Rolex Sky-Dweller “Rolesor”
Sometimes it feels like Rolex can do no wrong. For many years, they have been riding on the successes of several sports models, and the fanfare for these pieces show no signs of abating. Minor changes to colour and material appear to perfectly satisfy its cult following year after year. One would therefore have expected the debut of the Rolex Sky-Dweller in 2012 to induce mass hysteria by comparison. The Sky-Dweller is, after all, the most complicated Rolex ever made. Evidently, this was not the case; in fact the Sky-Dweller remains one of the least desirable timepieces in the modern Rolex collection, at least within the enthusiast circle. This year, as if to right wrongs, Rolex has released two new Sky-Dweller models with positive tweaks, the Ref. 326933 and Ref. 326934. Here, we bring you details of the new Sky-Dweller before comparing it to its predecessor and to an equivalent from another brand.
The case, dial, and hands
The new Rolex Sky-Dweller comes in two versions: yellow and white “Rolesor”. “Rolesor” is a Rolex-coined term denoting the combined use of steel and gold in a watch. The Ref. 326933 features a steel case with yellow gold bezel, crown and centre bracelet links while the Ref. 326934 is made entirely of steel except for a white gold bezel. Material aside, not much else has changed in the case of the new Sky-Dweller; it has the same robust Oyster case (42 mm in diameter) with 100 m water resistance. The fluted bezel is retained as well – while some may delight at how resplendent it looks under direct light, others will bemoan its conspicuousness.
Several changes have been introduced onto the dial, and it’s more than just colour. Notably, the dial now features rectangular index hour markers instead of Arabic or Roman numerals, and longer hands. The hour markers are now also luminescent, which provides improved legibility in low- or no-light conditions. The layout of the displays of the watch’s two complications, the annual calendar and the dual time zone, remains the same. The second time zone is displayed in a 24-hour format via a rotating off-centred disc, while the annual calendar month and date indications are displayed by means of 12 apertures around the circumference of the dial and an aperture at 3 o’clock, respectively. As before, the new Sky-Dweller’s functions can be set quickly and easily by manipulating the bezel and crown. The bezel can be rotated to three different positions to select the function to be set: date, local time, or reference time. Once the function is selected, it is adjusted by the crown.
The Sky-Dweller is equipped with the in-house developed and manufactured Calibre 9001. With seven patents under its belt, the Calibre 9001 is the most complex movement ever developed by Rolex. The self-winding calibre, equipped with the manufacturer’s paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring, has a commendable power reserve of 72 hours while operating at a modern 4 Hz beat rate. A selector wheel on the outside edge of the movement mediates the interaction between the bezel and the movement to set the functions. Details on how the movement’s special functions are discussed in detail in our original review of the gold version of the Sky-Dweller.
The Calibre 9001, naturally, is COSC-certified and has passed Rolex’s strict in-house tests (post-casing), thereby granting the watch the title of ‘Superlative Chronometer’. For reference, a Rolex ‘Superlative Chronometer’ is precise to -2/+2 sec/day. While this is all relatively standard procedure for all Rolex timepieces today, it is still nothing short of impressive.
The competitive landscape
The new steel/white gold and steel/yellow gold Rolex Sky-Dweller watches retail at S$ 19,340 with GST (or USD14,400) and S$ 23,010 with GST (or USD17,150), respectively. Perhaps to be expected, most of the love from the watch community have gone towards the steel/white gold reference. Two-tone is, put bluntly, largely perceived as outdated and a little crass at this point in time although it still does attract certain clienteles. The steel/white gold version is also considerably more accessible as only the bezel is made of gold.
Let’s not forget however, that while the new Sky-Dweller is unanimously acclaimed, the original was heavily criticised – this when they are functionally the same watch. Why? Well firstly, it was the dial aesthetics. The original Sky-Dweller utilised Arabic or Roman numerals, and shorter hands on the dial – this did find favour from the watch cognoscenti. Notably, many lamented the way the numerals were cut off by the second time zone aperture. In the new Sky-Dweller, these issues were dealt with thoroughly; the index hour markers and longer hands gave the watch a sleeker look.
Secondly, the original Sky-Dweller comes only in precious metal. Steel sports Rolexes have always and will always be more popular than its precious metal variants. Not only does the use of gold goes against the spirit of sports watches, many felt that the Sky-Dweller in full yellow or Everose gold was simply too loud and again, crass. We understand that the Sky-Dweller is one of Rolex’s ‘dressier’ models but the coloured gold variants seek way too much attention.
Finally, there’s the price; the full white gold original Sky-Dweller retails at about S$ 53,180 with GST – that’s over 3X more than the new steel/white gold Sky-Dweller. The thought of paying that premium just for gold is enough to put off most enthusiasts who care only for the watch and not the ‘status’ associated with wearing a full precious metal watch. In the end, because the original Sky-Dweller had primed the watch community for disappointment, the new Sky-Dweller – where Rolex fixed most of what was wrong – was set up for positive reception.
(The author personally doesn’t mind the dial of the original Sky-Dweller and finds it charming. The Everose gold variant with chocolate leather strap is his pick.)
How does the new Sky-Dweller compare to its contemporaries from other brands? It turns out that there aren’t many dual time zone/annual calendar watches around. The best example we could find was the Blancpain Villeret Annual Calendar GMT in steel which comes at a price of roughly USD23,700, a fair bit more than the steel/white gold Sky-Dweller. For that price though, you do get a bit more horology. The Blancpain boasts an additional day display over the Sky-Dweller, which does confer more functionality. While the Ring Command bezel in the Sky-Dweller is innovative, it doesn’t actually quick-set the calendar indications. In the Villeret Annual Calendar GMT, there are small sliding levers under the lugs that allow the user to quick-set the calendar indications without the use of a jeweller’s tools. Then there’s movement finishing. The Blancpain obviously has the edge in this aspect and features significantly more hand-finishing than the Sky-Dweller, or any modern Rolex. Overall, the Blancpain is the way to go if one likes the design, wants more horological content and has the budget.
(The author personally prefers the Sky-Dweller as he is not a fan of the dial design of the Blancpain and feels that the novel Rolex still provides greater bang for buck.)
The positive reception of the new Rolex Sky-Dweller was largely down to the brand fixing what was disliked about the original reference. Or perhaps Rolex had this planned all along. Either way, the new Sky-Dweller ticks a lot of boxes. It is a little frustrating though that the watch isn’t entirely in steel. But given how fond the brand is of making aesthetic changes to current timepieces, we wouldn’t be surprised to see one in full steel some time down the track. We feel that Rolex has had a most interesting Baselworld this year with the release of the newly updated Sky-Dweller and the atypical, but beguiling Cellini Moonphase. The former breathed life into an unpopular model while the latter goes against the grain of what Rolex does (read our review of the Cellini Moonphase here to find out why). While it is all fine and dandy to introduce minor aesthetic changes on already popular models, for the sake of horology, we’d love to see more releases like the Sky-Dweller and Cellini Moonphase in future Baselworlds from Rolex. It is a lot to ask for, but one can hope.