It is widely acknowledged that a Rolex watch makes a sound investment, probably the soundest in the luxury goods world. Take ownership of just about any model in the brand’s comprehensive range and you can be reasonably assured that it will, at worst, hold its value and in most cases appreciate over the years.
Of course as with anything, some pieces will perform better than others and the trick, for those looking to hedge their bets, is spotting the ones destined for future greatness early on.
There is no exact science to it. It is nigh on impossible to predict where the golden eggs are buried, otherwise we could have all bought up armfuls of exotic dial Daytonas in the 60s and be living the high life today.
But some of the current models stand out so much that they are the closest thing in this arena of randomness to a sure thing.
Featuring white gold and boasting a platinum bezel, the Yacht-Master II ref. 116689 is anything but subtle.
The Yacht-Master II ref. 116689
The white gold, platinum bezelled skipper’s watch, the Yacht-Master II Ref. 116689, is one such example. The 116689 was one of a pair that debuted the all-new regatta timer in 2007, alongside a yellow gold eye-catcher with a bright blue surround.
Where that piece, the ref. 116688, was a grandstanding, spotlight-hogging extrovert, its monochrome-metaled sidekick was decidedly more understated—or as understated as a 44mm Rolex can be.
Those dimensions stand it as one of the two largest watches in the fleet, matched only in scale by another aquatic monster, the Sea-Dweller Deepsea.
It was also, for its day, by far the most complex model the brand had ever launched. Rolex make very few complicated watches, preferring the simple elegance of three-hand timekeeping, throwing in the occasional GMT function or a straightforward chronograph to mix things up a bit.
The Yacht-Master II, being aimed at those who compete in sailing regattas, was designed to time the precise and convoluted starting procedure of a yacht race.
To achieve that, it was fitted with a 10-minute programmable countdown as well as a mechanical memory and flyback function; the first watch in the world to contain so much functionality.
It means a boat skipper was able to instantly synchronize the watch with the official regatta timer, ensuring pinpoint accuracy in crossing the start line.
The Ring Command Bezel
It is a bravura piece of engineering, and one that required Rolex’s boffins to come up with a new way to cram so much tech into one watch. The key innovative difference they made was to incorporate the bezel, usually little more than a decorative feature, into the overall mechanism.
Called the Ring Command Bezel, it is directly linked to the YM’s caliber, acting as an on/off switch and unlocking the various operations.
Rotating the surround counterclockwise through 90° allows for the countdown duration to be set via the crown, and returning it to its start position locks and, crucially, memorizes it. The start and stop procedures, and the flyback function, are then all controlled with the pushers at two and four o’clock.
It was the first time a bezel had been integrated in such a way, and it worked so well that Rolex have further refined the concept and included it into the Sky-Dweller—in its way an even more impressive model than the Yacht-Master.
The Yacht-Master Ref. 116689 is the largest rolex available, at 44mm
The engine driving all this virtuosity is a heavily reworked version of the Cal. 4130 taken from the Daytona. The Cal. 4160 (upgraded post-2013 to the COSC-certified Cal. 4161) took some 35,000 hours of perfecting, using the Rolex-specific vertical clutch and column wheel. It is also Rolex’s most component heavy movement, containing some 360 parts, many of them only possible through the use of UV-LiGA, a fabrication technology used to create micro-structures.
So why are we singling out the Yacht-Master II Ref. 116689 specifically to be a possible investment piece? In a nutshell; money.
With an 18k white gold case, case back, bracelet and clasp, all topped off with a platinum bezel, it is one of the most expensive watches in the Rolex lineup. Brand new, the asking price is at the thick end of $50,000.
That means there just aren’t many examples of this watch in circulation, because there aren’t that many people willing to shell out for it. Those who want a white metal Yacht-Master II are far more likely to plump for the Oystersteel model at around a third of the cost, albeit with a giveaway blue bezel.
The Yacht-Master II Ref. 116689 then is an ultra rare version of an already pretty rare watch. You simply don’t see many of this particular reference doing the rounds, and that is a well-proven recipe for a timepiece likely to become highly sought after on the pre-owned market in the future.
Coupled with its scarcity value, it also has an aesthetic that sets it apart in the range. It has a more solid look to it than the others in the series, and the vast expanse of silvery white makes it look bigger on the wrist somehow.
Additionally, all that precious metal makes it quite incredibly heavy. Topping the scale at the best part of half a pound, it is perhaps not the ideal all day wear, but rather one to slip on for special occasions—or a regatta, of course.
All told, it is a very special watch. Now into its second generation, Rolex’s first foray into the world of true complications may be aimed at an extremely niche market, but it remains one of the most impressive examples of the watchmaker’s art there has ever been.
While there’s no guarantee the Yacht-Master II Ref. 116689 is headed for classic status, it would be a brave soul who betted against it.