2007 was the year Rolex proved they could only be taunted so much by detractors for the lack of complications in their range before they would come out swinging.
It has long been the anti-Rolex league’s favorite go-to criticism, holding up the Swiss giant’s catalog of ruggedly simple, almost minimalist, three-hand watches and sneeringly comparing them to the overtly functional pieces from likes of Patek Philippe or Vacheron Constantine.
The Yacht-Master II 116681 is an incredible watch for its many features.
Did Rolex lack the imagination to compete with the sky charts and moon orbits of other watchmakers? Or was it the technical prowess they were missing?
Rolex took it with their usual granite stoicism for decades, with the modesty of the Day-Date’s dual calendar or the Daytona’s chronograph seemingly as extravagant as they were prepared to go.
Then, with an almost audible sigh of resignation, they released the first of the Yacht-Master II series.
The Yacht-Master II 116681 is a watch intended for those in the yachting community.
Similar to the original Yacht-Master in no way whatsoever, this hulking great vibrant behemoth contains one of the most technically impressive complications ever shoehorned inside the creations of any watch brand.
As a product, it could also serve as the dictionary definition of the word ‘niche’. Powered by a new caliber that required more than 35,000 man-hours to devise, the end result was a watch that’s sole purpose was to help yacht skippers coordinate the starting procedure of a sailing regatta.
Demographically, it is a particularly small target for the marketing department to aim for. Nevertheless, while its looks have split opinion and are a world away from the handsome elegance that has been the Rolex hallmark for over 100 years, the Yacht-Master II has won plenty of fans.
Its concept and sheer audacity has also silenced many of the brand’s critics and, while not exactly opening the floodgates for a slew of multifunction models to come pouring out of their Geneva HQ, Rolex has at least proved that, should they decide to mix it up in the world of complications, they can compete with the best of them.
The Yacht-Master II 116681 was expertly crafted with high-quality materials.
The Yacht-Master II 116681
The first of the series was unveiled available in either yellow or white gold finishes. In 2011, the ref. 116681 appeared, a canny Rolesor variant, which blended 904L steel with Rolex’s warm Everose gold. The combination went a long way in toning down some of the Yacht-Master’s color scheme eccentricities and making it a little easier on the eye.
The 44mm case, the largest in the Rolex fleet, affords a large surface area for the dial designers to play with. And it’s just as well. There is a lot of information displayed on the watch’s face, but the logical placement of each element gives it a legible readability.
At the top is a horseshoe-shaped track numbered to ten. The starting gun in a regatta is preceded by a warning signal, either five or ten minutes beforehand. It informs participants the countdown has begun, and the Yacht-Master’s curved gauge is there to precisely time the flying start—the long dagger-like hand marks the seconds while the small red arrow-tipped hand displays the minutes.
However, the really clever bit comes should our yacht skipper need to reset his countdown for any reason. The watch is the first in the world to feature a mechanical memory with a ‘flyback’ function, and it allows the regatta timer to reset to the nearest second as needs be to synchronize with the official race timer. So, should the countdown have been triggered too early or too late, it’s a simple step to bring it back in line.
The Yacht-Master is a highly complicated watch.
The key to all this functionality lies in the Yacht-Master’s most conspicuous component, the bright blue bezel with its oversized, golden numerals. More than simply being the watch’s border, the bezel is central to its overall operation.
Directly linked to the internal movement, the Ring Command Bezel, to give it its proper title, unlocks the programmable actions of the watch by rotating it counter-clockwise through 90 degrees.
With the bezel activated, the crown can be used to set the countdown duration and the two pushers at the two and four o’clock positions start and stop the chronograph and work the flyback function.
It sounds like a convoluted affair, but in reality, there is a beautifully designed intuitiveness to getting the most out of the Yacht-Master. The Rolex engineers have pared down the process as much as possible, while still retaining all the necessary performance.
Underneath everything lies the movement. The original references were released with the Cal. 4160, a heavily reworked version of the Daytona’s Cal. 4130, complete with the vertical clutch that eliminates backlash on the chronograph seconds hand.
By 2013, Rolex had perfected the purpose built Cal. 4161 specifically for the Yacht-Master. Their most component-heavy caliber to date, it is constructed from 360 separate parts. As well as the improved accuracy and shock resistance provided by including Rolex’s own Parachrom hairspring, the 31 jewel, high beat movement also has an increased power reserve of 72 hours due to its larger mainspring barrel.
Where would you take this Yacht-Master?
The Yacht-Master II 116681 at Bob’s Watches
The pink gold elements—on the bezel numerals, the crown and pushers and on the snailing around the seconds subdial, are echoed along the center links of the Oyster bracelet, softening some of the brashness of the all-steel or yellow gold versions.
As a variant, it’s still a definite eye-catcher but one that keeps a more understated dignity.
It has retained commendably graceful proportions, especially for such a large piece and one that crams in so much functionality. While it has an undeniable heft, it can easily be worn all day, and the watertight Oyster case ensures it’s more than a match for the rigors of a life on the ocean.
As a skipper’s watch, and as an answer to Rolex’s critics, this Rolex Yacht-Master is in a class all its own.