March 28, 2023
by Ariel Adams
2023 is proving to be a year of hits for Rolex with the Geneva-based company debuting a combination of highly sensible new releases along with some unexpected interesting new artistic concepts. When it comes to sports watches, the most interesting new release from Rolex is a titanium version of the jumbo-sized Yacht-Master 42 with the reference 226627. Only recently did Rolex first introduce a titanium watch in its collection with the almost comically over-engineered Rolex Deepsea Challenge (aBlogtoWatch hands-on here) that is water resistant to 11,000 meters. Very large and also not shy when it comes to price, the Deepsea Challenge is a niche novelty luxury watch — not meant to be worn comfortably on most wrists. The Yacht-Master 42 is a different story and in RLX titanium offers a large Rolex watch-wearing experience but without the feeling of bulk.
The visceral experience of wearing the Yacht-Master 42 titanium is very odd for any long-time Rolex fan. Rolex more or less helped create the 20th-century notion that you can often measure the value of a watch by feeling how solid and weighty it is. Rolex watches have never been designed for lightness, so most of them are quite hefty, and beloved for that reason. It is common for someone to admire a precious metal Rolex simply by feeling its mass in the open palm of your hand.
The Rolex Yacht-Master 42 was introduced in 2019 with tones very similar to this titanium model, but rather in 18k white gold and on a black Rolex Oysterflex strap. A yellow gold version was eventually added, and it seemed as though Rolex’s largest Yacht-Master was destined to be a precious-metal-only product. The 2023 226627 Yacht-Master 42 changes that paradigm by adding in a full grade 5 titanium case and matching bracelet to the product family. This is what people should consider the first “wearable” Rolex watch produced from titanium.
Even though Rolex uses the same grade 5 titanium as other brands, it focuses a lot on surface finishing and polishing for this timepiece. Rolex uses a sort of deep-grain engraving, which is somewhat different from the same effect on steel. Titanium as a color is also a bit darker than the comparatively bright 904L steel that most other (non-precious metal) Rolex sport watches are made out of. Titanium does scratch, and I asked Rolex about the service plan for the Yacht-Master 42 in RLX titanium. To make a long story short, Rolex will offer the same “case refresh” service for its titanium watches as it does for its steel and gold watches, though in reality, Rolex will have to use some special processes to polish titanium so that it looks fresh and new again. “RLX titanium” is really just Rolex’s way of indicating that it polishes and finishes titanium metal differently from other brands (according to Rolex).
Other than being in titanium with the matching bracelet, there isn’t too much new here. The Yacht-Master 42 case is 42mm-wide and has similar proportions as other watches in the larger Oyster Perpetual watch. The case is water resistant to 100 meters, and around the dial is a uni-directional rotating bezel with a matte-black ceramic insert that matches the matte-dark-gray tone of the Yacht-Master 42 dial.
Inside the watch is the Rolex in-house-made caliber 3235 automatic movement that operates at 4Hz with about 70 hours of power reserve. The movement offers the time with date and on the sapphire crystal is a Rolex “cyclops” magnifier lens. Titanium is considered by many engineers to be the perfect material for wristwatch cases. While I don’t think it is possible to ever determine “bests” in regard to an emotional product, it is true that you can easily enjoy the Yacht-Master 42 in titanium from purely a tool watch perspective. The lighter weight and large size give this 42mm-wide Rolex an interesting and desirable personality. It also makes us wonder whether or not there will be more titanium Rolex watches in the future. Possibly some, but I don’t think that Rolex, primarily a maker of conspicuous jewelry-style watches, will heavily focus on a material that will not hold a high polish as nicely as steel, gold, or platinum watches.
For watch lovers and Rolex collectors, there really is a lot of novelty to wearing a Rolex watch in titanium simply because most people haven’t ever done so before. The sister brand Tudor has had the Pelagos, which, for a while, was really the more sober equivalent of this Rolex Yacht-Master 42 226627. It is also much less expensive, but it doesn’t have the iconic Oyster Perpetual case shape and the famous Submariner-style dial that this Yacht-Master does.
While the Yacht-Master 42 in RLX titanium raises a lot of interesting philosophical questions about what Rolex should and shouldn’t be doing, the product will be a commercial success given the current latent demand for high-end titanium sport watches and anything even remotely interesting from Rolex. Rolex has made it clear that production of the titanium Yacht-Master 42 is going to be limited in scope, in large part because there are so many pieces of titanium in the case, and especially the bracelet, that all need to bear precisely matching polishes and finishes. I don’t imagine that this watch is easy for Rolex to make, but we do know that Rolex could increase production of titanium watches if it ever wanted to. Price for the very interesting and comfortable reference 226627 Rolex Yacht-Master 42 in RLX titanium is $14,050 USD. Learn more at the Rolex watches website here.