There are a couple of reasons Rolex doesn’t make many complicated watches. Mainly, it’s because they don’t need to. They have painstakingly cultivated their reputation by creating products that are both the epitome of luxury, while also providing the sort of simple operations that are actually useful in everyday life. A complication has never featured a Rolex for its own sake.
While things like moonphases, tourbillons, and minute repeaters are undoubtedly charming and can be beautiful to watch in action, in the great rush of the day to day, frankly, who cares what lunar stage we’re in? Realistically, the modest utility of a date function or a Rolex GMT-Master feature is as much as the majority of us will ever need. Maybe a chronograph if we’re feeling saucy—and Rolex certainly has that covered.
Of course, another reason for the overall lack of complications in the lineup is the sheer number of man-hours they take to complete. Rolex is a mass-producer of watches, with unofficial reports estimating their annual yield at around one million pieces. Building in advanced functionality comes at a huge time cost, time better spent producing and refining the sort of models that have become horological icons over the course of several generations.
Sometimes, however, even Rolex decides to flex its muscles.
The Sky-Dweller 326139 is a white gold model with a very complicated movement.
The Rolex Sky-Dweller
The Sky-Dweller launched in 2012, the first all-new watch, with an all-new family name, the brand had released since the Yacht-Master in 1992. The one before that was the Daytona in 1964. Rolex, as always, does not like to be rushed.
Originally only available in the brand’s own three flavors of 18k gold, with the yellow and white on Oyster bracelets and the Everose on leather, it arrived to a collective sense of bewilderment from the Rolex faithful. With its dual time zone function and the first annual calendar the company had ever produced, on paper, it belonged in the professional watches category. But its entirely precious metal construction and sleek profile landed it firmly in dress watch territory.
Further splitting opinion, Rolex’s typically stark, minimalist and highly legible dials had given way to a convoluted, asymmetrical effort, with a bottom-heavy subdial that decapitated the lower hour markers.
In the end, it left potential customers too busy scratching their heads rather than reaching for their wallets, and the Sky-Dweller sat kicking its expensive heels on the sidelines for a while.
Two years later, things were different. 2014 saw the release on another trio—this time, the Everose piece got an Oyster bracelet, and the yellow gold reduced the alligator population. But the absolute standout was the white gold ref. 326139, with a black satin dial on a black leather strap.
The Rolex Sky-Dweller 326139 is a watch equipped with a leather band.
The ref. 326139
In a stroke, this new Sky-Dweller made it all alright. Where the original three references had bordered on the ostentatious, and even (say it quietly) a little outmoded, the white gold and black leather combination brought the design right up to date. Still clearly a luxury watch, it was now granted an understated, contemporary aesthetic that could take it smoothly from its natural homes of the first class lounge to business meeting to cocktail party without breaking a sweat.
That divisive dial also suddenly made a certain amount of sense too. While there was no getting away from the eccentricities of the GMT indicator, the silvered disc against the silky background became a far more elegant way of displaying a second time zone.
What had once been a watch that demanded attention had suddenly become one content to let its abilities speak for themselves. A class act, in other words.
A Sky-Dweller 326139 can be worn for any occasion.
Features and Complications
Until relatively recently, Rolex has done everything it can to resist the push towards larger watches that has taken hold of the industry. Models such as the Submariner, GMT-Master, and Daytona have all stubbornly refused to grow beyond their 40mm limits.
But starting with the Yacht-Master II in 2007 and continuing through the mammoth Deepsea the following year, the catalog is definitely starting to balloon in dimensions. The Sky-Dweller follows the trend.
Officially 42mm, its widely spaced but sharply curved lugs means it wears significantly larger, but remains a comfortable all day companion. It does, of course, have a considerable weight—there is a lot of gold here.
Of its many distinctive features, perhaps the most interesting is the bezel. As well as being a time-honored Rolex signature, the fluted surround has a key role to play in the Sky-Dweller’s sophisticated operations.
Taking its cue from the Yacht-Master II’s regatta timer, the Sky-Dweller is fitted with the second generation of the brand’s Ring Command bezel. Intrinsically linked to the watch’s internal movement, it works as an analogue function selector—basically a three-position switch. Each rotation unlocks a different action, all controlled by the crown, doing away with the need for additional pushers that might have ruined the tasteful lines of the watch.
So, in the bezel’s first position, the winding crown can advance or retract the date in the three o’clock window. Another quarter turn gives independent control over the center hour hand, and the final setting synchs all the functions and allows you to change the reference time in the GMT disc. As a system, it is surprisingly intuitive. As a feat of engineering prowess, it’s formidable.
Do you know how to operate the Sky-Dweller 326139?
The Annual Calendar
In one of those ‘I can’t believe no one has thought of that before’ moments, Rolex had used the two inescapable facts of there being 12 months in a year and 12-hour markers on a dial, and linked them both into a calendar display that may border on genius. There is a small aperture above each of the Sky-Dweller’s indexes, and each one corresponds with the current month. So, a filled in window above the 4 o’clock marker indicates April, 5 o’clock gives May, etc.
The first annual calendar from Rolex, which they have dubbed SAROS the 18-year cycle of the sun, Earth, and moon. It automatically compensates for the months that have 30 and 31 days. As such, it only needs to be manually adjusted once a year, at the end of February.
Controlling it all is a caliber built specifically for the Sky-Dweller, the Cal. 9001. The product of years of innovation, it is the most intricate and complex movement Rolex has ever made, with 380 individual components; sixty for the bezel alone. It is also the second most highly jeweled and comes with an impressive 72-hour power reserve.
The Sky-Dweller 326139 is a great watch to have. What are your thoughts? Comment below.
Here’s a funny story: the white gold, black leather strap ref. 326139 Sky-Dweller has recently been removed from the Rolex website, indicating the probable end of its production run. And when I say recently removed, I mean literally as I was writing this!
This, however, is amazing news for collectors. The ref. 326139 has been one of the most popular variants of the watch for the last few years and there will still be a number of brand new models available for purchase before the stocks run dry. After that, their inherent rarity could see prices rise on the pre-owned market.
Although certainly not cheap, and with looks that some still find challenging, there is no doubting the technical virtuosity of the Sky-Dweller. If you are considering pulling the trigger on this amazing watch, now would be the time.