In our latest head-to-head (spoiler: you can’t really make a wrong decision), we’re pitting two nautically-themed titans against each other: one perhaps the most famous Rolex of them all, the other heading towards future classic status.
The Rolex Submariner has been the world’s favorite dive watch for generations now, arriving way back in 1953 and gaining immortality as James Bond’s original gadget of choice. An unqualified success whether in its civilian or military role, the Submariner range split in the 1960s into a date and non-date version – the former going on to be released in a variety of precious metal configurations, alongside the ubiquitous stainless steel models.
As for the Rolex Yacht Master, its roots are very much intertwined with the Submariner. It is believed that during the 80s, Rolex made the decision to completely revamp the all-conquering dive watch, for reasons they alone know. Fortunately, changing the design of their most popular model finally struck someone as a bad idea and the plans were abandoned. However, the work the designers had already carried out was deemed too good to shelve, and it was decided to release it as a separate entity – a more luxurious take on the classic. The Yacht-Master entered the scene in 1992, and would go on to become the first sports watch from Rolex to be released in three sizes – a ladies 29mm, a mid-size 35mm, and the full-size 40mm.
Since its release, the Yacht-Master has developed into one of the most aesthetically varied ranges within the Professional Collection lineup. Due to the wide range of materials and styles, we are going to compare two examples from each series that are as closely matched as possible; the ref. 116610LN Submariner Date and the ref. 126622 Yacht-Master 40. Prices: the base model Yacht-Master Reference 126622 has a current retail price of $11,800 USD and the base model Submariner 116610 has a retail price of $8,550 as of 2019.
Rolex Yacht-Master vs. Submariner: The Case
When initially released, the Yacht-Master was an entirely precious metal watch, the original run comprising only of yellow gold pieces. Since then, models in Everose with Cerachrom bezels appeared, as well as a number in Rolesor (Rolex’s own name for a combination of steel and gold). However, along with the more traditional two-tone steel and gold variations, the Yacht-Master also introduced what is known as Rolesium – the brand’s combination of a stainless steel case with a platinum bezel.
The ref. 126622 arrived this year, sporting an updated movement from 2016’s ref. 116622. At 40mm, it is technically the same size as our competing Sub; however, underlining its more opulent bearing, it has retained the gracefully sweeping profile that is more commonly seen on earlier Rolex watches. The Submariner has adopted the beefed-up, angular lugs and crown guards of the Super Case, lending to far more presence on the wrist, and splitting the odd opinion or two.
Even so, there is no getting away from the fact that the two look very similar. The YachtMaster is perhaps the more sleek and showy; the Submariner, by comparison, a rather low-key, everyday choice. One other thing you will likely notice from trying on both – it has a thinner and flatter caseback, making it a more comfortable wear in many people’s eyes. It is due to it only needing 100m of water resistance, whereas the Submariner’s 300m depth dating calls for more bulk.
The defining element of many of Rolex’s tool watches, the bezel on the contemporary Submariner has been forged from Cerachrom, an insanely tough ceramic alloy that is resistant to scratching and fading. In keeping with diving timepiece standards, the bezel insert is marked for 60 minutes, with hash marks for the first 15, and it is unidirectional (only turns one way, a crucial safety feature).
With the Yacht-Master, its bezel rotates in both directions and is made from the most luxurious of all precious metals: solid 950 platinum. Like the Sub, it also shows 60 minute gradations, but they are embossed—raised from the surface rather than engraved. The Yacht-Master’s bezel has a much softer action than the Submariner’s, which revolves with 120 well-defined clicks.
And the final thing that made its introduction with the Yacht-Master; it was the first model to adopt Rolex’s Maxi dial. The larger indexes and fatter hands have been as controversial as the Super Case, but there’s no doubting it makes the face more legible. The ref. 126622 comes with a choice of two dials; in dark rhodium and sunburst blue.
Because the platinum and steel in the watch’s makeup are both white metals, the rhodium dial provides a head-to-toe monochromatic look, broken up only by the bright turquoise on the seconds hand and single line of text. Alternatively, the blue has a real eye-catching contrast and is becoming a hot favorite, especially with its sparingly used bright red detailing on the seconds hand and ‘Yacht-Master’ name.
The Submariner ref. 116610LN is finished with the classic black dial that we all know and love – as you would hope on such a traditional watch. Coupled with the clean white markers and handset, it makes for perfect legibility, whether underwater or sitting at your desk.
Until this year, both watches were powered by the same movement – the incredible workhorse that is the Cal. 3135. It is the engine which has been driving the Submariner since 1988, and it is still the one inside the current ref. 116610LN that Rolex sells today. 30-years old or not though, it is a formidable mechanism, accurate to within -2/+2 seconds a day, and fitted with some of the latest in cutting-edge components, such as Rolex’s siogniture Blue Parachrom hairspring.
Rolex unveiled the Yacht-Master 126622 at the most recent Baselworld, ostensibly the same as the old watch except for an updated movement: the Caliber 3235. Representing the next generation of Rolex’s in-house, date-displaying movements, the Cal. 3235 has been fitted with an all-new escapement (called the Chronergy) which is reportedly 15% more efficient than before and offers an improved 70-hour power reserve. Obviously the way Rolex are going with their movements, it is only a matter of time before the Submariner is given the same.
Although clearly cut from the same cloth, there is nevertheless a world of difference between the Rolex Yacht-Master and the Submariner. The Sub these days is the more understated choice. Its brushed surfaces and strict black and white palette don’t shout for attention, yet it’s still brawny enough to get noticed.
The Yacht-Master has always been unapologetically opulent, without the same tool watch origins as the Sub. Of the pair, it is the one more likely to get the looks, its slimmer lines with polished lugs and center links making it the dressy option.
But, as we said at the beginning when choosing between a Rolex Yacht-Master and a Submariner there really is no wrong choice!