I’m going to be completely honest: I was thoroughly prepared to have a negative reaction to this watch. Let’s face it; it’s a head-scratcher for the average Rolex/Submariner/GMT Master/Day-Date lover. First of all it’s pretty damned big. This is a cheap replica Rolex 44 mm watch; it was born a 44 mm watch and it’ll die a 44 mm watch and that is nothing you or anybody else can do about it. You can have it in four different metals, and therefore, weights, ranging from steel (heavy) to gold/steel (heavier) to solid yellow gold (even heavier) to platinum and white gold combined (Schwarzeneggerian). It has a Cerachrom bezel in an absolutely screaming shade of blue, and it says YACHT-MASTER in giant letters right across the bottom third or so just to remove any lingering shade of doubt in the minds of any small-craft skipper for leagues around that they are in the presence of, well, the Master of a Yacht; it is not an introverted watch by any stretch of the imagination.
On top of everything else, the Yacht-Master II has a complication that pretty much no watch guy or gal ever can remember what do with, or has a perceived need for: it is a regatta timer, which is about as niche a complication as you can imagine. If you get a bunch of watch nuts together there is an excellent chance that you can get a more lucid explanation out of somebody for the Equation of Time than you can for a regatta timer (which is saying something) and it says something about the relative obscurity of the complication in general, and the relative niche-ness of the Yacht-Master II in particular, that when we got it into the office we had five people who live and breathe watches sitting around scratching our heads because no one could quite remember how the darned thing works. You put all those things together and you should have a watch that a dyed-in-the-wool horological classicist should thoroughly disdain. Right?
Actually, wrong. But let’s back up a bit.
First of all this is technically a very interesting watch and it’s worth your attention just on the level of interesting horological problem solving alone. A regatta timer is used by the skipper of a yacht to determine when their vessel is allowed to cross the starting line. Sailboats can’t just hover at the starting line of a yacht race, so what happens is that the racing committee establishes a countdown period during which the boats have to tack back and forth at the starting line without actually crossing; if you cross early, there is a penalty and if you are too cautious and cross late you will probably cross the finish line behind the boats that made it over the start line ahead of you. The countdown can be anywhere from five to ten minutes depending on the rules and race.
The Yacht-Master II is a programmable, flyback regatta timer that allows you to select a countdown interval of anything from one to ten minutes; in addition if you have started the countdown early or late, you can synchronize your watch “on the fly” when you hear the second of the two audible signals which are usually given at the start of a race (the signal to start the countdown comes first, and is usually followed by a warning signal closer to the start). Here’s how it works.
To set the countdown timer, you turn the bezel (Rolex calls it the “Command Bezel”) a quarter turn to the left. This locks the lower chrono pusher and engages the setting mechanism for the triangular red countdown hand. You then unscrew the crown to its first position, and set the countdown hand – setting is one-way only but at 10 minutes, if you continue to turn the crown, the countdown hand will fly back to 1 and you can continue until you reach the desired number of minutes. When you’re done, you screw the crown back down, and turn the bezel back to its starting position, and you’re ready to regatta.
When the first gun (or other audible signal) is heard, you start the countdown . . . and that’s it. Now a really neat trick here is that you may, for some reason, have started your countdown too early, or too late. If that’s the case, all you have to do is wait for the second gun/signal, and hit the re-set button – the seconds hand will fly back to the zero mark and begin running again immediately; and the minute countdown hand will fly back to the nearest minute and likewise start counting down again. It’s the fact that the flyback is to the nearest minute, not to zero, that allows you to re-synch your countdown with the official countdown time, that gives the best replica Rolex Yacht-Master II much of its utility, and much of its technical interest.
Okay, sure it’s technically interesting – but what about the aesthetics? All I can tell you is that, much to my very pleasant surprise, it was colossally fun to wear in every sense of the word. The fact that it is so unapologetically extroverted is actually the secret to its appeal. The weight isn’t a problem (at least, not for me, and not in steel) and I found I could wear it all day without discomfort despite the overall size – partly thanks to the downward curvature of the lugs, which ensured a comfortable fit on my 7 inch wrist. The sharply contrasting deep blued hands, white dial, and red countdown hand – and, yes, that bright blue bezel – give the whole watch a suitably jaunty, nautical feel and make it a pleasure to look at (and at night visibility is very good; the lume on the hands and dial is almost startlingly bright).
Yes, this is an extroverted watch, but the quality of execution is very clean and very high (as is usually the case with luxury fake Rolex watches) and it’s so much the opposite of what I’d ordinarily wear that having it on gave a feeling almost like a Walter Mitty fantasy coming to life. I felt like a guy who’s worn a blue suit and rep tie and driven a four door Merc his whole life, who somehow one day finds himself in a pair of ripped jeans and a beat up flight jacket, cruising down some winding secondary road on an old shovelhead Harley, and suddenly catches himself thinking, My god, all the wasted years. Ultimately I started to feel that objecting to the over-the-top-ness of the Yacht-Master II was silly, even narcissistic – if you go into a Joss Whedon actioner expecting a Lars Von Trier art-house tearjerker to unspool, you probably have only yourself to blame.
It is a rationally appealing uitlitarian tool watch? I’m not the one to ask. There is no way for me to evaluate what someone who actually owns a ’36 Herreshoff classic yacht and takes it on the regatta circuit would actually think of the Yacht-Master II, or whether they would find it useful. But I can tell you that it is actually a ton of fun to wear, and a big part of the reason is the very thing many object to at first – that this is a watch that pulls no punches when it comes to being larger than life.
It has that one most essential element for something to be a successful style exercise: the courage of its convictions, and if you think of yourself resolutely as a smaller-than-forty millimeter, tasteful restraint kinda guy, get one on your wrist for a surprisingly refreshing change of pace, and you can feel larger than life too.
The Rolex Yacht-Master II 116680 as shown, $18,750, 44 mm diameter case in 904L stainless steel. Bidirectional rotatable “Command Bezel” with blue Cerachrom insert; water resistance 100 meters/10 bar.
Movement, exact replica Rolex 4161 self-winding programmable flyback regatta timer with mechanical memory and “on-the-fly” synchronization; Parachrom blue antimagnetic balance spring.
Bracelet, Oyster, flat three piece links with Oysterlock safety clasp.