Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II

The year is 2011 and this conversation is overheard in a Rolex boutique.

“Good morning.”
“Good morning, sir, how may we help you?”
“I’d like a large Rolex.”
“That’d be the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II. Here you go, sir.”
“I’ll take that, thank you. Bye.”

The Large Rolex

For the longest time, and I’ll take the blame for this, I couldn’t see the Yacht-Master II as nothing more than The Large Rolex. The 44mm wide Yacht-Master II was the go-to large Rolex, with a massive gap in size between it and the 40mm Sea-Dwellers, Submariners, and others. Debuted in 2007, the Yacht-Master II was followed just next year by the absolutely massive Deepsea that had the same width at 44mm but was considerably thicker, so it both appeared and wore much, much larger than the YMII, placing it far off the map for most.

The Sky-Dweller made its debut in 2012, and while it also looks and wears large, until 2017 it was exclusively available in solid gold cases, rendering it about 40% more expensive than the two-tone YMII that had already been available by 2012. I did look these things up – wouldn’t want to pose as someone who remembers all this. No wonder then, that the Yacht-Master II became The Large Rolex worn by premiership ballerinas footballers, celebrities, and… basically everyone who wanted in on the large watch craze with a Rolex, but didn’t like or couldn’t afford the Sky-Dweller. The fact that Rolex took so long and only debuted the larger, 43mm wide Sea-Dweller in 2017 is just Rolex being its usual cautious self that caused it to nearly miss the boat on the large watch trend – but that’s for another discussion.

Stars aligned and I ended up in a Rolex boutique with a camera in one hand and the Yacht-Master II in the other – welcome to watch blogger life. It was only there that I realized I should have cared about the Yacht-Master II because my goodness, it is a truly impressive piece of watchmaking. It’s the Bentley of watches: big, brash, and showy, bought by a demographic that people not part of are keen not to be associated with … But beyond all that lies a deeply impressive, well-made, uniquely cool product.

I am realizing now that it might as well just be my boredom with the Submariners and Datejusts speaking, but as I was reviewing my images on the spot on the camera’s screen (not even a larger, better display) I realized the many intricate and well-made details of the Yacht-Master II. It’s proper Rolex through and through – you’d never ever mistake the entire watch or any of its details for anything but a Rolex – but at the same time its functionality, layout, as well as its case and dial design are all refreshingly unique.

Yes, that’s what got me. The weird, piston-style pushers (that need not be screwed down), the weird, but strangely beautiful proportions of the lugs and bezel, the incredible quality of the blue ceramic bezel and its laser-etched, PVD-coated numerals, the weird arch of the dial that resembles (in my mind at least) a gauge of a submarine, and the ADD-curing tactile feel of the Ring Command bezel. These make the Yacht-Master II not only unlike any other Rolex, but unlike any other watch. How did this happen?

Whether or not Rolex had the large watch trend on its mind when designing the Yacht-Master II, we’ll never know. I have no hopes in receiving a definitive “yes, we did” or “no, we didn’t” answer from them. The Yacht-Master II was designed with a programmable fly-back regatta chronograph (ooooh, just writing that down felt strangely satisfying) and it was also the watch to debut Rolex’s Ring Command rotating bezel system that was later also used in the Sky-Dweller.

We’ll look at how it all works soon but for a second imagine the amount of R&D time and effort that must have gone into designing what is now called the Manufacture Rolex Calibre 4161 “with some 360 components.” What the heck, even Rolex appears to be proud of this movement as this, I believe, is the only movement they proactively communicate the exact component count of. It is known that the 4130 chronograph in the Daytona has 201 parts, but Rolex officially only ever said they managed to reduce the chronograph’s component count by 60%, without providing the total 201 count – and as far as the other movements are concerned, no exact component figure is ever shared.

Give or take the large watch trend, the Yacht-Master II is also something else: it’s Rolex’s love letter to one of its obscure, but long-standing passions, yachting. Worry not, I’ll spare you the long, teary-eyed story of all that’s exciting about yachting. That’s partly because I’ve never been on a racing yacht and partly because it’s irrelevant in this discussion – you either already are a skipper at heart, or if you’re not, my measly few words won’t get you started. Rolex has produced a number of longer videos on the topic, so if you can take 24 minutes of “uplifting-instrumental-music.mp3” and are desperate to learn more about yachting, then I suggest you watch the video above. But only then.

So, looking at it strictly as a watch, without its implications, customer base, or inspiration, what do we have with the Rolex Yacht-Master II? From my time with it, I came away with a new-found admiration for its many impressive feats starting with its mechanical engineering and ending with its countless neatly executed details. The Rolex Yacht-Master II was specifically designed for regatta yacht races where the starting procedure of the race requires each yacht to be positioned as best as possible when a given time limit expires. From what I understand this time limit before the actual start varies between 5 and 10 minutes and so skippers need a regatta timer watch with a countdown timer (i.e. a reverse chronograph) that can be programmed to count down from a pre-set time between 5 and 10 minutes. When the officials give a signal, the countdown begins, the pre-set regatta chronographs are started, and the maneuvering begins.

