Thursday, September 23, 2021

Sir Ben Ainslie: Yacht-Master 42 in Titanium




...THE RETURN OF THE TOOL WATCH...



A Stealth Rolex Prototype 


Hiding in Plain Sight





Yacht-Master 42 in Titanium





FOR THE FIRST TIME EVER


ROLEX MAKES A TITANIUM WATCH


By Capt. DANNY CRIVELLO


There is a famous story about André Heiniger, the CEO of Rolex from 1962 to 1992. He was once asked by a friend how things were faring in the watch business. "I have no idea," Heiniger quickly replied. "Rolex is not in the watch business. We are a luxury business."


Indeed, Rolex is well known today for being a luxury brand rather than the watchmaker of choice for the adventurers, divers, pilots and astronauts who are profiled in these pages. The introduction of the Explorer in steel and yellow gold this year is the brand's latest example of firmly claiming the luxury space regardless of history.


Sir Ben Ainslie rocking his Titanium Yacht-Master




So it's highly unusual for Rolex to take an existing model like the Yacht-Master 42 and revamp it to drastically eschew all manner of luxury, making it more dull, less complicated and with a thinner strap—all for pure practical sake. 


What is even more unusual for Rolex is to request a new model to be tested by professionals in real-world conditions before its introduction to the public. This is COMEX-level watch development: In the 1970s, Rolex asked a French diving company to help perfect its Submariners and Sea-Dwellers watches by taking them on real-world dives and saturations. 







In creating a watch especially designed for the most competitive regattas, Rolex approached the most successful Olympic sailor of all time, Sir Ben Ainslie, and asked him to take the watch on real races, like the America's Cup or the SailGP. 

Actual pictures of Rolex's first titanium watch are hard to come by. I've requested more pictures from Rolex, and Rolex politely responded: "We do not wish to communicate more about this model than what we already have." The cynics will call it pure marketing genius; I call it a laser-beam focus on engineering the next tool watch.




This is the first time Rolex has created a watch with a titanium case. Breitling, Omega, Grand Seiko, IWC and even Richard Mille have done it. Vacheron Constantin announced a titanium model just this week. Of course, the Pelagos from Rolex's sister company Tudor is in titanium. The lightness of a titanium case is sometimes a turnoff for customers, who equate heft with luxury.







In 2019, I was fortunate enough to be invited by Rolex at Baselworld for what turned out to be the last Baselworld. I had Rolex's first appointment on the first day reserved for the press. So I was essentially the first one to try on the white-gold Yacht-Master 42 and report about it.




The combination of perfect lighting in the Rolex press room, the brilliance and sparkle of the white gold from the case, and the piece's slightly increased size gave it an undeniable aura. Its unexpected heft added to the experience, as my brain was still trying to compute how a steel-looking watch equipped with a rubber strap can pack so much mass. 


Compared to steel, titanium lacks the heft, the luster and is arguably less attractive while it is more expensive to produce. It doesn’t take to polish as well as steel either, which is why you often see titanium watches with matte or blasted finishes.




This new Yacht-Master 42 case is in "anthracite grey," according to Rolex, with a matte finish. In short, it stands at the diametrical opposite of fire emoji on the Instagram wrist-shot spectrum. 


Then Rolex removes the date complication and puts it on a black NATO.


Pardon, vous pouvez répéter ?


Rolex never develops a watch to then downgrade the complication years later. To be sure, the brand offers the Submariner and the Submariner Date. But the date version of a model tends to succeed the no-date version, not the other way around. Here Rolex decided to de-complicate the Yacht-Master 42 and make it as simple as possible, improving the symetry and legibility of the dial. The movement on this new Yacht-Master, Rolex said, is its latest: the 3230 introduced in 2020.




Still, with this new Yacht-Master, Rolex has reclaimed its roots as a tool watchmaker: the watch is made of a metal that weighs around half as much as stainless steel. Pound-for-pound, titanium has the highest strength-to-weight ratio of any known metal. And for the first time, a Rolex NATO is provided with the watch, keeping it secure in case of spring bar failure. The NATO, according to Rolex, combines Cordura with "high-performance elastomer." The NATO has a Velcro, which allows for easy adjustment whether on the wrist or over technical clothing. 

I reached out to Sir Ainslie and he told me he never takes his titanium watch off, which might be the lightest Rolex has ever made. "Every little bit of weight that we can save helps us to go faster," Sir Ainslie said. 

"Best watch I've ever worn, says it all," he finally told me. 













One more thing... 

When I discussed the article with Jake, he said that the lack of a date complication on the Yacht-Master in titanium gave it a vintage tool-watch vibe. Then he added: "Do you know what this looks hearkens to? A Mil-Sub." He is right!






1968 Rolex Ad: No-Date Sub and Sailing





1977 America's Cup Sailing Rolex Ad