Explorer II, which was really more of a line extension to the greater Explorer collection, a full quarter of a century had passed since Rolex had introduced its last completely new model, which was the Sea-Dweller that debuted in 1967. While Rolex’s previous release was about as purpose-built as a sports watch could be, the first Yacht-Master 16628 took the same core sports watch format, and went in a completely opposite direction.
Though Rolex was very much still a manufacturer of high-end timekeeping tools during most of the 1970s, the proliferation of quartz movements ultimately forced the brand to reinvent itself. Unable to compete with inexpensive quartz watches on a purely practical level, Rolex doubled down on the premium nature of its products and increased its emphasis on luxury and fine craftsmanship. While the very first solid gold Rolex sports watches date back to the mid-1950, the vast majority of the brand’s Professional series models were still utilitarian stainless steel creations, and when the Yacht-Master first appeared in 1992 as a sports watch exclusively crafted from solid 18k yellow gold, it signaled a major shift in the direction of Rolex’s catalog.
The first Yacht-Master 16628 followed much of the same overall design DNA as many of the brand’s more utilitarian sports watch offerings, in more refined and luxurious package. Rather than being a hardworking tool watch designed to be worn and abused in demanding environments, the Rolex Yacht-Master was created to be a premium and highly capable sports watch for affluent individuals with active lifestyles.
Based upon the same underlying design as the Submariner from the same era, the Rolex Yacht-Master 16628 features a 40mm case fitted with a flat sapphire crystal and a rotating timing bezel. With that in mind, the Yacht-Master case offers slightly more rounded lines for a more refined overall appearance. Additionally, rather than featuring a unidirectional bezel like its dive watch sibling, the Yacht-Master has a bezel that moves in both directions, and the bezel fitted to the reference 16628 is crafted from solid yellow gold to match the rest of its case and bracelet, while the insert is also crafted from 18k gold with a sandblasted finish and a 60-minute timing scale in polished relief. Furthermore, while most Rolex sports models feature cases with brushed surfaces, the middle case of the Yacht-Master 16628 is entirely high-polished for a more elevated and luxurious overall appearance.
Just like the date-displaying Submariner from the same era, the Rolex Yacht-Master 16628 features a dial with geometric shapes for its hour markers, along with a magnified date window at the 3 o’clock location and a set of centrally-mounted Mercedes style hands for displaying the time. However, while the dial fitted to the classic Submariner is black with large white luminous hour markers, the original dial for the 18k yellow gold Yacht-Master ref. 16628 is bright white with black lacquer hour markers and the “Yacht-Master” name in red letters. Additionally, rather than having the hour markers themselves be luminous, a set of small white luminous triangles are mounted along the inner perimeter of the indexes and blend into the stark white surface of the dial. Similar to solid gold Submariner watches, the Rolex Yacht-Master 16628 is completed by a 3-link Oyster bracelet with polished center links and a double latching fold-over clasp. However, unlike the Submariner, the Yacht-Master does not feature an additional wetsuit extension built into its clasp, as it is not a model that is specifically indended for scuba diving.
Powering the 18k yellow gold Rolex Yacht-Master ref. 16628 is the tried and true Caliber 3135 automatic movement. Designed and manufactured entirely in-house by Rolex, the self-winding Cal. 3135 features the brand’s proprietary paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring, and it runs at a frequency of 28,800vph (4 Hz) while offering users a power reserve of approximately 48 hours. First introduced in 1988, the Rolex Caliber 3135 remained in production for more than three decades and during that time, it was the go-to movement for the vast majority of Rolex’s full-size, date-displaying watches. The definition of a reliable and proven design, the Caliber 3135 offers COSC chronometer-certified timekeeping performance, and it is famous throughout the industry for both its consistency and durability.
Versus the Competition
If you have your heart set on a full yellow gold Rolex sports watch, but you simply aren’t in love with the design of the Yacht-Master, then the Rolex Daytona 16528 makes an excellent alternative that still offers an instantly recognizable Rolex design, but with an entirely different overall look and feel. While most of Rolex’s sports models offer a similar overall layout as the Yacht-Master, the Daytona features a distinctly different configuration, yet it is still a solid 18k yellow gold sports watch with a matching gold bezel and Oyster bracelet.
Conversely, if you like the overall look and feel of the Yacht-Master 16628, but want something a little more purpose-built when it comes to your entirely yellow gold sports watch, then the Rolex Submariner 116688 might just be the timepiece for you. While it offers much of the same cre layout as the Yacht-Master, the Submariner is a purpose-built dive watch and it therefore offers three times the amount of water resistance, and it also features a unidirectional bezel fitted with a scratch resistant Cerachrom ceramic insert, rather than having one that is crafted entirely from matching 18k yellow gold.
Lastly, if you want a full yellow gold sports watch but simply don’t want your statement piece to be a Rolex, then the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Dual Time offers an instantly recognizable design while simultaneously looking nothing like anything that Rolex has ever produced. While you still get a white dial and a full 18k yellow gold case and bracelet, the octagonal shape of the Royal Oak, combined with its prominent fixed bezel, exposed screws, and integrated bracelet design create an aesthetic that is emblematic of Audemars Piguet, and the Gerald Genta-designed Royal Oak is easily one of the most famous sports watch designs of all time.
The Rolex Yacht-Master 16628 in full 18k yellow gold is the perfect watch for the person who wants one of the brand’s legendary sports models, but who also doesn’t necessarily need all of their highly specific purpose-built functionality. While full gold versions of the Submariner and GMT-Master both feature bezel inserts made from either aluminum or ceramic, the solid gold bezel on the Rolex Yacht-Master 16628 makes it one of the most luxurious-looking sports models from Rolex’s archives, and it offers an overtly opulent aesthetic that no longer exists within the brand’s contemporary lineup. That said, the Yacht-Master is still one of Rolex’s industry-leading sports watches, and while it may not offer the massive depth rating of the Submariner or the multi-time zone capabilities of the GMT-Master II, the Rolex Yacht-Master 16628 represents a perfect middle ground, making it an ideal option for the person who wants a solid gold Rolex watch that is more robust and sporty than something like the Day-Date, but not quite as utilitarian or purpose-built as many of the other sports models that make up the Professional series within Rolex’s catalog.
In many ways, the Yacht-Master is the model that best represents the modern Rolex brand, as it is first and foremost a luxury item, despite retaining all the capabilities of a high-performing sports watch. While most of Rolex’s sports models have continuously become more luxurious over the years, the Yacht-Master is a model that has never really needed to make that transition from tool watch to statement piece, as it was always intended to be a luxury-oriented wristwatch for those with active lifestyles. Crafted entirely from solid 18k yellow gold and fitted with a striking white dial that is unlike anything Rolex has ever featured on another watch, the Yacht-Master 16628 represents the brand’s original vision for its luxury-oriented sports model, and while it may not get as much attention as some of its other legendary names in Rolex’s catalog, the Yacht-Master represents an important point in the brand’s history, as it was the very first entirely new model to be released after Rolex had made the transition to being a purpose-built luxury manufacturer.