Rolex Sky-Dweller in Steel
When the Rolex Sky-Dweller came out in 2012, it was heralded as the most complicated watch Rolex had made in forever. And it was, but ... no one bought one. Only available in precious metals and with the price tag of a decent executive saloon, the collective chant could be heard almost from space: "I'll get one when they make it in steel."
Watch our video review of the Rolex Sky-Dweller 326934 in steel
Well, now that time has come. With the cleverest calendar display this side of an H. Moser and a GMT mechanism thrown in for good measure, is now the time for the Sky-Dweller to shine?
Let's get something clear first. This isn't strictly a steel watch. It's Rolex's brand of steel and gold, which it calls Rolesor, and that means the bezel is in white gold. It gives the watch some heft and brings out the shine in the polished surfaces, but no doubt adds to the price without providing much of a benefit.
The steel (and white gold) Sky-Dweller 326934
That said, this fully functional annual calendar—that means the date display changes automatically in line with the number of days in that particular month, and only needs one adjustment per year—is only £1,500 more than the brand's steel and ceramic Daytona chronograph. Cheap it is not, but good value? It just might be.
How would you measure value? After all, we've waited long enough for the savings of steel, so good value is an important metric worth paying attention to. The number of parts, perhaps? Sure, a complicated watch with a billion tiny parts is great for bragging rights, but Rolex took a different tack here: innovation. It's what the brand does well, right the way back to the very first self-changing date display in 1945.
Annual calendar and GMT all in one
The biggest innovation lies at the heart of the Sky-Dweller, in the calibre 9001. There are no less than eleven patents here making up the annual calendar system that Rolex calls 'Saros', and the beauty is in its simplicity. Where Patek Philippe managed to add parts when downsizing its perpetual calendar into an annual, the brains at Rolex devised a way to use just a few extra planetary gears to convert their date-changing system into a full-fledged annual calendar.
The beauty is in the detail. As a month with 30 days reaches completion, the mechanism jumps straight to the first day of the new month, instantaneously. Impossibly slick.
But how do you know what month it is? Do you guess? Nope, the brains at Rolex thought about that, too. They figured that, as there's both twelve months in a year and twelve hours on a watch dial, that they could hide the month display beside each hour marker. Genius. With dial space to spare thanks to that handy little trick, there's even room for a GMT complication—off-centre, no less, very mechanically tricky to accomplish—that rings the central hands. All this, still with a sensible 42mm case only a millimetre and a half thicker than a Submariner's.
Turn the bezel to adjust the functions
But the best is yet to come: you see, a lot of complicated watches like this require an overabundance of hidden pushers to adjust everything, but that just isn't in keeping with the slick, simple, Rolex way. So, the brains at Rolex took a look at the fluted bezel and thought, 'I bet that grips well.'
And it does, which you'll discover when you turn it to access one of four setting positions. It starts in neutral; with the crown out, nothing happens. One turn anti-clockwise is the date and month adjustment—backwards and forwards, a nice touch. Another click adjusts local time in the same way as a GMT-Master II, and the last click adjusts the time. First seen on the Yacht-Master II, this Ring Command bezel is one of those ideas that makes you wonder, "Why has no one ever thought of this before?"
The GMT function sits offset on the dial
Value is relative. The Sky-Dweller is poor value compared to a Casio with a full perpetual calendar powered by sunlight and set by a radio link to an atomic clock. But in terms of high-end watchmaking, this almost-steel Sky-Dweller is something of a bargain. Patek Philippe asks for the kind of money for its annual calendars that makes this seem like pocket change, and all without the innovations that Rolex has demonstrated here. With the costly flab of precious metals shed from the price, the Sky-Dweller in steel really does present itself as a watch to pay attention to, a true flagship of the collection. It should certainly make you think twice before you settle for the Daytona.
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