For this reason, the Ring Command rotating bezel system was designed in a way so that it allows the wearer to set the regatta countdown to the desired time by rotating the bezel to the left by 90° and adjusting the easy-to-read red triangle hand to the desired position. Once the bezel is rotated back to its original position, the chronograph’s timer is locked. When this happens, the fly-back function of the chronograph allows the wearer to stop the running chronograph, reset it to the pre-set time between 5-10 minutes and start it again – all at a single press of the lower pusher. Rolex was thoughtful as ever: while the regatta timer’s setting can’t be messed up thanks to its locking by the bezel, the pushers are not locked by a stupid screw-down system (that wouldn’t belong on the Daytona either if they weren’t part of the recognized design). So while the Yacht-Master II is aptly water-resistant with its 100m (330ft) rating without screw-down pushers, the chronograph can be easily modulated on mark of the officials. All these are also incredibly useful features during the high-intensity moments of cooking pasta or boiling an egg – and it is here where I should add that the countdown can be set freely between 1 and 10 minutes on the Yacht-Master II, even if regatta races only need the 5-10 minute adjustability.

As recently as last year, Rolex has quietly restyled the Yacht-Master II by fitting what Rolex calls the Professional handset – and what us mortals often call the Mercedes hands. Prior to these, the YMII came fitted with stick hour and minute hands, and if its those that you liked better, well, I checked and there’s still plenty of brand new YMIIs on the market with those hands as well. It has to be said that the Professional hands perform here as they do on other Professional Rolexes (yes, that’s an official Rolex product category): the two main hands are easy to distinguish and, kudos to Rolex on this one, they don’t affect legibility either thanks to a few intelligent design choices.

First, the minute hand was skeletonized in a way so that its second half is hollow, therefore allowing for an easy and accurate reading of the regatta minute timer’s red triangle, should the two overlap. Although the hour hand is fixed to the column pinion above the red triangle hand, the latter is still large enough to stand out from underneath – as the circle wouldn’t overlap all of the triangle. Not as ideal as the two being the other way around with the regatta hand falling between the hour and minute hands, but I doubt this would cause any real issue.

I already mentioned how setting of the regatta timer works, but I did mean to add that setting it is either something you learn or won’t figure out. I wish I knew how many Yacht-Master II wearers were out there in the world right now who’d freak out if they were told the bezel on their watch could rotate. OK, that is an unfair assessment, so I’ll just tone it down to how many could set their regatta timer to 7 minutes immediately, without hesitation. I guess the percentage of those owners is about the same as that of those who know how to use the slide rules on their Navitimers, or those who at least once push their supercars to their limits. I’d imagine it’s a low, low percentage – which isn’t a bad thing or something to be mad about, just fun to think about.

On the wrist, the Yacht-Master II shows many faces. First of all, the material its case and bracelet are crafted from make a big difference. You can have the Yacht-Master II in all-Oystersteel and this is the least-expensive version with a retail price of around $19,000. Strangely, to my eyes at least, this all-steel model isn’t the least flashy version, because that’d be the Oystersteel-Everose gold Rolesor (Rolesor is Rolex-speak for two-tone). This $25k Rolesor version is one of the two pieces pictured in this article and it is this that I think is the least obtrusive one – because it combines the sensible message that two-tone sends, as opposed to the “look-at-me, I’m a big steel watch” vibe that the all-steel version seems to have going on.

Then things take a drastic, and I do mean drastic turn with the $44k all-yellow-gold version that makes you feel like you’re an aptly dressed extra in Wolf of Wall Street. Any all-gold Rolex is a statement watch, but while you can make a case for yourself wearing, say, a yellow gold Day-Date 40, this one right here is less of a President’s watch and more of a premiership footballer’s. There is something amusing about having a watch with this level of visual complexity and the ostentatiousness of yellow gold around the wrist. Still, as a practical joke, it’s not as good as this factory-bedazzled GMT, so yeah, you can always be one-upped, even within Rolex territory – so just get the two-tone. The end of the line is the piece with an all white gold bracelet and a platinum bezel that costs a good couple grand more than the yellow gold version.

With a properly sized bracelet – not as seen directly above – the two-tone, steel, and Everose gold versions make for a great everyday wearer, pretty much the same way an Audi R8 is a great everyday driver. The YMII is large at 44mm wide, but has a strangely good weight to it, especially in this configuration – the all-gold version is as heavy on the wrist as it is on the eyes.

At a time and age when people are buying perpetual calendars because “do you even know how complicated it is?” wearing a Yacht-Master II shouldn’t be as odd as it may at first appear. Its engineering is absolutely mind-boggling, more exotic, arguably more useful on a daily basis – for those who like the idea of getting their pasta al dente with a $25,000 watch – and you can play with it at any given time, whereas touching a perpetual calendar the wrong way will make you wish you didn’t.

After all is said and done, the Yacht-Master II surprised me in a positive way and made me feel stupid for secretly disliking and ignoring it for so long. It’s a great piece of machinery with a styling to its case, bezel, and dial that can only truly be appreciated in the metal. It’s distinctly Rolex down to its last detail, but it’s also unlike any other Rolex ever. In the eerily classy steel-Everose combination, with its neatly labeled, blue ceramic bezel and crisp white dial with further Everose gold accents, it’s a visually pleasing watch that I wouldn’t mind wearing on a daily basis.

Now, my only worry is Rolex dropping this quirky, dedicated, and high-effort side and letting us all die without seeing a comparable exercise ever again. I am eager to see what their next unexpected, highly complicated piece is going to be. If you feel the same but don’t want to wait and have the money to spend, I’d recommend filling this void with the Yacht-Master II.

Prices for the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II range between around $19,000 and $48,000, depending on the variation.



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