Review: Rolex Yacht-Master 42
The Yacht-Master was, once upon a time, Rolex’s least popular model. Reportedly a botched attempt to rejuvenate the Submariner line for a wealthier audience, it languished for decades at the bottom of the pile, unloved. But something has changed in recent years, something that has revitalised the Yacht-Master into a watch people actually want. Could the latest addition to the collection be the best yet?
Okay, so the story goes that in the early days, post-quartz crisis, Rolex was floundering to realign the brand into something that would catch the attention of a modern audience. Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe had demonstrated a demand for high-end, high-priced sports watches, and by comparison, Rolex’s no-nonsense Submariner et al were a little reserved.
In fact, a little reserved was Rolex’s whole business model. The brand had spent a century building up dominance from scratch by utilising a simple platform to build a series of professional watches that were primarily designed for work and not play. There was no fancy finishing or exquisite designs—it was the utilitarian nature that made a Rolex stand out from its competitors.
But professionals didn’t need these watches any more, and so that left Rolex with a problem. It was time to adapt or go home. That’s when someone at Rolex headquarters had a good idea: why not take the Submariner, give it a polish, dress it up with fancy materials and re-release it as the new-and-improved Submariner for the gentleman who likes to dive not from an oil platform, but a yacht?
So, that’s what Rolex did, but legend has it that right at the last minute a decision was made, and this new watch was released not as the new Submariner, but the Yacht-Master instead. First seen in 1992, all in gold with a dial in rich blue sunburst or white with black markers, the new Yacht-Master was destined to make a splash.
Although—it didn’t. It barely made a plop. This was because a new breed of watch collector had taken a fancy to something else of Rolex’s—the very watches the brand thought it needed to move away from. Vintage Submariners, Explorers, Sea-Dwellers, these were the watches collectors wanted, and so the Rolex way of life went on, safe in the hands of a fresh audience that could only ever want more.
But the Yacht-Master still existed, languishing, at the back of jeweller’s window displays. Not even a refresh in steel with sparkling platinum dial and red accents could attract any takers, and so the Yacht-Master line fell into hibernation for over fifteen years. In 2015, however, something completely unexpected happened.
As your sixteen-year-old school kid self will often remind you through haunting memories as you try to drift off to sleep of an evening, popularity is fleeting. It’s an ethereal concept, a balance of ingredients that no-one has ever quite managed to nail down. What can seem like it should be popular can fall flat on its face, and what shouldn’t can end up as the must-have item of the moment. It’s both precarious and mysterious.
In 2015, Rolex found that magic ingredient, redressing its Yacht-Master once again as the 116655, but this time in rose gold with a black ceramic bezel, matte black dial and, heaven forbid, a rubber strap. When you lay that down in theory, it sounds like the work of a fashion Neanderthal, pairing precious metals with synthetic rubber, but do you know what? It worked. The Yacht-Master went from hero to zero with the 116655, hitting a spot so sweet that it became a watch that Rolex had to let you buy rather you let them sell.
And now they’ve done it again, taking that delicate balance of secret herbs and spices and adding a dash more chilli pepper, because for 2019, we have the Yacht-Master 42 226659. Sometimes it may seem like Rolex isn’t listening, but believe me, they’ve got their ears glued to the ground, and the Yacht-Master 42 proves it.
The recipe is much the same as the 116655, but with two major differences. The first, more obvious in isolation, is the white gold case, which sets off the monochromatic theme very nicely, and the second, which a glance at the name of this watch will reveal, is the new, upsized case dimensions. Like the Explorer II and the Sky-Dweller, the Yacht-Master 42 is, well, 42mm in diameter.
This is simultaneously such a big deal and such a small one. It’s only two tiny millimetres bigger, yet the impact is somehow dramatic. It has a presence that dominates, like a new-found confidence after years of being the ugly duckling in a flock of swans. It’s like that bit at the end of the movie where the nerd gets a makeover and turns out to be solid ten out of ten after all, giving them a new lease of life. You could almost say it was arrogant, but isn’t that exactly what you want from the most luxurious of sports watches?
The 226659’s namesake has never been about reticence. You want the biggest yacht in the harbour, tender, helipad and all, and that’s why the Yacht-Master 42 has immediately become the king of its collection. There’s no room for tugboats and barges here: only the sleek, shiny and impressive need apply, and the Yacht-Master 42 is exactly that.
If there’s one thing Rolex has consistently achieved throughout its years making watches, it’s prophecy. The wristwatch, the dive watch, the Daytona—all these things were revealed by the brand before the world was fully ready to understand them. The Yacht-Master is perhaps the most surprising of all, a reaction to a changing market that only came to bloom several decades after inception. With the Yacht-Master 42 now leading the way, I think that’s what Rolex would call a win-win.
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