The Rolex Yacht-Master 42 TITANIUM Prototype Worn by Sir Ben Ainslie (Yes… It’s Real)
Yes, it is true, a titanium Rolex really exists...
First of all, before even starting to talk about this (highly unexpected) watch, I think we owe you an apology. And when I say we, I mean myself, the MONOCHROME team and most of the watch media. Why? Because what you see here isn’t really fresh news. For whichever reasons it flew under the radar, we have to thank Jake at Rolex Magazine for shining a spotlight on it. But you read the title correctly; a Rolex Titanium exists, at least at a prototype stage, and it has been tested outdoors in the wild. So today, we’ll be looking at a watch that will undoubtedly draw the attention of many enthusiasts (myself included) and raise a few questions regarding future collections of The Crown… Let’s take a closer look at the Rolex Yacht-Master 42 Titanium No-Date Prototype Worn by Sir Ben Ainslie.
Despite its long and solid background in aquatic-oriented watches, Rolex hasn’t been seduced by the advantages of titanium. It is somewhat surprising given that titanium is known for its high resistance to corrosion and its lightness, two specifications that make it a natural ally for dive watches. Looking at the entire history of Rolex, titanium has only been used for the caseback of the Deepsea – which we covered here, in its latest iteration – and for the Pelagos, which isn’t a Rolex but a Tudor, so it doesn’t really count. There was also a bunch of not-so-clever watch editors who, on 1 April 2013, had the idea of “fabricating” a titanium Rolex (yes, we love those silly little jokes). But, as for a titanium Rolex, that’s as far things went, until recently with this custom-made prototype Rolex Yacht-Master 42 Titanium. Yes, it’s real.
The team at Rolex has been incredibly thoughtful by giving me a titanium Yacht-Master 42″ says Sir Ben Ainslie to The Week
Surprisingly, none of the leading watch magazines – MONOCHROME included – noticed this watch. I say “surprisingly” since we’re talking about a watch that was created in late 2020 and appeared in the wild repeatedly. It was even mentioned by its wearer, Sir Ben Ainslie, in an interview on October 2020 in The Week. It has also been mentioned in the official Rolex print magazine, and there have been a couple of mentions on specialised forums, and that’s it. Weird, since a titanium Rolex is something that should have generated a lot of buzz. Well, thanks to the sharp eye of Jake at Rolex Magazine, more details regarding the Rolex Yacht-Master 42 Titanium have surfaced.
Even though it is regarded as a luxury powerhouse these days, Rolex has a long tradition in research and development. It has created countless experimental watches in the past, or watches that were conceived together with specialised teams for a very specific purpose. Think about the Deep Sea Special watches created for the exploration of the greatest depths attached to the Bathyscaphe when exploring the Mariana Trench – we recently covered two models coming up for auction: one by Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, and an even more important one (because we’re talking about Number 1) to be sold by Christie’s. The same can be said about the watches made for Comex, or the Deepsea Challenger created for James Cameron when breaking the record for the deepest dive, which gave birth to the D-Blue Deepsea.
With this watch, it seems that Rolex is back on track, testing purpose-built models in real-life conditions. And for that, The Crown asked Sir Ben Ainslie, the most successful sailor in Olympic history (gold medal in four consecutive Games – Sydney, Athens, Beijing & London) to field-test a watch that is unlike anything in existing collections. The watch in question has been spotted on multiple occasions, including at the 2021 Prada Cup – a sailing competition held in January 2021 to determine the challenger in the 2021 America’s Cup to challenge Emirates Team New Zealand – or on April 2021 at SailGP. The watch is also clearly visible on Ben Ainslie’s website here.
According to Sir Ben Ainslie in an interview given to The Week in October 2020: “The team at Rolex has been incredibly thoughtful by giving me a titanium Yacht-Master 42. I’m extremely honoured to have it, plus, from a performance perspective, every little bit of weight that we can save helps us to go faster with the boat.”
What are we looking at precisely? In short, it is a “de-luxurized” and far sportier Rolex Yacht-Master 42 made of titanium (to be precise, an alloy named RLX Titanium, so probably a proprietary alloy made by/for the brand), with a “dark anthracite” colour and a matte (probably blasted) finish. Also, the watch is a no-date version of the white gold watch with a 3D-textured black ceramic bezel Rolex launched in 2019. Finally, the watch is worn on a NATO Strap (also something never seen before for the brand), which according to the brand, combines Cordura with high-performance elastomer and is closed by a Velcro for easy adjustments.
