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The Rolex Yacht-Master II: Eccentricity Outside, Complexity Inside

By Tim Breining

In 2010, Rolex released one of the most controversial models in the brand’s recent history: the Yacht-Master II. The original Yacht-Master from the 1990s is effectively a more luxurious version of the popular Submariner with a slightly toned-down tool watch feel. The Yacht-Master II, however, strikes an entirely different chord. The massive 44-mm yellow gold case paired with a white-blue dial and blue bezel has quite a wrist presence, to put it mildly.  

Critics were quick to declare the Yacht-Master II a watch aimed at the nouveau riche with its larger-than-life design. For them, it’s a watch to be worn with boat shoes and nautical polo shirts regardless of whether there is a boat in sight – at least, that’s what you’ll read on the forums. 

While I don’t consider myself a Rolex mega-fan, and I do struggle with the aesthetics of this model, I don’t quite agree with the harsher critics who won’t even give the Yacht-Master II a second glance due to its ostentatious looks. If you do that, you’ll be missing out on seeing one of Rolex’s rarer complications at work. No, I’m not talking about the GMT or date display. Next to the beloved Daytona and refined Sky-Dweller, the Yacht-Master II is the third and latest Rolex model to feature a seriously complicated function: the regatta chronograph, i.e., a chronograph with a mechanical memory. 

Clear marketing references to the exclusive sailing sport and the watch’s bold looks have undoubtedly contributed to the model’s controversial reputation. Personally, I don’t mind if a mechanical complication is practical or necessary for everyday use as long as it features a sophisticated and sound construction. Be honest: How often have you devoured articles about unnecessary mechanisms in a timepiece? I hope you nodded in agreement because the rest of this article is about the mechanical heart of the Yacht-Master II. 

The Rolex Yacht-Master II is a unique addition to the Rolex portfolio.

Facts About the Rolex Yacht-Master II

Before we dive into the depths of this model, let’s take a quick look at the dial layout and how it works. 

In contrast to a conventional chronograph, the Rolex Yacht-Master II features an arc with the numerals 10 to 0 running clockwise. This is joined by a short hand with a triangular tip. The bezel has the same sequence of numbers, as well as the Yacht-Master II name. As the decreasing numbers suggest, this feature counts downward instead of upward like conventional chronographs.  

The dial also features central second, minute, and hour hands, as well as a small seconds subdial at 6 o’clock. You may assume this watch works like a standard chronograph with its push-pieces at 2 and 4 o’clock, but looks can be deceiving. The Yacht-Master II actually shares the so-called Ring Command System with the Sky-Dweller, which means the bezel doubles as a means of controlling the watch. 

While this may sound quite sensible, it does require some sacrifices in terms of water resistance. This is somewhat concerning for a model designed for watercraft, but we’ll touch on Rolex’s solution to this later.  

The Yacht-Master II's bezel doubles as a control.
The Yacht-Master II’s bezel doubles as a control.

How does the Rolex Yacht-Master II work?

To set the timer on the Rolex Yacht-Master II, begin by turning the bezel until it clicks into place. This happens when the “1” on the bezel is around the 12 o’clock position. Then, press the push-piece at 4 o’clock, which will stay engaged. Once you unscrew the crown, you can set the duration of the countdown in minutes. This is easy to do thanks to the jumping hand. When you turn the bezel back to the starting position, the timer is set, and the push-piece at 4 o’clock will pop back out. 

As is typical of chronographs, the push-piece at 2 o’clock starts the stopwatch (or in this case) the countdown timer. The central second hand will begin to move, as will the countdown minute hand with a triangular tip. The latter moves continuously and does not jump, a feature of many other chronographs. Rolex didn’t shy away from the effort of creating a jumping counter; this caliber’s special flyback function lends itself more to a continuously moving hand. In contrast to conventional chronographs, pressing the push-piece at 4 o’clock while the timer is running won’t reset the hands. Instead, the minute hand will jump forward or backward to the nearest minute. While this function may initially sound a bit strange, it makes sense in the context of a regatta.  

During the countdown at the start of a regatta, visual and acoustic signals are given at intervals to indicate the impending start. The Yacht-Master II allows the wearer a chance to synchronize their watch last minute if they happened to start the initial countdown too early or too late. The patent for this mechanism explicitly mentions its use in regattas and the opportunity to synchronize the watch with the second signal pistol instead of the first, which is harder to anticipate. In this sense, the flyback function on the Yacht-Master II is more of a synchronization function. Of course, you can perform a more conventional reset of the timer by stopping the countdown with the upper push-piece and then pressing the lower one.  

The Heart of the Yacht-Master II: The Caliber 4161 

The Yacht-Master II gets its power from the caliber 4161, part of the 4100 series of movements. The most prominent caliber in this series appears in the Daytona. While the Yacht-Master II is a chronograph like the Daytona, its mechanics and construction differ significantly from a classic stopwatch function. 

Thanks to the patent granted in 2007, the technical principles behind the mechanism are visible to the public. You can get a sense of the concepts behind the functionality described above by looking at the patent drawings. Describing the general functionality of chronograph timepieces doesn’t quite fit into the scope of this article. If you are interested in learning more about that, however, you can read more here. Likewise, you can read Chrono24 Magazine’s overview of all Rolex movements here. Today, we’re going to hone in more specifically on the movement that powers the Yacht-Master II and find out what makes it so unique and how it sets itself apart from other chronograph calibers. 

