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History and Evolution of the Rolex Yacht-Master
History and Evolution of the Rolex Yacht-Master

More luxurious than the Submariner, sportier than the Datejust, and simpler than the GMT-Master, the Rolex Yacht-Master is the brand’s nautical-inspired luxury sports watch. The Yacht-Master is also one of the younger Rolex watch collections having first made its debut in the 1990s. Join us as we dive into the history and evolution of the Rolex Yacht-Master

Yellow Gold Yacht-Master 16628

While Rolex had been a longtime supporter of sailing and experimented with a Yacht-Master dial prototype in the 1960s, it was not until the 1990s that the Crown unveiled a watch officially dedicated to nautical lifestyle. The first model to kick off the YM collection was the Yacht-Master ref. 16628. Crafted almost entirely in 18k yellow gold, it was clear from the onset that Rolex was positioning the Yacht-Master as a sports watch with plenty of style and flair. In fact, at a quick glance, the Yacht-Master and the Submariner share quite a few design traits.

Yacht-Master 16628 with mother-of-pearl dial
The yellow gold Yacht-Master 16628 was the first in the collection

The Yacht-Master ref. 16628 features a 40mm Oyster case topped with a bi-directional rotating timing bezel marked to 60 minutes. The Yacht-Master dial is similar to other Rolex Oyster Professional watches with the familiar Mercedes-style center hands, in addition to the mix of round, rectangular and triangular hour markers. To emphasize the opulent nature of the watch, Rolex also offered dial versions with ruby-set hour markers, sapphire-set hour markers, and black onyx-set hour markers. The Yacht-Master includes a date window at 3 o’clock along with the customary Cyclops magnification lens above it, affixed to the exterior of the sapphire crystal.

Yacht-Master 16628B with Ruby-Set Dial
Yellow Gold Yacht-Master 16628B With Ruby-Set Dial

Rolex opted to fit the Yacht-Master with an Oyster bracelet and like all its automatic date/time models of the era, the watch ran on Caliber 3135. Rolex continued to produce the Yacht-Master 16628 until around 2011 and never replaced it with another full yellow gold Yacht-Master after that.

The ladies’ yellow gold Yacht-Master ref. 69628 with a 29mm case and the midsize yellow gold Yacht-Master ref. 68628 with a 35mm case joined the collection in 1994.

The Rolesium Yacht-Master 16622

In 1999, Rolex introduced a brand new version of the Yacht-Master in a metal combination the brand calls Rolesium. While Rolesor is Rolex’s term for combining gold and steel on a watch, Rolesium is the brand’s name for using platinum and steel together on a watch. The Yacht-Master was the first (and remains the only) Rolex Rolesium model.

Rolesium Yacht-Master 16622 Brings Together Platinum and Stainless Steel

On top of the Rolesium Yacht-Master ref. 16622‘s 40mm steel case is a platinum bezel with high polished raised numerals on a sandblasted background. What’s more, the platinum dial also features a sandblasted finish, along with pops of red on the seconds hand and the YACHT-MASTER label.

The Oyster bracelet is fashioned from stainless steel but also combines a mix of finishes with high-polished center links flanked by brushed center links. Therefore, while the Rolesium Yacht-Master ref. 16622 is monochromatic due to its use of white metals, there is plenty of textural interest thanks to the range of surface finishes.

Rolesium Yacht-Master 116622
The updated Rolesium Yacht-Master 116622, first released in 2012

Rolex also made the Rolesium Yacht-Master with a ladies’ 29mm size (ref. 69622 then ref. 169622 ) and a midsize 35mm size (ref. 68622 then ref. 168622).

In 2012, Rolex replaced Yacht-Master ref. 16622 with the Yacht-Master ref. 116622, which features an upgraded clasp with the Eaasylink extension system and the blue Chromalight lume instead of the green lume.

Yellow Rolesor Yacht-Master 16623

The Rolesor Yacht-Master ref. 16623 in a two-tone colorway mixing yellow gold and stainless steel joined the lineup in 2005.

Yellow Rolesor Yacht-Master 16623
Yellow Rolesor Yacht-Master 16623

Interestingly, Rolex already made yellow Rolesor Yacht-Master models but in smaller sizes. The two-tone midsize 35mm Yacht-Master ref. 68623 and two-tone ladies’ 29mm Yacht-Master ref. 69623 were released in 1995 and later replaced by the upgraded 168623 and 169623 references, respectively, in the early 2000s.

