Rolex Yacht-Master 16622
Once upon a time before the world went crazy, a Rolex was just another product you could go to the store and buy. You could walk in, say, “One Rolex please,” hand over your dimes and walk out with said Rolex. That, like many other things, is different now. A Rolex shop doesn’t so much sell Rolexes anymore as it does man the phone to let the patient queue on the waiting list know their day has come. But what if I told you there was a forgotten steel sports Rolex that you can buy for less than the RRP? I can understand that you’d treat this statement with the same suspicion as a stranger’s cough, so let me explain.
Before our story even begins, it’s important to establish exactly why the Rolex sports watch has come to earn such an overwhelming reputation. Its looks, its specification, its history is nothing more or less remarkable than any of its competitors, often flagging behind in each category, yet somehow its status can’t be that many floors below the big man upstairs himself.
It’s one of the biggest names in luxury, commanding queues longer than those at Disneyworld on a hot summer’s day—and yet all that prestige and fanaticism comes from a far humbler place entirely. Despite the myth that the name Rolex is an amalgamation of the words “horological” and “luxury”, the brand’s rise to fame was anything but.
Founder Hans Wilsdorf—a name that is burnt into the minds of anyone who’s even remotely interested in watches—had no grand plans for a luxury watch empire, or anything of the sort. All he wanted was to make watches worn by professionals. And I don’t mean that in way that celebrity “professionals” are encouraged to wear a watch by way of a brown paper bag full of lettuce, but in an actual, legitimate, proper use in the workplace kind of way.
It was the only way Wilsdorf had a hope of making a mark. He was buying movements from one place and putting them in cases from another, so he was never going to win any awards for watchmaking excellence. Instead, he focussed his attention on how he could make a product that could survive the rigours of real life.
For divers, he developed water-resistance, for pilots he developed a twin time-zone display, for scientists, anti-magnetic capabilities. The watches themselves, they were crude, simplistic, the solutions basic and their operation unremarkable—but they worked. They did the job, and they did it well. Wilsdorf undercut everyone else with his basic instruments and that was that.
But that wasn’t that, because long after Wilsdorf had passed, so too did the industry he had worked so hard to be heard in. As Swiss watch companies, once strong and mighty, crumbled to the ground, Rolex experienced something different: a resurgence. This was a brand that had never tried to be anything more than a tool for a job, no flash or fancy about it—and there was appeal in that. It was cool, it was casual, the furthest thing from try-hard imaginable, and people went crazy for it.
Here’s where things start to get a bit weird. Through the eighties, the popularity of Rolex began to evolve into something different, something new: it became a status symbol, a badge of cool, and that turned everything about the brand on its head. People wanted these basic tool watches in gold, with diamonds, hanging loosely from their wrists as they motored along in their Sunseekers.
What was Rolex to do? If people wanted Rolex but in luxury form, it could risk losing everything by staying as it was—but then it could do just the same by pursuing that goal as well. It was a stalemate, and eventually the pressure became too much. Rolex cracked, and what emerged was this: the Yacht-Master.
Rolex is often criticised for being very slow with its developmental process, and perhaps the Yacht-Master will help you understand why this approach is necessary. The Yacht-Master, announced in 1992 in gold, naturally, bombed, and bombed hard. Silly Rolex! People liked the rugged versatility of a Rolex, but in gold with diamonds, not some shiny, over-polished rehash of the Submariner! Damned if you do, and damned if you don’t.
There were many avenues explored to address this monstrous mis-decision, changing colours, materials, and even complications to try and find a home for the sore thumb that was the Yacht-Master. But, alongside the Submariner, Explorer, GMT-Master, it just looked, well, a bit silly. Take this 16622, first seen in 1997. A platinum bezel combined with a platinum dial makes for a very impractical piece of equipment, difficult to read, dazzling in the sun and expensive to dent. Straight to the “no” pile, thank you very much.
But the tables turned again in 2015 when Rolex doubled down on its twenty-three-year-old bet and brought the Yacht-Master back with a bang. In rose gold and with a new hat, I mean, rubber strap, it finally came of age. The audience was just right, the time was just right, and all of a sudden you couldn’t find a rose gold Yacht-Master for love nor money. Mainly money.
What that’s done is relegated the early 16622 watch into a little corner of the Rolex world very few people think to look. It’s the reject bin, where the offcuts and misshapen goods rot in peace. It’s stuck between worlds, neither one thing nor the other, the middle child that didn’t either end up on drugs or go to Harvard. It’s doing ok, quiet and forgotten. Here’s where we find our bargain.
You look at any other steel sports Rolex and you’ll find the same thing: you can’t get one new, and supply and demand have forced the secondary market into appreciation. Submariner, GMT-Master, Explorer all want RRP or more. But not the Yacht-Master 16622. A new steel and platinum Yacht-Master is getting on for £10,000 new, with the updated blue and rhodium dials, but not the old faithful 16622. That you can have for closer to £7,000, less if you look hard.
And post 2015, you know what? The 16622 is actually a very handsome watch. The sparkling platinum dial, designed to mirror the sun catching on the waves of the ocean, is a level of detail never previously seen before in a Rolex watch. The polished edges, curved and soft, are more luxurious. The red seconds hand is the Maraschino cherry in a cool Casino. It just needed a quarter-century to be appreciated.
It may not be the latest and greatest, but the appeal of Rolex never should have been that in the first place. It’s about honouring passion, celebrating ingenuity and all in a cool, effortless way. The Yacht-Master was no less an industrial revolution than any other Rolex sports watch before it—only this time the industry was luxury.
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