We’ll be taking a closer look at the following mechanisms and functions: 

  1. Using the bezel as a controller 
  2. “Programming” the countdown function, which carries on even after stopping and resetting the chronograph 
  3. The flyback or synchronization function that jumps to the closest minute
          The Yacht-Master II's caliber 4161 sets itself apart from other chronograph movements.
          The Yacht-Master II’s caliber 4161 sets itself apart from other chronograph movements.

          Ring Command: The Yacht-Master II’s Control Bezel

          When it comes to the bezel of the Yacht-Master II, two questions come to mind: How does it interact with the actual movement? And how on earth does the watch still boast water resistance to 100 m (10 bar, 328 ft) despite this additional function?  

          Looking at the patent drawing reveals the bezel’s secret. A spring-loaded pin is attached to the rotating bezel and engages in a recess in the push-piece at 4 o’clock when it’s in the correct position. In the patent, the bezel is touted as a way to continuously activate the push-piece, which you would otherwise have to hold down during the entire configuration process. The patent drawing reveals that the bezel doesn’t actually require any access to the case’s interior, as one might initially presume. It only interacts with the exterior of the push-piece. The seal sits within the push-piece (as you’d expect from a chronograph), so you don’t have to worry about water resistance with this design. 

          The Rolex Yacht-Master II’s Mechanical Memory 

          The key to the adjustable countdown timer on the Rolex Yacht-Master II is the addition of a heart-shaped disc in the minute counter (labeled “9” in the drawing). The disc has an unusual, asymmetrical shape and is referred to as the flyback cam in the patent. This component is also used in more conventional chronographs. Its distinctive shape ensures that it assumes the same position each time the reset hammer strikes. The retrograde design of the minute counter (a section of the arc) is made possible via the interaction between the rack lever 10 and snail cam 6″ in the drawing of the countdown mechanism.  

          But back to the heart of the Rolex Yacht-Master II, i.e., the flyback cam. It doesn’t sit firmly on the arbor but rather is connected to a star wheel, which has a defined number of spaces and a spring to ensure it cannot stop in any intermediate positions. Now there’s just the possibility of adjusting the position of the heart disc relative to the chronograph center wheel. The position that the counter assumes when it is reset is variable. This is made possible by rotating the crown, which engages wheel 9″ via the connecting wheel 15 and the intermediate reverser pinion 15′, neither of which is shown here.  

          When the mechanism is in operation, wheel 6, which sits on the snail cam 6″, is driven via intermediate components from the wheel and pinion 4 (this holds the seconds timer 4′). This, in turn, provides the countdown mechanism the ability to engage and disengage from the movement via the fly-back cam 11 and the clutch 12.  

          Bonvin et al. US2007/091727A1

          Flyback Forward of Backward: How the Yacht-Master II Can Be Synchronized 

          The synchronization function, which allows the minute counter to jump to the nearest minute, works as follows: If the countdown mechanism is running, the position of column wheel 8 prevents the fly-back lever 13′ from working, the latter of which resets the countdown period when the mechanism is stopped. This prevents a complete reset. Resetting the fly-back cam 11 via the fly-back lever 13, which also strikes the heart-shaped fly-back cam 11, impacts the seconds timer 4′ and wheels 16, 7, and 6. These control the minute counter via snail cam 6″ and rack lever 10 as previously described, which controls the minutes hand 5′.  

          We know that the minute counter always jumps to the nearest minute when you synchronize it. This means it somehow has to differentiate between making a clockwise or counterclockwise movement depending on the number of seconds passed or the position of the seconds hand 4′. The key here is the interaction between the heart-shaped fly-back cam 11 and the one-way coupling element 6a, which permits wheel 7 to transmit energy to wheel 6 in a single direction.  

          Let’s consider the two possibilities when you press the reset button.  

          If the seconds counter is displaying less than 30 seconds, the reset hammer 13c will always strike the heart-shaped fly-back cam 11 is such a way that wheel and pinion 11′ moves in a clockwise direction. This will cause wheel 7 to rotate counterclockwise, but this won’t set wheel 6 in motion because the one-way coupling element 6a doesn’t transmit any movement in that direction. Wheel 6 has a certain amount of leeway to rotate counterclockwise and spring 10′ ensures that rack lever 10 presses on the snail cam 6″. When wheel 6 gives a little, the rack lever shifts, and the minutes hand 5′ jumps counterclockwise to the previous minute. 

          If, on the other hand, the seconds counter is displaying between 30 and 60 seconds, the wheel and pinion 11′ will move counterclockwise, causing wheel 7 to rotate clockwise. The one-way coupling element 6a can then transmit energy to wheel 6. The snail cam 6″, which sits on wheel 6, moves rack lever 10, making the minutes hand 5′ jumps clockwise by a set amount. And thus, the minute counter jumps ahead to the next minute.  


          As you can see, there are several very clever mechanisms at work within the controversial exterior of the Yacht-Master II. I think you have to give Rolex some respect for even daring to implement this complex construction. Watches from the Genevan brand certainly aren’t lacking in sales, even if they lack grand complications. That’s all the more reason why we should welcome new complications from the brand every now and again. 

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          About the Author

          Tim Breining

          My interest in watches first emerged in 2014 while I was studying engineering in Karlsruhe, Germany. My initial curiosity quickly evolved into a full-blown passion. Since …

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