Keeping Watch With The Rolex Yacht-Master II
December 28, 2017 | BY Christian Barker
Rolex continues its association with nautical pursuits, with its updated Yacht-Master II timepiece playing an invaluable role in the cockpits of racing yachts around the world, not least the coming China Sea Race
It’s not surprising that Rolex, as a great innovator in the field of waterproof watches and a leader in precision timekeeping, has long gravitated to the world of competitive yachting.
In a discipline where every split second counts, where the timepieces measuring results and assisting in navigation must not only be unerringly accurate but also impervious to the elements, Rolex’s peerless “tool watches” truly come into their own. Of course, the Swiss watchmaker is also renowned for the luxurious craftsmanship of its products, making it even more of an apt match with the rarefied pursuit of yachting—and its affluent enthusiasts.
Highly legible and impeccably waterproofed, Rolex’s seminal diver’s watch, the Submariner, found favour with yachtsmen from the moment it was released in 1954. Nevertheless, in the 1960s, the company experimented with a model specifically tailored for sailors, producing a handful of prototype Yacht-Master chronographs, melding the performance timekeeping of the Daytona with the anti-moisture properties of the Submariner.
The contemporary Yacht-Master, however, wouldn’t be launched until 1992, when Rolex gave the trademark to a new sporty time/date watch that was essentially a more luxurious, elegant spin on the Submariner.
The association between Rolex and yachting dates back to the Submariner’s earliest days. Rolex made its first official yachting alliance in the late 1950s, partnering with the New York Yacht Club, and has forged relationships with many more of the world’s most exclusive oceangoing clubs and associations in the six decades since, including the Yacht Club Costa Smeralda, the Royal Ocean Racing Club and Royal Yacht Squadron in the UK, the Cruising Yacht Club of Australia, Yacht Club de Monaco, Société Nautique de Saint-Tropez, and the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club.
Since the Yacht-Master’s 1992 launch, Rolex has catered to the needs of the privileged members of these clubs by gradually evolving the model, which is today available in steel and platinum, steel and patented Everose gold, and all-Everose gold cases, with a variety of dial treatments. In 2007, to provide a more functional iteration suited to the demands of yachting competition, Rolex released the Yacht-Master II, a flyback yacht-timer chronograph.
This horological marvel boasts one of the more specialised complications in watchmaking, a regatta timer, which is used by the captain of a yacht to calculate the precise moment the vessel can launch from a holding pattern and cross a regatta’s starting line. It fulfils a vital timekeeping need for skippers in competition, as boats crossing the line early will be penalised, while those to go late will lose valuable race time.
In truth, many buyers of the Yacht-Master II will be primarily attracted by its striking nautical aesthetic and may have infrequent use for the regatta chronograph’s programmable countdown. Not so competitors in the coming China Sea Race, who’ll find this recherché complication a valuable resource—one that could make the difference between triumph and defeat.
Rolex is today the title sponsor of 15 major yachting events, most notably (at least for individuals situated in this part of the world) the legendary Sydney to Hobart, and the China Sea Race. The latter regatta first took place in 1962 and has been held on a biennial basis ever since, becoming part of the World Ocean Racing Championships in 1968. The race begins in Hong Kong’s Victoria Harbour and charts a course of 565 nautical miles (about 1,000 kilometres) to finish in Subic Bay, the Philippines.
Considered Asia’s premier blue-water classic, the Rolex China Sea Race—which is hosted by the Royal Hong Kong Yacht Club (RHKYC)—was awarded Best Asian Regatta of the Year for the fourth time at the recent Asia Boating Awards in Singapore. Receiving the award on stage alongside RHKYC vice commodore John Woo, race chairman Simon Powell remarked, “We are delighted to win this award again as it shows that the club and its key sponsor, Rolex, continue to deliver an outstanding event as Asia’s oldest and most prestigious blue-water classic.”
Just five yachts took part in the inaugural 1962 China Sea Race, while up to 67 vessels—both vintage and modern craft—have been in competition for the prize in more recent instalments. The 2018 event, which will take place from March 28, will see competitors vying to beat the all-time record of 47 hours, 31 minutes and eight seconds set by Alive in 2016. We have a sneaking suspicion which watch these master yachtsmen will be using to keep time.
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