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The History of Rolex Sky-Dweller

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Paul Altieri

The Rolex Sky-Dweller celebrates a decade in 2022 – ten years of precision, style, and technological prowess. Launched by Rolex in 2012, the Oyster Perpetual Sky-Dweller is a timepiece built for world travelers, not pilots like the GMT-Master. Purposefully sophisticated and cosmopolitan, Rolex had the rare opportunity to design the Sky-Dweller without historical context or heritage design ties, creating something totally novel and unique for the brand.

The result was a watch with a brand new look and appeal, incredible new functionality, and a large presence, clocking in at 42mm. At the time, the world was also shocked by the Sky-Dweller’s uncharacteristically complex dial, despite the fact that the dual time zone was as intuitive as it was easy to use.

Over its short history, the Sky-Dweller has seen some adjustments and upgrades. However, Rolex is still very much writing history with this one, as we’re still only in the first generation. To best explore how the Sky-Dweller has evolved over its first decade, we’ll look at the three upgrades presented since its debut in 2012.

Rolex Sky-Dweller

Rolex Sky-Dweller History 326938 18k gold

Sky-Dweller Key Features:

– Year of Introduction: 2012

– Case Diameter: 42mm

– Materials: 18k Gold (Yellow, White, or Everose); White Rolesor (Steel & White Gold), Yellow Rolesor (Steel & Yellow Gold)
– Functions: Time w/ Running Seconds, Date Display, Month Indicator, GMT Functionality, Annual Calendar

– Dial: Black; White; Silver; Gold; Blue; Chocolate; Slate

– Bezel: Ring Command, 18k Gold, Fluted Style

– Crystal: Sapphire (Flat w/ Cyclops Lens)

– Movement: Rolex Caliber 9001

– Water Resistance: 100 Meters / 330 Feet

– Strap/Bracelet: Oyster Bracelet; Jubilee Bracelet; Oysterflex Bracelet; Leather strap (Discontinued)

– Approx. Price: $14,800 – $49,450 (New); $22,250 – $70,000 (Pre-Owned)

Click here for our Ultimate Buying Guide on the Rolex Sky-Dweller.

Rolex Sky-Dweller History 326238 Yellow Gold Oysterflex

3 Things You Need To Know About The Sky-Dweller

Before we get into the design evolution of the Sky-Dweller over the last decade, it’s important to understand the fundamentals that make this watch unique, and that really starts with the Caliber 9001 that was created specifically for this watch.

An automatic COSC-certified movement, the caliber 9001 boasts 28,800 beats per hour and a 72-hour power reserve. A blue Parachrom hairspring ensures that timekeeping is as accurate as possible, resisting magnetic fields and temperature fluctuations. The cal. 9001 is also fitted with Paraflex shock absorbers to guarantee a smooth ride for the escapement. But, most impressive is how the Rolex cal. 9001 works in coordination with the bezel, its impressive annual calendar, and its essential GMT functionality.

1. The bezel helps the wearer set the watch

Rather than being just a beautiful gold decorative element, the Sky-Dweller’s fluted bezel, also known as the ‘Ring Command’ bezel is how the wearer selects which function to set. Depending on the position of the bezel, the wearer can set the month and date, reference time, and local time by just rotating the winding crown. It’s also important to note the bezel is always forged out of 18k gold, even on their stainless steel models.

2. The Sky-Dweller boasts an annual calendar

Annual calendars are the second most advanced calendar functionality found in a watch. While they don’t recognize leap years, they can mechanically (and miraculously) correct for the months with 30 and 31 days in them. Because of this, annual calendars only need to be manually adjusted once a year, at the end of February.

The Sky-Dweller displays the date for the wearer at the 3-o’clock marker under a cyclops lens – typical for the brand. But, uniquely, the month is indicated by displaying a color in a small opening above each hour indices for the corresponding month – January is 1-o’clock, February is 2-o’clock, and so on.

