Rolex’s origins, and its reputation, have been founded on creating watches that were first and foremost practical tools, designed to withstand the unkindest treatment and come out smiling on the other side. The sublime looks were a secondary, albeit vital, by-product.
By the 1980s however, their incredible success had made it obvious the brand was now the ultimate status symbol. Their watch’s capacity to survive the crushing pressures of a saturation dive or accurately time laps in the Indy 500 had become less important for customers than their ability to catch the eye across a crowded room.
Precious metal and diamond bedecked versions of some of the crown’s most popular sports models started to emerge from behind the Rolex curtain, and were immediately snapped up by the eager and the wealthy.
In 1992, the company went one step further and did away with all pretense when they released the first Yacht-Master. What had started out, if rumors are to be believed, as an abortive attempt to update the venerable Submariner’s design, was instead launched as its own entity; an unashamedly luxurious watch for the maritime-minded.
The first ‘new’ model (for want of a better word) Rolex had made since the Daytona in 1964, the Yacht-Master came with an added touch of sophistication over the more brutish appearance of the Sub on which it is so clearly based. Not a watch to accompany you on an underwater adventure, but one to wear as you stroll the polished decks of a floating palace or sip cocktails in the club at day’s end.
The subject of this week’s Bob’s Spotlight, our beautiful reference Rolex 16623, is from one of the most revered variations released in 2005—a two-tone 18k gold and stainless steel (known as Rolesor in Rolex-ese) example that treads the fine line between all-out decadence and highly-capable nautical device.
The Yacht-Master became the first Rolex sports watch available in three different sizes, with a 29mm lady’s version and a 35mm midsize sitting alongside the larger 40mm, sometimes known as the Jumbo.
Although sharing the styling cues and case size of the Submariner, the Yacht-Master’s graceful lugs and softer lines give it a more understated presence on the wrist. Water resistance to 100m rather than 300m has seen it able to trim its waistline too, with the flatter underbelly making it a more comfortable all-day wear.
Some early references were criticized for a lack of contrast, with dials and hands blending together and affecting legibility. By the time the Rolex Yacht-Master 16623 was released, Rolex had addressed the problem and the silver slate Maxi dial on our Yacht-Master scans perfectly against the broad, lume-filled hands and indexes.
The bi-directional bezel is solid gold, with embossed and polished numerals standing out against the sandblasted surround, a lustrous accent that is echoed along the center links of the Oyster bracelet. Unusually for a Rolesor model, the ref. 16623’s crown, sitting between its rounded guards, is made from stainless steel rather than gold. It’s a small feature, but one that has a great effect and helps differentiate the watch against the two-tone versions of the Submariner.
Inside, the 40mm Yacht-Masters have all been powered by the workhorse caliber 3135, the most widely-used and reliable engine in Rolex’s catalog. Invented in 1988 and with only minimal upgrades required for the last 30 years, it is recognized as one of the finest watch movements ever made.
Crucially for a sports watch, the Parachrom Bleu hairspring in the cal. 3135 offers ten times greater shock resistance than conventional oscillator hairsprings, while also guaranteeing the level of timekeeping precision for which Rolex is synonymous. The ‘Skipper’s Watch’ may be boldly extravagant, but it is still a highly capable performer, well suited to handling the extremes of a life on the ocean waves.
However, the most appealing thing about the original Yacht-Masters is now the price. Because of their exclusively precious metal manufacture, brand new versions of the watch have always been on the more bank account-stretching end of the budget. On the pre-owned market, having dispensed with the inherent depreciation that affects all luxury goods, a flawless Rolex Yacht-Master 16623 can now be as affordable as a fresh-out-of-the-box Submariner. And because of their relative scarcity when compared to the dive watch, they represent an excellent investment.
The model we have here at Bob’s is one such example. An immaculate timepiece in perfect condition, the combination of yellow gold against the masculinity of the steel makes it an alluring alternative.
Head to our online store for the finest choice of authentic pre-owned Rolexes and check out the beautiful Rolex Yacht-Master 16623 for yourself.