Updated: Sep 25, 2020
Rolex introduced their Yacht-Master II in 2007. Therefore, for 13 years it has been one of only four pieces in their ‘large watch line up’ (along with the Sea Dweller, DeepSea and Sky-Dweller).
Rolex is one of the few larger mainstream brands that hasn’t succumbed to an extensive big watch line-up based on contemporary trends moving in such direction. Hell, even the most popular of their watches, the Daytona’s, Submariner’s and GMT’s only stand at a case size 40mm, which is by no means large under modern-day sports watch standards. Rolex is a brand that is constantly criticised for not making any exciting strides in the watchmaking industry. Instead, it clings on to its extraordinary brand image through hyper-inflated marketing spend and a deliberate restriction in production numbers of their staple pieces. Fans pour over new (but small) iterations of their staple ranges and we see demand spike through the roof. This can be from something as simple as changing the bracelet on the popular ‘Pepsi’ or ‘Batman’ GMT models. In my opinion, what fans are overlooking is the sheer differentiation, innovation, and glory that the YM2 should be held in.
Source: My Yachtmaster II on my pale freckling wrist
Firstly, the bad (or good depending on your point of view), it’s a big watch. At 44m wide, and 14mm thick, it is by no means the subtle watch of one’s collection. Just the size specifications alone detract from the versatility of this watch. This is before you even consider the absurdly brash ‘Yacht-Master’ lettering across the bottom of the bezel, and the enormous numbering of the chronograph fly-back countdown directly above this. The size, large lettering is also made that bit more brash by the gaudy three-tone colour design of the blue bezel, red second hands, and polar dial. When you combine all this with a busy dial and of course the overwhelmingly large stature of the watch, you most definitely have a ‘fuck you’ Rolex, which makes it feel, well not like a Rolex. This is assuming the watch is all in Oyster Steel, when you move up the model range and move to either the bi-metal two-tone rose gold version or the all yellow gold model, you do truly have a used car dealer’s ‘boy done good’ dream watch. Then there’s the ‘stealth wealth’ all white gold model with a platinum bezel, which undoubtedly says ‘hey I want a big watch but don’t want to be the flashiest one in the room'. For this review, I will be focusing on the entry-level all-steel model, as in my humble opinion, despite all the noise from naysayer critics about its brashness, is my favourite sports Rolex ever made.
So if this watch is so brash and worn by rappers and the likes, why should any keen horologist pay attention?
Well, this question poses several different answers.
Firstly, we have the movement. The patented Calibre 4161 movement is truly a piece of art. This movement has never been tackled by any other watchmaker in the history of watchmaking, despite many other brands like Omega, Panerai, and IWC all having distinct regatta models within their line-ups. The movement was made with a specific focus in mind, yacht racing. Yacht Racer’s needed a watch with a 10-minute countdown, that could be recalibrated with the countdown timer whistle as the yachts tack back and forward before the start of a yacht race. I can already feel that you are switching off as you are hearing this, so please watch this video if you truly want to understand the purpose of this watch. Have a look at the Rolex discovery page (https://www.rolex.com/watches/yacht-master.html) which is plagued with epic videos on its uses. To the layman, what this all means is that this is the first watch ever to have a mechanical memory, meaning that you can pre-set the countdown timer to any given start point (whether it be 10 minutes, 8 minutes or 3 minutes) commence the timer, and when you restart the chronograph it will re-set itself to the pre-determined start point, instead of the factory start point of 10 minutes. Given this is the only watch in the world that can do this, and was built for a clear purpose, it truly makes this watch one of the best pieces of sports watch horology on the market today.
Source: The extremely legible bezel accompanied with the regatta counter on the dial all have a purpose which is executed perfectly through Rolex's innovative dial design.
As an aside, the countdown timer is very useful in day to day life, and I often use it for cooking or other activities that require a countdown, although I do have to admit the mechanical memory aspect is somewhat pointless in day to day activities. Nevertheless, this does not detract from the truly superb bit of kit that this watch features inside its oyster steel case, all accessible through the easy to use ‘ring command’ bezel. The power reserve of 72 hours is also nice for the yacht broker who wants to switch to his dress watch for the weekend and still have his watch running Monday morning. The movement is COSC certified at -2/+2 seconds a day, adding another string to its bow in arguing that is indeed, a phenomenally engineered movement.
Source: Rolex.com. Here we see the COSC Certified Rolex 4161 movement which is one of, if not the, most complicated movement Rolex make today. Although these days Rolex do not boast complication after complication, when they do, they go outside the box.
The second reason this watch is the real deal is that it’s not your common Rolex. Despite a small subset of the customer base being flashy yuppies who want to flex with a larger Rolex, you don’t find it on the wrists of every city broker in London, it’s pretty niche in terms of when you can/can’t wear it, so it doesn’t haven’t the broad market appeal of your standard Rolex models. This watch is absolutely fabulous to wear whenever the sun is shining thanks to its nautical colour combination, and the solid blue Cerachrom bezel means it naturally pairs itself with jeans and T-shirt, and compliments the simplest of outfits as a standout piece. Its solid 100m waterproof resistance, screw-down triplock winding crown, and the double locking (and easily adjustable) bracelet clasp mean it is a watch you can take to the great outdoors. Even though it is not a versatile sports watch with very little hybrid dress watch crossover, it is undoubtedly a sport watch, purpose-built all whilst making a statement.
Finally, what irks me is that people criticise Rolex for not doing anything different and keeping ranges broadly in-line with one another and then when they release a watch that is truly different to any watch they have ever done before, they bitch and moan. This Rolex significantly stands out from any other piece in their line up, and indeed any other manufacturers competing watches. A decent rival to the YM2 just simply isn’t there and with competition being so nascent, what’s not to love about this watch other than the fact it’s a little louder than other Rolexes? What people overlook is that this watch has all the features that make other models so popular; like the beautifully tactile ceramic bezel, the flawless brushed and shined steel oyster bracelet, and a stand out colour combination all put together in an albeit large but beautiful case. Yet what makes this watch so truly special and unique is they have taken the popular Rolex features and introduced differentiated features like the ribbed piston pushers. To me, this watch is the pinnacle of sports watchmaking, and fans who turn up their nose at the brash exterior are missing the horological innovation and true Rolex differentiation that makes this watch so damn special.
You can bash on the YM2 all you want, but to me, it is perfectly flawed, and any watch enthusiast should be taking this piece seriously.