As Rolex launches another year’s worth of new watches, we bring you our first-reaction analysis from the man who literally wrote the book on Rolex.
By James Dowling
If Rolex is known for anything (apart from waterproof, automatic watches), it is for being a company where products arrive at a pace similar to that of glaciers. And 2017 was no different. There were few genuinely new products, only evolutionary ones, but they filled previously unknown gaps in the product line, and I can guarantee that every one I discuss here will be big sellers, with one exception, which I will save until the end.
Unlike most other brands, Rolex is not big on anniversaries; but this year they have celebrated the 50th anniversary of the Sea Dweller‘s launch by introducing a totally new version, in a 43mm case, it pays homage to the first model by having the words Sea Dweller in red on the dial, but, unlike the first version, it does not carry the Submariner text as well.
The breakthrough for the model is that half a century after its introduction, it now has gained a Cyclops crystal (leaving the Deep Sea as the only Oyster Professional without one). This new watch replaces the 40mm Sea Dweller which was relaunched less than half a decade ago, making it one of the shortest production runs of any contemporary Rolex, I foresee a rapid collector demand for both the recently deleted and the newly introduced versions. It will cost £8,350.
The new Yachtmaster, in everrose gold on the Oysterflex bracelet has been one of the most successful launches for the firm in recent years, now the Oysterflex bracelet has been added to the Daytona precious metal range, replacing the leather straps on the previous versions; the simple change of strap has dramatically transformed the watches.
Previously the metal bracelets were seen as sporty and the skin straps as a more formal rendition, but the change to the (we must never call them rubber) Oysterflex strap completely reverses the roles. The white gold version with the ceramic bezel & Oysterflex strap is my current lust watch. In yellow gold it will set you back £20,200; in white gold or everrose, £21,050.
One of the most collectible of all vintage Rolex watches is the reference 6062 Oyster Moonphase and the most surprising arrival this year has been its successor the Rolex Cellini Moonphase, using the Cellini Date model as a base, which mirrors the 6062 by having the date around the periphery of the dial and indicated by a pointer.
Reflecting the heritage of the 6062 even further the new Cellini has a coin edge bezel and a slightly domed back. I like the fact that the moon indicator is made from a piece of meteorite, giving this celestial watch a genuinely astronomical touch. For this, the new flagship Cellini (and the first Rolex moonphase in around sixty years), you would pay £19,650.
I have loved the Sky-Dweller since its introduction, but it was always expensive and the dial seemed much too cluttered for my liking.
With the introduction of the Rolesor, or steel/gold in Rolex speak, versions, the first problem has been solved and with the substitution of simple batons for applied Arabic numerals the second one has also disappeared; the steel version with a white gold bezel is now surprisingly affordable for a Oyster Perpetual Annual Calendar watch with a second time zone. This version retails at £10,600, whereas the yellow gold model above would be £12,600.
I must be brutally honest and say that I never understood the Yacht-Master II. It may be the most complicated watch that Rolex makes, but as I don’t own a yacht, nor aspire to the ownership of one, I have always seen it as the answer to a question that nobody asked. And, it was very expensive compared to its sibling the Daytona. Now the second problem has been answered with the launch of an all steel version, I fear that it may be a much longer wait to find an solution to the first one. For those that are interested, it would cost £13,700.
On much more neutral ground is the new Datejust 41 in white gold and steel “Rolesor” guise. Truthfully there isn’t much more to add than that, but as heartland Rolex goes it is a pretty, sensible and commercially sound addition to the Oyster family. It’s also not unreasonably priced, at £6,900.
The most old fashioned department at Rolex is the jewel setting department at Chene Bourg, which looks pretty much like any jeweller’s workshop form the 19th Century, but the workmanship carried out there is superb, the equal of the classic jewellery houses; however the products themselves are rarely to my liking and this certainly is true with the two versions of the Yacht-Master 40 launched today.
Informally known as the ‘Tutti Frutti” watches they have a range of coloured sapphires and diamonds on the bezel, replacing the austere Matt black ceramid of the original. As Mark Twain is claimed to have said “For people who like this sort of thing, this is the sort of thing that they will like”. It retails at £48,100.
But I am not going to end this despatch on a bum note, rather I will leave you to ponder the dilemma I now find myself struggling with; do I buy the new Sky-Dweller or the white gold Daytona on the Oysterflex? It may be an evolutionary Basel for Rolex, but, on the other hand, I cant remember the last time that they introduced two watches that I would love to own.
Read James’s take on the 2016 watches from Rolex, including the Air King and new Daytona, here.