3. The Sky-Dweller is a GMT watch

What makes this watch so perfect for frequent travelers is that awesome GMT functionality – allowing the wearer to keep track of two different time zones at once. What’s more, the complication is so sophisticated it requires no additional push-pieces to access it, just the sleek and handsome Ring Command bezel that links directly to the caliber 9001 movement.

Rolex Sky-Dweller History 326135 Everose Gold Leather Strap

2012: The Original Sky-Dweller

As you already know, the debut Sky-Dweller was released in 2012. But, what you may not realize is just how rare this is for Rolex to do. In fact, by the time the Sky-Dweller was released, it had been 20 years since Rolex had introduced an entirely new watch model into their collection (the Yacht-Master).

So what sets this new watch apart? Firstly, the size. Perhaps trying to accommodate the large watch trends of the time on their own terms, Rolex unveiled the Sky-Dweller at a whopping 42mm, closer to the typical sizing of one of the brand’s sports watches rather than its Classic collection. But, the aesthetics of this watch were decidedly sophisticated, even if the size was imposing.

Only released in precious metals (Yellow, White and Everose gold), the new Sky-Dweller was targeted at cosmopolitan frequent fliers who liked the finer things – like businessmen making deals in multiple time zones, bi-coastal creatives, and world travelers.

With this first edition, Rolex released three specific, gold watch references: a yellow gold Sky-Dweller with a matching yellow gold Oyster bracelet, a white gold Sky-Dweller with a matching white gold Oyster bracelet, and an Everose gold Sky-Dweller with a brown leather strap.

The dial was a bit more complicated, though. On the dial, the time is indicated by the center hands, the date through the window at 3 o’clock, and the month by the small rectangular windows next to the hour markers like we explained above. Then there’s the second time zone which is displayed with a red arrow pointing to a 24-hour disc placed slightly off-center on the dial. Rolex designed this subdial to actually display your ‘home’ time, aka ‘reference time,’ while the center hands display the local time. Today, this same basic layout has not changed across the collection, besides the introduction of new colors and indices – but we’ll get to that in a bit.

There were a few dial color options with this first edition, like champagne, silver, and chocolate. The indices were only available in Arabic or Roman numerals – definitely giving the dial a more involved and elegant appeal.

2012 Sky-Dweller References:

– Ref. 326938: Yellow Gold Case, Yellow Gold Bracelet, 2012 to present.

– Ref. 326939: White Gold Case, White Gold Bracelet, 2012 to 2018.

– Ref. 326135: Everose Gold Case, Leather Strap, 2012 to present.

Rolex Sky-Dweller History 326139 White Gold Leather Strap

2014: The Sky-Dweller Collection Expands

Two years after first introducing the Sky-Dweller, Rolex released three new models at Baselworld 2014. Honestly, not much changed that year, with Rolex keeping the alloys all gold. There were a few new dial design options, though, like the black dial on the new white gold Sky-Dweller and the rhodium dial on the new Everose model.

The other major update in 2014 was adding more strap options. There was the yellow gold Sky-Dweller with a leather strap, the white gold Sky-Dweller with a leather strap, and the Everose gold Sky-Dweller with a matching Everose gold Oyster bracelet. Now with these new strap options, collectors could choose a matching gold bracelet or a leather strap for each of the different shades of gold.

However, the Sky-Dweller continued to be the new kid on the block, not entirely embraced by the otherwise loyal Rolex community yet. During these early years the dial was much to blame, but so was the price tag. Forged out of solid 18k gold and featuring one of the brand’s most complicated movements, the Sky-Dweller was one of the most expensive models, and not all collectors were totally sold on it yet.

2014 Sky-Dweller References:

– Ref. ​​326138: Yellow Gold Case, Leather Strap, 2014 to present.

– Ref. 326139: White Gold Case, Leather Strap, 2014 to 2018.

– Ref. 326935: Everose Gold Case, Everose Gold Bracelet, 2014 to present.

Rolex Sky-Dweller History 326933 Two-Tone Rolesor

2017: The Sky-Dweller Becomes More Accessible

After 5-years of relatively slow growth and adoption, Rolex decided to make the Sky-Dweller a bit more accessible to customers, finally introducing a Rolesor (two-tone gold and stainless steel) and stainless steel option.

