Rolex does not simply release watches on a whim. New models are rare, and updates to existing models are often minor, sometimes not even warranting an announcement. Regardless of timing or subtlety, everything The Crown does is met with scrutiny and drama. So, too, it was when the Yacht-Master II was released in 2007. The watch was met with mixed reactions: With an obscure complication that no one really asked for and the largest case in Rolex’s catalog, some thought it sullied the robust elegance of its forebear. Others rightfully praised its technical innovations. Fast forward more than a decade and the model seems to have won out: the Rolex Yacht-Master II 116689 seen here (and its sister references) remains in the Rolex catalog and is a favorite among those seeking a Rolex with a bit more panache and functionality than the standard Submariner.
When the original Yacht-Master was introduced in 1992, it was Rolex’s first entirely new model since the Sea-Dweller in 1967. The watch was an immediate hit with the seagoing elite, and has remained incredibly popular, with a variety of colorways and sizes released to satisfy demand. Then, in 2007, the Yacht-Master II was released. Rolex spent over 35,000 hours designing the movement for the watch, which was designed to aid skippers in tracking the starting sequence of a regatta, including a novel integrated bezel and programmable countdown timer with memory function. Two models were part of the original release: the 116688 in solid 18kt gold with a blue ceramic bezel and the 116689 in 18kt white gold with an embossed platinum bezel.
At 44mm wide and 14mm thick, the Yacht-Master II features the largest production case Rolex offers. Despite its size, the watch is good to just 100m of water resistance—certainly sufficient for most aquatic adventures, but a subtle hint that Yacht-Master II is aimed at those who plan to remain aboard. The solid 18k white gold case and bracelet of the 116689 remain classic Rolex: polished throughout, with gentle curves, it gives way to the dual-finished Oyster bracelet, which features an Oysterlock clasp and Easylink 5mm extension for fine-tuned sizing. The patented Triplock crown and its guards maintain the aesthetic, with ringed chronograph pushers at its flanks. A white gold bezel—dubbed the Ring Command bezel for its added functionality—features a frosted platinum insert with embossed, polished numerals and model name. Protecting the dial is a sapphire crystal.
Despite the watch’s functionality, Rolex has kept things extremely legible with a clean white dial. Square hour markers are applied and filled with the brand’s proprietary Chromalight lume. At 9 o’clock, the Crown logo is accompanied by the traditional Rolex dial text. At 6 o’clock, a running seconds subdial features a radial finished ring. The hands are all blued, with the hour and minute featuring lume; the minute hand has a cutout to allow for better timing legibility. In a large arc bounded by bright blue, the 10-minute regatta scale lines up perfectly with both the applied markers and the bezel. The countdown time is displayed by a bright red chronograph sweep hand and a lumed triangle minute hand.
To set the countdown timer, turn the Ring Command bezel 90 degrees counterclockwise, press the 4 o’clock pusher, and use the crown to set the desired interval (the triangle hand will snap back to 0 if pushed past 10). After rotating the bezel back, the watch’s pushers operate similarly to a normal chronograph. But Rolex has added two unique functions. When the timer is set, the initial countdown time is memorized: if the countdown is 7 minutes and needs to be restarted, stopping and resetting the timer will return it to 7 minutes. Equally impressive, the watch can be resynchronized to the official race countdown if necessary: pressing the reset pusher without stopping the timer will jump the timing hand to the nearest minute.
Powering the Rolex Yacht-Master II is the automatic Rolex 4161 caliber, based on the 4130 chronograph movement (seen in the Daytona). Comprising over 360 components, including 44 jewels, the movement beats at 28,800 vibrations per hour and delivers a robust 72 hours of power (a number of the constituent parts are so small, they require specialized micromanufacturing mastered in-house by Rolex). The watch is further equipped with Rolex’s Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock system, together delivering exceptional antimagnetism and shock resistance. As with all modern Rolex movements, the 4161 is certified to their Superlative Chronometer standards, accurate to -2/+2 seconds per day.
Instead of the traditional chronograph functions of its base movement, the 4161 has been retooled to allow for use as a countdown timer. In conjunction with a vertical clutch, a column wheel extends through the main plate, allowing for the programmable countdown. Additional reworking has added instantaneous re-synchronization functionality and countdown memory; and as discussed above, the bezel is coupled to the movement to allow its use as a locking mechanism for the timer (though considering the bezel part of the movement might be a stretch). All of these decidedly niche features make for one of the most complicated Rolex calibers ever made.
Versus the Competition
Watches and regattas have been linked for quite some time, and indeed many brands sponsor teams, races, or entire series. Omega and TAG Heuer have both released limited edition America’s Cup watches featuring countdown mechanisms. Panerai makes the Luminor 1950 Regatta Chrono Flyback and Ulysse Nardin has its Marine Regatta model. Of course, sometimes only a Rolex will do, in which case one can opt for the timing function of the Daytona, the Ring Command bezel of the Sky-Dweller, or the nouveau riche appeal of the original Yacht-Master.
While the original Yacht-Master appealed to the owners of superyachts by providing a higher-end alternative to the Submariner, the Rolex Yacht-Master II 116689 builds on that appeal with the added bona fides of regatta timing functionalities. In the white gold execution, it’s perhaps best suited to the sailing enthusiast with who enjoys the occasional regatta and may even partake in one from time to time, but also likes a splash of luxury on the wrist and isn’t afraid to let others know.
Be it as it may an undeniable piece of luxury sailing kit, the Yacht-Master II does what only a few Rolexes do: provides both the exceptional quality the brand is known for and unique functionality. For that alone, the model is well worth a look.