Rolex run one of the tightest ships in the watch game – pun entirely intended.
The 116-year-old Swiss watch manufacturer is notoriously secretive, especially when it comes to R&D or new product launches. Naturally, this only makes the brand more alluring – there’s a whole cottage industry surrounding Rolex gossip and speculation. It’s a big game of smoke and mirrors.
Thankfully, watch fans are a dedicated and scrupulous bunch, with one Rolex specialist spotting what the rest of the world missed: a brand new, truly revolutionary Rolex.
Capt. Danny Crivello, a Delta Air Lines pilot by trade and editor of Rolex Magazine, made the eagle-eyed discovery after pouring over photos of INEOS Team UK, a contender for the 36th America’s Cup, competing in this year’s Prada Cup. Having previously overlooked it, Crivello doubled back and spotted an unusual Rolex on the wrist of Sir Ben Ainslie, the team’s skipper.
Turns out it was a unique prototype Yacht-Master ‘No Date’ made out of titanium. Being that Rolex has never officially released a titanium watch, this is a huge discovery. On top of that, the watch is on a Cordura NATO strap – something else Rolex has never officially offered. What gives?
“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,” Crivello explains.
“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.”
Titanium is arguably the perfect material for a tool watch. It’s stronger yet lighter than steel while also being resistant to rusting and corrosion. However, many luxury buyers equate weightiness with luxury (it’s part of the reason gold watches are so popular) – as Rivello puts it, “compared to steel, titanium lacks the heft, the lustre 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.”
In that sense, you can understand why a luxury-oriented brand like Rolex hasn’t released a titanium watch yet. Their sister brand Tudor, however, has released a titanium watch: the Pelagos dive watch, which first hit the market in 2012 and has since become one of Tudor’s most successful collections.
It’s been a very long time since Rolex made a true tool watch. While iconic models like the Submariner and GMT-Master might have started life as utilitarian, professional timepieces, these days they’re firmly considered luxury watches – with the price-point to boot.
But Rolex experimenting with titanium clearly shows they haven’t abandoned the tool watch mantle, or at the very least, they’re not just resting on their laurels. Most Yacht-Masters never see the deck of a sailboat, racing or otherwise, so it’s admirable to see one actually being tested on a yacht in a high-performance, professional environment.
We wonder what other metals or materials Rolex will experiment with next. A ceramic Cosmograph Daytona? A sapphire Sky-Dweller? We’ll just have to wait and see…