The very existence of this Rolex Yacht-Master 42 Titanium might be pointing to the fact that the brand hasn’t lost its original vocation for sports and tool watches, for timepieces made with a specific purpose in mind. Titanium is the material of choice for a regatta watch that needs to endure salty waters and harsh conditions. Creating a tool-like version of the Yacht-Master could bring it back to its original vocation as a watch made for sports sailors, and not a watch made for the yacht club – because the classic Everose Gold 40mm or White Gold 42mm versions, as handsome as they are, are clearly luxury watches and not sports instruments.
Of course, it raises some questions about the future of this Yacht-Master 42 Titanium. Is it just a one-off test, or was it created with future commercialisation in mind? Is Rolex working on something new for its future collection? As always, the brand remains silent on this question. But the very idea of a Rolex Yacht-Master 42 Titanium in the permanent collection is quite exciting and could mark a return of Rolex to its roots when sports/professional watches were made for real-life activities.
One thing is certain; this titanium model will form part of our predictions for the new 2022 Rolex watches… Just like we did this year when we predicted an updated Explorer collection.
Please visit Jake’s RolexMagazine for his story on the Rolex Yacht-Master 42 Titanium No-Date Prototype.
29/09/2021 - update concerning the material of the case, said to be "RLX titanium"
Great coverage, @Monochrome, congrats.
as far as the watch is concerned … so Rolex is offering a type of watch similar to what it’s ‘cheap’ affiliate company Tudor has been offering for years – I’m talking about the Pelagos. I guess you have to be a very hard-core Rolex fan or very status-minded to find this exciting news
Rolex can’t make enough watches but here we are releasing new models. Rolex has never been at the front of innovation, at least not since the Oyster Case, or rather choose to take as many years as needed to perfect something, I respect that but like Apple making waves with Qi charging after everyone else has done it 5 years earlier. Anyways, after Rolex admitted they are not able to supply demand why release something like a Ti sports watch, should they not devote all resources to making more of what we want? Of course, assuming what Rolex tells us is the truth this would mean making this new model would be near impossible as they have been “maxed” out production already.
Regardless, this models neither fills a void nor gap in my opinion. Tudor already has the Pelagos, it has Rolex quality with an in house movement. Other than the crown…it’s the same thing in my eyes.
I agree with Markus, this is one for the Status minded folks….but then again that IS Rolex’s primary demographic. You don’t become the largest watch brand catering to watch collectors…there are just too few of us.
Bur regardless….You will never see these in ADs….these will be exclusive to the Rolex authorized network of Grey Market Dealers at free market pricing.
Outside of my Sky Dweller this is about the only other Rolex that excites me. Everything else is meh…
Why now Titanium? Because The Crown gets big bucks to refinish your scratched-up Subby like new for the maintenance pit stop. Citizen is light years ahead of this dinosaur who preys upon really rich customers. Rolex stainless steel is so 1910, an antiquated manufactured gemstone (like diamonds), for people who just love to burn money to make a statement of their success.
There will always be Rolex. They will always be the best.
However, you’d be nuts to take it diving (I’ll take my titanium Citizen anyday, even if James Cameron dunks his Rolex into the drink).
They’ve finally done it! I’m one step closer to my dream of a titanium Sub!!! Frank – can you get me on the list? You know how long I’ve been pleading for them to do something like this !
What surprises me is that he appears to wear it on both wrists..?
Micro brands are more innovative than rlx, I don’t want an imposed vanity to guide my available options.
“spotted” with wrist side change and almost obvious wristwatch modeling……. Another terrible bubble…. Another of the +800,000 watches they make a year….. But have people thinking it is rare or somewhat more valuable than it really is…… wtf!
Historically, after they invented the sub (and we can argue who made/released the first dive watch), Rolex hasn’t really been at the forefront of innovation at all.
Tudor was their R&D arm for years, and both historically and more recently offered far more variation and features. In their ‘old’ relationship, Rolex would long have started using the clasp mechanism found on the Tudor Pelagos. And the use of titanium in that watch, their use of silver in their latest BB offering, these would all feed into prospective Rolex pieces.
