Hands-On – The Updated Rolex Yacht-Master II (and a look back at its great features)

Using the term ‘update’ when describing the “new” Rolex Yacht-Master II is almost an exercise in irony, as the changes made by the “Crown” to its Regatta watch are minimal. However, the reality is that we indeed have a new iteration of this niche model, although there has been no change to its reference number (Ref. 116680 for the steel version). Sounds like a good opportunity to look back at the Yacht-Master II and its great functionality.

The Updated Rolex Yacht-Master II

To keep things brief, the update concerns the dial only. In fact, details of the dial. The main objective of Rolex was to increase the legibility of this professional watch, in order to make sure that no confusion can possibly arise – and probably give it a bit more of Rolex DNA. For that, the dial of the Rolex Yacht-Master II now features a triangular hour marker at 12 o’clock and a rectangular hour marker at 6 o’clock for more intuitive reading of the watch – instead of square markers all around the dial. 12 and 6 markers are now clearly distinguished from the rest of the dial.

Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 - 2017 Version

The hands have also been updated. Before this facelift, the YM II featured rather thin baton hands (blued on the steel version, or matching the case on gold versions) with a splash of luminescent material. As of 2017, the Yacht-Master will rely on the iconic “Mercedes” hand for the hour, with a large luminescent disc, clearly distinguishing it from the minute hand -which is still a baton shape, however it now features a cut-out section so as not to obstruct the view of the Regatta countdown. This configuration is available for all Yacht-Master II models: in steel (Ref. 116680), in Everose Rolesor version combining steel and 18k Everose gold (Ref. 116681), in 18k yellow gold (ref. 116688) and in 18k white gold with platinum bezel (Ref. 116689).

Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 - 2017 Version

For the rest, the Rolex Yacht-Master II remains unchanged. It still relies on its 44mm case water-resistant to 100m, an Oyster bracelet with Oysterlock folding safety clasp and Easylink 5mm comfort extension link (the center link of the bracelet remains polished, while the rest is satin-finished), a Triplock winding crown, protected by a crown guard that is an integral part of the middle case, screwed caseback (plain, no sapphire crystal) and a blue ceramic bezel with platinum- or gold-PVD numerals and inscriptions (with the exception of the white gold version, which keeps it sold platinum bezel).

Inside, is the impressive calibre 4161, a mechanical chronograph movement with column wheel and vertical clutch exclusive to the Rolex Yacht-Master II (very different from the 4130 of the Daytona), with automatic winding in both directions, 72-hour power reserve, antimagnetic Parachrom hairspring and large balance wheel with variable inertia. This complex movement is, as is every Rolex calibre, certified as a Superlative Chronometer, having satisfied a series of tests conducted by Rolex in its own laboratories according to its own criteria, which exceed the COSC standards and which applies to the fully assembled watch, after casing the movement. This results in a a -2/+2 sec/day accuracy and a 5-year warranty.

Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 - 2017 Version

The Rolex Yacht-Master II in Action

The Rolex Yacht-Master II is a chronograph, however a very special type of chronograph, also called a Regatta watch or a Skipper watch. Indeed, don’t expect it to measure intervals of time, like most chronographs. For that, you should take a look at the iconic Daytona, a watch made to measure speeds (or anything else from one instant of time to another). The YM II is different. It features a programmable countdown with a mechanical memory that can be synchronized on the fly. This watch, as we said in the intro, is very niche, answering to the specific needs for precise timing during the crucial starting sequence of a regatta.

While this might sound complex at first, and while the display of its dial is rather unique, the Rolex Yacht-Master II is, on the contrary, an extremely intuitive watch. This watch is all about man / machine interaction and natural use of the commands, thanks to one clever feature, the “Ring Command Bezel” (which is now also used in the Sky-Dweller) and refers to a bezel that is not there to keep track of events but is integrated in the chain of actions and interacts directly with the movement.

Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 - 2017 Version

Because the crown and the two pushers were already utilized to set time / wind the movement or act on the start / reset of the chronograph functions, Rolex had to imagine a new way to set the countdown, without adding a third pusher on the case (which in Rolex’s minds would have been heresy). The idea was to create a bezel that interacts with the movement. Rotating the bezel 90° gives access to the programming function of the countdown duration, which is set via the winding crown. Turning the Ring Command bezel back in the other direction then locks and memorizes the programming.

How does it work in real life – or at least during a regatta? Unlike racing cars, regatta boats can’t stand immobile on a starting line. Thus, they sail around the starting line, waiting for the departure, which means it’s crucial to know the exact moment of the departure. The starting procedure of a regatta generally unfolds in three stages, marked by sound and visual signals. This preparatory phase lasts from 5 to 10 minutes according to the type of regatta. This where you start to use the Rolex Yacht-Master II for what it is.

Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 - 2017 Version

The procedure in details:

  • Phase 1 – programming – The skipper programmes a countdown duration of up to 10 minutes on his Yacht-Master II according to the regatta rules. For that, he just needs to rotate the bezel 90 degrees, set the right duration with the crown and the central red arrow hand on the dial will position to the right timing. Once programmed, the countdown duration is mechanically memorized so that when the countdown is reset, it automatically keeps exactly the same setting. Rotating the bezel back to its initial position locks and memorizes the programming.
  • Phase 2 – launching the countdown – a gun shot and a flag signal the start of the regatta countdown. The skipper launches the countdown by pressing the pusher at 2. The centre seconds hand starts running and indicates elapsed seconds in the same way as a traditional chronograph. The red arrow hand indicates the remaining minutes on the 10- to 0-minute countdown scale on the dial.
  • Phase 3 – Synchronization – Race officials give a first preparatory signal by firing the gun a second time and hoisting another flag. The skipper has an opportunity to synchronize the watch countdown with the official countdown – to make sure his timing session is precise. For that, he’ll just have to press the pusher at 4 that acts like a flyback. The second hand (and only that hand, the countdown hand still runs) reset on the fly and it runs again as soon as the pusher is released. The countdown minute hand is automatically synchronized to the nearest minute to compensate for any premature or delayed launch of the chronograph at the first signal.
  • Phase 4 – Synchronization 2, one minute before the start – A second preparatory signal is given with a blast of a horn, and the lowering of a flag. The skipper can check at a glance that the countdown of the Yacht-Master II is properly synchronized with the official timing.
  • Phase 5 – start of the race – A last gun shot and lowering of a flag indicates the start of the race. If the skipper managed to use the Yacht-Master II correctly, it will accurately indicate the departure time to the closest second. With this, he or she will benefit from the advantage of knowing exactly what time the race has officially started.

Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 - 2017 Version

As you’ve seen, the Rolex Yacht-Master II is a complex watch, with a proper purpose-built concept behind it. Of course, it shouldn’t be reduced just to the regatta use, however this function remains very restricted outside of this context. The Yacht-Master II is a often seen as a statement watch, as the largest proposition in the catalogue (together with the Deep-Sea), with the exclusivity of being available in various materials, including precious ones. Rolex.com.


Technical Specifications – Rolex Yacht-Master II 2017

  • Case: 44mm diameter – steel / steel and 18k rose gold / 18k yellow gold / 18k white gold – ceramic bezel or solid platinum bezel – sapphire crystal on the dial side – 100m water resistant
  • Movement: calibre 4161, in-house – Superlative Chronometer certified – automatic – 72h power reserve – 4Hz frequency – hours, minutes, small second, regatta chronograph with programmable regatta countdown with mechanical memory,
    retrograde minute hand and central second hand
  • Bracelet: 3-link Oyster bracelet with Oysterlock folding safety clasp and Easylink 5mm comfort extension link
  • Price / Reference:
    • Steel – 116680 – EUR 17,150
    • Steel and Rose gold – 116681 – EUR 23,050
    • Yellow gold – 116688 – EUR 39,900
    • White gold / platinum – 116689 – EUR 44,100

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