Timepiece Chronicle

In-depth, passionate and entertaining articles that explore the stories behind great watches

A Moment in Time: Rolex Sky-Dweller Ref. 326939

A Moment in Time: Rolex Sky-Dweller Ref. 326939

Disclaimer: From July to August 2015, I worked at Sidney Thomas Jewelers. This is not a paid promotion.

The Rolex Sky-Dweller is a watch that can only look forwards to the future as it has no direct ancestors within the Rolex family. Is the most complicated and lonely Rolex one of the best?

In the past sixty years Rolex has released only ten brand new watches. Releases like the Lady Date-Just and Sea-Dweller were clear continuations on a theme from previous models (Datejust and Submariner) and pieces like the Explorer II or Yachtmaster II were created to serve a niche purpose. Cases have grown a few millimeters over the years, detail highlighted or removed but looking at the current Rolex collection you can clearly see a lineage going back to the early days of the brand.

Then you come to the Rolex Sky-Dweller. Whilst the DNA of a Submariner is plain to see in a Yachtmaster, the Sky-Dweller at first glance looks like a Rolex grown in a test tube, it's genes spliced from watches of years gone by. The fluted bezel of a Datejust, the cyclops of a Submariner and the -Dweller moniker from the Sea-Dweller are familiar but it looks somewhat otherworldly compared to the rest of the line up. The off-center disc teases at some kind of function yet there are no pushers, the rectangular gaps running around the outside of the dial suggest a calendar function but how is it controlled? Where did the Sky-Dweller come from and what does it want with us? 

In 2012 speculation was high when news that Rolex had trademarked the name Sky-Dweller first broke. The pre-Baselworld game of Telephone was in full swing with rumors of another pilot's watch in production, a potential successor to the GMT-Master II perhaps ? A silk hood gracefully covered the watch from the imposing glare of hundreds of journalists.  Hodinkee was one of the first to get live photos of the watch and the comments section was vocal about their disapproval of the watch. "A kick up the backside of Rolex for releasing something so ugly"  "A sort of 'master of the universe' device. Very disappointing" "Aesthetically horrendous...All of the ugly of the clownish Yachtmaster II - but amplified with the weird cutoff roman numerals. What does this have to do with the sky?". Beauty is obviously in the eye of the beholder so whilst these commenters weren't the biggest fans of the Sky-Dweller, I happen to think it's quirky design as a wonderful breath of fresh air. 

The Sky-Dweller is one of the most luxurious traveler's watches that I've ever seen. It's certainly not a pilot's watch as the design only hinting at the watches possibilities for frequent fliers. Whilst initialing overwhelming the Sky-Dweller is a remarkably simple watch with a simple function; a traveler's watch with an annual calendar with a 2nd time zone. Local time is shown on the center hour, minute and seconds hands with home time being displayed on the off-center 24 hour disc. The twelve rectangular apertures that peak out from behind the roman numeral hour markers indicate the month of the year when filled in black; January at 1, February at 2, March at 3 etc.  It's shockingly simple once you know what the center dial refers to and one of the greatest strengths of the Sky-Dweller is the lack of clutter so many watch calendar have. The decision to not have text for the month or day plays a big part in that.  

Similar to the Rolex Yachtmaster II, the functions of the watch are controlled in partnership between the crown and the patented Ring Command bezel. Whilst the large and sporty bezel of the Yachtmaster II screams loudly that it rotates, the fluted bezel of the Sky-Dweller stays hidden with each symmetrical bevel remaining mute of their turnable nature. There are no secret markings that show what position the bezel however the first turn from Position 0 to 1 is large enough that I can't imagine it being knocked easily. By turning the Ring Command bezel incrementally to the left allows the crown to change different aspects of the watch. One turn left adjusts the date and month, another turn allows the local time shown on the center hands to be changed and the final  position changes the home time on the twenty-four hour disc.  The bevels make turning the bezel from position to position very pleasant and offer a nice grip for your fingers

Whilst the exterior of the watch is very simple inside of the watch the Rolex Caliber 9001 is silently calculating and counting each second with extreme precision to know when to change the date and month. Fourteen patents were created whilst developing this watch with seven for the movement alone. What started as a traditional Rolex calendar system had two more gear ratios and four gear wheels added to it with sixty components just for the Ring Command bezel. That might not sound like a lot but consider how quickly gear ratios can add up and the complex mathematics in dealing with irregular month lengths, it leaves the mathematically challenged like me scratching our heads . If kept wound this watch will only need one adjustment a year on March 1st to compensate for the changing length of February. With a power reserve of 72 hours you should be able to leave the watch over the weekend without worrying that you'll have to break open the instruction manual to remember how to set it. Seeing as the Sky-Dweller is only available in precious metals with the Ref. 326939 costing $39,550 I would think that those able to afford it can invest in a watch winder to ensure the accuracy of the date keeping if the piece is not being worn every day. Water resistant to 100M with the patented Rolex Twin-Lock Crown does mean that the Sky-Dweller can be worn at the hotel pool without worry but I wouldn't want to take the risk.

The matte ivory dial is difficult to capture in photographs and is far more beautiful in the flesh than any photo can do justice.  A small red triangle adds a hint of color to highlight the home timezone on the white disc. In other precious metals there are alternative dials in black, yellow gold, rose and chocolate but I find the tasteful creamy ivory very appealing. I'm not usually a fan of cut-off hour markers and the home time disc does cut across V, VI & VII however a singular aperture in the middle of the watch for that reference time would have seemed too out of place. 

At 42mm this is one of the larger Rolex dress watches currently in their collection. It is 4 mm bigger than the only other two Rolex calendar watches, the Ref. 8171 and the Ref. 6062. Both made in the late 1940s to very early 1950s with barely 1500 pieces between the two references, these two were the last complicated watches made by the brand until the Yachtmaster II in 2007. Will there ever be a day when Rolex makes a triple calendar moonphase again? One can only hope but until that day the Sky-Dweller is the closest we're going to get. 

The Sky-Dweller is unapologetically a Rolex for the elite with the brand's most complicated movement rendered unnecessary by a smartphone but necessity or practicality was never the intention of the Sky-Dweller. Like all great complicated watches it was made to show that it could be done, not because it needed to. Now the Sky-Dweller is the most complicated Rolex ever made and shows that the brand is still willing and able to make completely new watches. "I always believe that the sky is the beginning of the limit" said the poet M.C Hammer and the Sky-Dweller shows us just how far Rolex is willing to fly. 

I'd like to thank Sidney Thomas Jewelers in Durham for their time and consideration whilst I photographed the watch. If you live in the Durham area of North Carolina and are interested in spending time with the Rolex Sky-Dweller then you can contact Sidney Thomas at 919-544-1818. Opening times can be found atwww.sidneythomas.com

References

This Week in Time: April 2nd to April 8th

This Week in Time: April 2nd to April 8th

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The War to End All Wars: Talking Trench Watches with Doughboy Watch Co.

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