The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II is the perfect example of the Rolex way: gradual modifications to an existing model, improving functionality and appearance. The 2017 Yacht-Master II doesn’t have all that much that is new – a triangular hour marker at 12 o’clock, a rectangular hour marker at 6 o’clock, new hour and minute hands that are visibly different – but it is an exceptional watch for the intelligence with which the Rolex designers have matched it to its function: timing the countdown to the start of a regatta. See more regatta countdown chronograph watches here.
A regatta is complicated because the actual start time is decided aboard the jury boat, according to the weather, the presence of oil tankers entering or leaving the harbour, whether the buoys have been positioned or not (I’m thinking of the sort of amateur regattas that the owner of a Yacht-Master II is likely to take part in). There is a first signal, typically ten or five minutes before the start. Then a second, say five or three minutes before the start, and another one minute before. So, it’s likely that you start your chronometer a few seconds late at the first signal. The second signal enables to you synchronize to perfection: when the gun goes off, you press the pusher.
A mechanical computer
The first thing that the skipper does is to programme the watch with the countdown duration, which depends on the regatta rules. You rotate the bezel – Rolex call it the Ring Command bezel – anticlockwise, which enables the countdown duration to be set by means of the crown. The bezel serves for only this: the numbers on the bezel match those of the countdown in minutes and provide visual reinforcement.
Launching the countdown
When the gun fires, the skipper presses the pusher at 2 o’clock, and the red seconds hand starts moving as in any chronograph. The countdown minute hand starts moving from the preset number of minutes on its way towards zero. When the second signal comes around – the skipper will be waiting for this – he or she gets a chance to synchronize the watch more exactly, by pressing the pusher at 4 o’clock. This is identical to the flyback function on a chronograph: the seconds hand whips back to zero and starts off again instantaneously. The minute hand moves to the nearest minute – after all, the watch will only be a few seconds out of synchronization and so there’s no chance of it going a minute forwards or back. It’s this part of the procedure that is so brilliant: synchronization on the fly. At the one-minute signal, the skipper can check that the watch is perfectly in time, and then direct the frenetic manoeuvres necessary to ensure that the boat crosses the start line just before the starting gun.
The watch was designed purely for this countdown function. After the start, the watch becomes a normal timepiece. Most of the dial is dedicated to the 10-minute countdown, with the numerals repeated on the bezel in larger format. This aids visibility during the chaos of flapping sails, flogging sheets, shouts and spray typical of the moments before crossing the start line. The time functions are of secondary importance but are clearly legible, with a subdial at 6 o’clock for continuous seconds.
The calibre 4161 movement was based on the chronograph calibre 4130 developed in 2000 for the Cosmograph Daytona, but – according to Rolex – the modifications took the incredible sum of 35,000 hours. The mechanism that allows the countdown duration to be set – this setting is remembered for the next countdown – is patented. The movement is certified by COSC, and the entire watch is tested by Rolex’s own Superlative Chronometer certification that offers guaranteed precision to the order of -2/+2 seconds deviation per day.
The watch is in steel, with a case 44 mm in diameter, fitted with an Oyster bracelet in steel with a 5mm comfort extension link. The caseback and crown are screw-down, and the case has a water-resistance rating of 100 metres. Hour markers and hands are coated in Chromalight for long-lasting luminescence. The 4161 calibre movement is self-winding and provides a power reserve of about 72 hours, 3 days.
Price and availability
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual Yacht-Master II in steel, case reference 116680, costs £13,700. It is also available in white gold, red gold and Everose pink gold versions. More information at the Rolex website.