Each year at the Baselworld watch and jewelry show the most anticipated news is what behemoth watch brand Rolex will release. This is a quizzical thing because what Rolex announces is often anything but revolutionary. Still the successful and closed watch brand seems to excite their loyalists with the new creations each year - often times small steps in anticipated directions. Rarely does Rolex offer something totally new - especially a new model or complication. Oddly enough - both of these things happened for 2012.
Rolex typically releases mere line extensions and small features updates (if that). Typical "exciting"announcements include new dial colors, perhaps a new strap, or something offered in a new material. The major new release for 2012 is the Sky-Dewller, an extremely rare new Rolex model, with a new movement, and with a never before seen complication for the modern brand. Say hello to an annual calendar. Rolex sure didn't invent it, but it seems revolutionary when included in one of their watches.
The Sky-Dweller is a mixed bag for watch lovers. On the one hand it offers some true Rolex innovations. A new product family with a new movement, and features that people have been wanting from Rolex for a long time. On the other hand the dial of the Sky-Dweller is... an acquired taste to say the least. The aesthetic problem in my opinion is the large exposed asymmetric GMT disc. It just looks misplaced on a Rolex watch dial. Functional? Perhaps. Sexy and alluring? Not at all. A hand would have sufficed. Just ask any GMT Master. Plus, the hands are a bit too short and too skeletonized for the watch's own good. Lume is too sparse and the skeletonized hands might be more trouble than they are worth.
If you can get over the dial then you have a lot to love. This is not only the first Rolex watch with an annual calendar, but it also includes a centrally mounted GMT hand. All operated with the "Ring Command" bezel. That's right, the Sky-Dweller bezel is part of how you operate and adjust the watch. The crown of the watch only pulls out in one position. The fluted bezel has three positions. You turn it and based on the position you can adjust the date, local time, or reference time via the crown. It is a wonderfully elegant solution that we haven't seen before.
The GMT hand is a disc in the middle of the dial and uses the red and white arrow as an index to tell the reference time. Other Rolex GMT models uses a hand to do this and a scale around the periphery of the watch. The system isn't super attractive, but it is highly functional. Rolex tired to make the transition from the dial to the disc as "luxurious" as possible with the polished ring. Nevertheless, you just can have that exposed dial and the Rolex aesthetic work together nicely in my opinion.
In addition to the GMT complication the Sky-Dweller has an annual calendar system that Rolex calls their SAROS annual calendar. The mechanism offers the date and month. The date is easily seen under the magnifier lens on the sapphire crystal at 3 o'clock. The month is told via darkened rectangles located outside of the hour indicator ring. On these watches you can see that "8 o'clock" is filled in black. That means the current month would be August. Only at the end of February do you need to adjust the calendar. This is the best part of the complication in my opinion. SAROS is a very cool complication, and I think it could find a happy home in the majority of calendar augmented Rolex watches offered today.
SAROS and Ring Command together make for one of the most complicated Rolex watches movements ever. Rolex is known for making extremely high-quality, durable movements, but nevertheless simple ones. Their most complex movements thus far have only been chronographs (not even with the date). An annual calendar GMT is a great traveler's watches, and a good addition to the Rolex line-up. It also signals Rolex's willingness to experiment with new designs and more complicated movements. In about 40 years we might see a Rolex tourbillon at their current rate.
The Sky-Dweller watch name is a curious thing as I don't personally see any connection to the sky or aviation. The name aside, this watch looks like an evolved Date-Just II watch. The Sky-Dweller has the fluted bezel of most Date Just watches and a similar set of hour markers. The case and bracelet is similar as well. The watch itself will be 42mm wide and initially available only in 18k gold.
Inside the Rolex Sky-Dweller is the new Rolex in-house made caliber 9001 automatic movement. The automatic movement has all of the above complications and a three-day power reserve. Rolex being known for their quality standards must have been testing the 9001 movement for a while. I have no doubts that the movement will be top notch for what it is.
42mm wide is a good size for this case. It is up from the 41mm wide Date-Just, though in person the Sky-Dweller doesn't feel all that big. To begin Rolex will offer the Sky-Dweller in three versions - all in gold. This is honestly no surprise as two-tone, and steel versions will (or may) come later. To start the Sky-Dweller will be available in 18k white gold, 18k Everose rose gold, or 18k yellow gold. It will come with a matching gold bracelet or leather strap.
In my opinion Rolex needed more time to build a dial around this interesting complication. With Rolex you expect absolute perfection and consistency. The Sky-Dweller offers something truly intriguing for Rolex brand lovers, but misses the ball a bit when it comes to offering a truly universally lovely design that the brand is known for. Prices in the middle are about $50,000 perhaps and up for the Rolex Sky-Dweller watch in gold.
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