Nowadays though Rolex doesn’t appear to have that relationship with Tudor – the latter being desperate to be seen as nearly self-sufficient and a distinctly separate brand.
As a result, we rarely see any innovation from Rolex. Perhaps the green sapphire on the Milgauss was the last innovation, and it largely passed people by. The Yachtmaster II regatta feature? Almost entirely deserved criticism.
Rolex now bringing an entirely new material to the game, and a nato/material strap (slightly disappointed no titanium bracelet if I’m honest), is huge news.
I do however find the black dial and ceramic bezel a disappointment for 2 reasons –
1, it’s admittedly classic but a mundate colour scheme, but
2, the Yachtmaster bezel is really ineffective for a tool watch feature – the black one in particular. A friend owns the Rose gold YM, and the bezel in many lights is illegible – it certainly can’t be quickly glanced at and used as an actual dive bezel. I owned the rhodium with platinum bezel and that was a scratch magnet, though more legible than the black, as long as you had reasonable light. In low light it was fairly useless at a quick glance.
So what is this latest Yachtmaster then? If its to be tested in the wild for endurance, for actual purpose, well what’s its use to Ainslie? Surely a chronograph or a watch with a stand-out seconds hand (in, say orange or red) would offer more function. Something really fresh like a countdown, even an internal bezel legible in low light. Maybe something a little akin to the Omega Speed master Mark II. As it stands this is being badged as some sort of activity tool watch, yet might be the least functional tool watch they could have chosen…
Brilliant piece! Thank you Mr. Goulard.
I agree with those readers who think it’s not realistic/reasonable for the Crown to come up with just another model BUT, if I’m not mistaken, that darling will become reality sometimes in the future. Why? Because I know one thing or two about the product life cycle process and I found this:
Of course, like any serious business they have a product management team in charge of the (future) Rolex portfolio. And someone with the marketing department (accidentally?) slipped a hint to the public. At least I’m convinced they considered the titanium version for serial production at one stage in the last couple of months.
The clue: On rolex.com there is this web page explaining the history behind the waterproofness of the Oyster case (https://www.rolex.com/about-rolex-watches/waterproofness.html) (5/4/22, T12:36 CET).
Interestingly, all product pages show the same layout template with a specific sub menu, center stage below the Crown, “[product name] | Configure | All models”. However the link to this page mentioned above is only available on the Submariner product page which contains two additional menu items called “Waterproofness” and “A watch like me”. The last one leads to a story by James Cameron. Even more suspicious is the page “Waterproofness” also mentions both the Sea-Dweller and the Deepsea. So, the page’s link would fit more than one product, wouldn’t it?
Some background: My private computer including my preferred browser is set to English. Well, being a German in Germany, however, my company’s computer settings are German and today, during lunch break, I came across that page again I mentioned above. After I recognized that little detail I’d like to tell you about in a moment I went through all available languages on rolex.com and checked the same paragraph for that same little detail. It’s only given in German and Vietnamese.
Helpful to know, I’m a degree technical translator, in case you wonder how I figured that one out for Japanese and Farsi for example. Actually, my education is of particular interest because when you know how business companies and language vendors handle translation orders, it is obvious the following information was already included in one version of the source document sent to the translation agency, and with this in mind we can rule out it’s just the pipe dream of one keen translator who wanted to show his or her knowledge and admiration about the client’s products.
Fun fact is: Roughly half way down that page “Waterproofness” within a passage regarding the Oyster case’s principle of construction there’s the following sentence about the caseback: “On the current divers’ watches, depending on the model or version, the case back is made of Oystersteel or 18 ct gold.”. My first thought was “What’s about white gold and Everose?” before I realized (model or version…???) this page is for the Submariner only. So they list the known materials the Submariner is made of. Fine, BUT in German (and Vietnamese respectively) that paragraph reads “Bei den aktuellen Taucheruhren besteht der Boden je nach Modell oder Ausführung, aus Edelstahl Oystersteel, aus 18 Karat Gold oder einer Titanlegierung.” BAM, yes, they list titanium alloy and it would show a poor proofreading process (don’t mind that comma behind Ausführung!) if it’s not mentioned for a reason!!
At least we can keep dreaming… 😉
(Imagine “A watch like me” by Sir Ben Ainslie)