This not only dropped the entry-level price of the Sky-Dweller significantly but allowed the brand to appeal to a wider audience. It wasn’t just about the price, but also about appealing to avid collectors who don’t like wearing all gold or appreciate the durability of a stainless steel model, which can be quite practical for someone who’s always on the move anyways.

The two-tone (aka Rolesor) Sky-Dweller was outfitted in 18k yellow gold and stainless steel. To make it a Rolesor watch, the 42mm Oyster case was forged out of 904L stainless steel and featured a yellow gold winding crown and bezel, along with a steel Oyster bracelet with yellow gold center links. The stainless steel model is also technically Rolesor, but what they call ‘White Rolesor,’ because it features stainless steel and white gold. However, while the Yellow Rolesor edition features a gold crown and center links, it is only the bezel that is made from gold on the White Rolesor version.

But, that wasn’t the only major change made in 2017. Notice something different about the dial? For the first time ever, Rolex introduced baton hour markers, giving the dial a much simpler, cleaner, and contemporary look. These new hour markers were applauded by collectors, and in turn, helped boost the Sky-Dweller’s popularity.

Today, the stainless steel ‘White Rolesor’ is the most sought-after model in the entire collection, particularly the blue dial option. It is also the most affordable Sky-Dweller in the collection on the retail market – but because of high demand, it often sells for more than its retail price on the secondary market.

2017 Sky-Dweller References:

– Ref. 326933: Stainless Steel and Yellow Gold Case, Stainless Steel and Yellow Gold Bracelet, 2017 to present.

– Ref. 326934: Stainless Steel and White Gold Case, Stainless Steel and White Gold Bracelet, 2017 to present.

Rolex Sky-Dweller History 326934 Stainless Steel Jubilee Bracelet

2021: The Sky-Dweller Gets a Jubilee Bracelet

While Rolex sought to make the Sky-Dweller feel more accessible in 2017, in 2021, it seems like they decided to double-down on the watch’s luxury appeal. Introducing a Jubilee bracelet – a five-piece link design comprising three rows of small center links flanked by two rows of larger links – to their Rolesor and stainless steel Sky-Dwellers, Rolex infused some extra flair into their most ‘accessible’ models.

Just like the Oyster bracelet versions, on the Yellow Rolesor model, the center links of the Jubilee are yellow gold. On the stainless steel or ‘White Rolesor’ model, the entire bracelet is made from stainless steel. Originally designed specifically for the Datejust and known to be used on the brand’s most stylish and dressy models – or just to elevate a watch, much like they did with the GMT-Master – the Jubilee bracelet is decidedly elegant, and gold only adds to that.

I think Rolex made this design upgrade for two reasons, the first was to emphasize the Sky-Dweller’s luxury appeal. While the addition of stainless steel grabs the attention of more collectors, it still pairs down the watch. Expanding the collection to include Jubilee bracelet models shows their commitment to this watch’s purpose – a stylish and luxurious GMT and calendar watch for cosmopolitan world travelers.

On the other hand, I think the move was also made to just bring more variety to the collection – the more options, the more people you can appeal to. And after a rough first few years, Rolex needs to capitalize on that when they can.

2021 Sky-Dweller References:

– Ref. 326934: Stainless Steel and White Gold Case, Stainless Steel and White Gold Bracelet, 2021 to present.

– Ref. 326933: Stainless Steel and Yellow Gold Case, Stainless Steel and Yellow Gold Bracelet, 2021 to present.

The Rolex Sky-Dweller: 10 Years & Counting

But now, after ten years of the Rolex Sky-Dweller with mostly just cosmetic changes, I think the next upgrade could be bigger. Maybe an upgrade to their most complicated movement yet? We’ll just have to wait and see. But to me, it feels like the Sky-Dweller is just hitting its stride, and maybe the best is yet to come.

Rolex Sky-Dweller History 326939 18k White Gold Roman Dial
Paul Altieri