Two-Tone Rolex Yacht-Master

The Yacht-Master 16623, however, was the first two-tone version in the men’s 40mm size. The 40mm stainless steel case includes an 18k yellow gold bezel, complete with raised numerals in a high polished finish. Furthermore, the two-tone Oyster bracelet of the Yacht-Master 16623 features yellow gold center links flanked by two rows of stainless steel

Rolex eventually discontinued the yellow Rolesor Yacht-Master 16623 in 2016 to make way for another type of two-tone YM, which we will discuss shortly below.

Everose Gold Yacht-Master 116655

In 2015, Rolex released the Yacht-Master 116655, which was not only the first Yacht-Master crafted from Everose gold (Rolex’s patented rose gold alloy) but also the very first Rolex fitted with an Oysterflex bracelet. The Oysterflex bracelet is Rolex’s approach to a black rubber strap, comprised of a metal titanium nickel alloy blade covered in a black elastomer coating.

Everose Gold Yacht-Master models introduced at Baselworld 2015
Everose Gold Yacht-Master models introduced at Baselworld 2015

Additionally, the Everose gold Yacht-Master 116655 includes a black Cerachrom (Rolex’s proprietary ceramic alloy) bezel–another first for the collection. Matching the black bracelet and black bezel of the Yacht-Master ref. 116655 is the black dial, punctuated with rose gold surrounds framing the lume plots and rose gold Mercedes-style hands.

That same year, Rolex also introduced the Everose gold and black Oysterflex Yacht-Master ref. 268655 with a smaller 37mm case size. This new case size effectively replaced the previous ladies and midsize versions of the Yacht-Master as Rolex has now stopped making the 35mm and 29mm editions.

Everose Rolesor Yacht-Master 116621

As previously mentioned, Rolex discontinued the yellow gold and stainless steel Yacht-Master model. However, taking the place of that two-tone version is the new Rolesor Yacht-Master ref. 116621, which combines rose gold and steel, presented in 2016.

The 40mm stainless steel case of the Yacht-Master ref. 116621 includes a rotating bezel in 18k Everose gold. And like previous versions, the raised numerals on the bezel are high-polished, providing a contrast to the sandblasted background.

Rolesor Yacht-Master 116621
Rolesor Yacht-Master 116621 brings together 18k Everose gold and stainless steel

In true Rolex two-tone fashion, the Oyster bracelet of the Rolesor Yacht-Master ref. 116621 includes rose gold center links in between the exterior steel links. The bracelet also comes with the practical Easylink adjustment system on the clasp.

Yacht-Master With Caliber 3235

Just this year at Baselworld 2019, Rolex unveiled a new batch of Yacht-Master 40 references, all fitted with the new-generation Caliber 3235 automatic movement with an increased power reserve of 72 hours. There’s the Everose gold and Oysterflex Yacht-Master ref. 126655, the steel and platinum Rolesium Yacht-Master ref. 126622, and the Everose gold and steel Rolesor Yacht-Master ref. 126621.

With these new releases, all previous 40mm Yacht-Master ref. 1166xx references are now discontinued.

White Gold Yacht-Master 42 226659

The big news that came out of the Rolex pavilion at Baselworld 2019 was the launch of the Yacht-Master ref. 226659. With its new 42mm case size, this is the biggest Yacht-Master to date and the first to be made in white gold.

The History and Evolution of the Rolex Yacht-Master: The Current YM 226659

Similar to its Everose gold sibling, Rolex fitted white gold Yacht-Master 226659 with a black Cerachrom bezel, a black Oysterflex bracelet, and a black dial. Under the solid white gold caseback is also the automatic Caliber 3255 movement.

While the Rolex Yacht-Master has been around for less than three decades, it’s clear that this has been an active part of the company’s catalog. The history and evolution of the Rolex Yacht-Master have paved the way for a bevy of sizes, metals, and styles to choose among current-production and pre-owned Yacht-Master models. This is the perfect watch model if you’re looking for a sporty Rolex with some serious flair.

Written by

Celine Simon

Celine is a freelance luxury watch writer who has enjoyed working in the horology industry for over ten years. Like many of the high-end timepieces she writes about, she comes from Switzerland—the heart of fine watchmaking. From Singapore to Montreal to Geneva to Dubai, Celine has lived all over the world but now calls Southern California home.