Why I Bought It: Rolex Sky-Dweller In Stainless Steel Rolesor
Over the years I’ve owned several Rolex watches. I’ve also sold several. The reasons vary from duplicates, to upgrading the collection, to botched servicing.
Yet, I always seem to come back to Rolex. To me, it is an iconic brand that makes accurate, sturdy, and beautiful timepieces. There’s no mistaking a Rolex for anything else.
I follow the glacial pace of Rolex’s innovations: the brand takes its time in perfecting everything in a new offering (ten times over, usually). It’s both a frustration and a comfort that people smarter than me have my back.
So in 2012 when the Geneva Giant (a name our editor-in-chief once coined) introduced its Sky-Dweller – by far the brand’s most complicated in-house timepiece – I was interested.
I read the reviews. I studied the caliber and photos. I gagged at the price tag on the first precious metal versions (unlike some of my fellow writers, I live within a budget). See the white gold version in Spending Time With The Most Complicated In-House Rolex: The Sky-Dweller.
When Rolex finally relented in 2017 and put the Sky-Dweller Caliber 9001 in a Rolesor case (“Rolesor” is a Rolex term for two-tone stainless steel and gold) and dropped the price down to $14,400 I was a player. So were a goodly number of other Rolex admirers.
I sold two pieces in my collection to free up some working capital for the Rolesor Sky-Dweller in white gold and stainless steel with the blue dial.
Ordering the new Rolex Sky-Dweller
I spoke with my sales contacts around the watch world to see who could come up with my new Sky-Dweller first. Silly me: it seems that Rolex recognized the whopping demand for this piece and wanted to keep interest high, releasing the new steel-infused Sky-Dwellers in dribs and drabs (and still does).
Eventually I placed my order through my most trusted authorized dealer, Morgan’s Jewelers in Torrance, California.
The manager there, Thess Duong, cautioned me, “Don’t hold your breath on this one. We don’t expect to receive any shipments for quite some time.” Quite some time proved to be exactly one year to the day when my Sky-Dweller finally arrived.
During that time, demand soared: aftermarket prices almost doubled that of the manufacturer’s retail price, though they’re drifting down now. I began thinking that this was a hard asset arbitrage play.
The day I received my watch I could have flipped it for a tidy profit. But no: if the steel-and-white-gold Sky-Dweller with the pretty blue dial spoke to me before, now it shouted my name.
True to her word, Duong honored our original agreement and priced my watch at Rolex’s retail price of $14,400. No discount. Nothing but a pretty smile and a thank you. At least she gave me a bag to carry my booty home in.
How the Rolex Sky-Dweller fits into my collection
If you’ve read my articles here and elsewhere, you probably know that I gravitate toward workingman’s watches – those that serve a purpose and do a job. I wear them regularly, none of my watches sit in a safe or on winders gathering dust.
To me, beauty lies in the efficient ability to function at a high level day in, day out without fail. That’s what I immediately saw in the Rolex Sky-Dweller. I didn’t have a GMT watch in my modest collection. Now I do.
I travel a fair amount internationally, and I write for a number of international publications in varying time zones. When I’m on assignment, I need to know when my editors and interview sources are available. Writer’s rule #1: don’t awaken editors with stupid questions in the middle of the night. The Sky-Dweller plugs that hole nicely.
To me, the Sky-Dweller appears to be a crossover. It’s a dress watch, a sports watch, and something that’s just nice having around. I use this watch for all occasions: it goes equally well with a business suit, business casual, and can even accompany me to the ball game.
My daily schedule often takes me to the office, to interviews, business meetings, then to the gym, the pool, and down into the dark engine rooms, boiler rooms, and combat engagement center of the USS Iowa where I’m a historian/content expert.
The Sky-Dweller goes everywhere. I find its water-resistant properties (100 meters thanks to the screw-down crown and its Twinlock double water resistance system) and its solid construction make it a perfect addition to my collection. And the bright aqua-colored dial with its luminous Chromalight hands and markers makes it perfectly legible in the dark.
The watch experts say that collectors should never count on capital appreciation of their watches. I heed that advice. Still, this is in my opinion a unique timepiece sporting what I consider an iconic design.
It was already on the market for five years, but at a price point that prohibited most collectors from participating: there was a lot of pent-up demand out there.
I saw all these things as the ingredients necessary to – just this once – make an investment in a watch. It turned out I was right – just this once. The new offering in steel would clear the board of those who yearned for this new piece at a more affordable price. I saw the Sky-Dweller as value added to my small collection.
What attracted me to the Rolex Sky-Dweller and why I love it
Just look at that dial! Its brilliant blue sunburst changes color depending on ambient light, going from electric blue in bright sunlight to almost black down in the dark confines of Iowa’s engine room #2.
The red and white inverted triangle hovers over the off-center 24-hour ring display like the moon over a tranquil sea, forever connecting with the time where loved ones sleep. How very smart that the subdial reference time is in 24 hours to distinguish day from night.
The dial furniture makes good use of one additional red accent: the indicator at the base of the marker for the current month. To me, the eleven white accents and that single red one are what make the entire dial presentation pop. It adds just enough color to tell the viewer there’s more here than meets the eye, so look carefully and enjoy the subtlest but also the best parts.
Rolex made some restrained improvements to the dial since the Sky-Dweller was first introduced in 2012 in precious metal. Specifically, the hour markers are no longer Arabic or Roman numerals: now they’re rectangular batons, opening the dial and giving it a less cramped, busy feeling. And Rolex also made the hands longer to better point to the exact time.
The case is perfect. Big, but perfect.
The Sky-Dweller’s fit and finish continue making it a joy to wear; there are no sharp edges anywhere. The lugs curve nicely downward to better fit the wrist. All surfaces of the case are mirror polished. The only satin finish is on the bracelet and the steel case back covering what I can only imagine is a beautifully engineered 9001 movement.
As always, Rolex leaves it all on the front and nothing on the back.
Rolex has utilized its two-metal Rolesor case metal since the early 1930s, trademarking the name in 1933. I haven’t read anything about it being particularly scratch resistant.
By now you probably can tell that my watches are meant to be used and that I don’t baby them. And let me say that after a few months of wear I can find no scratches on this piece. None. While this may not be a true workingman’s watch, it’s certainly meant to be used for every aspect of life.
Everyone has their preference as to the fit of a watch bracelet. The standard rule is it should be just tight enough to insert the little finger under the bracelet. That’s how I fit my other bracelets.
But not the Sky-Dweller: this watch is a top-heavy beast. Any play in the bracelet has it sliding around. Rolex’s Easylink rapid extension system takes care of that problem. I had the Sky-Dweller adjusted to meet the little finger test with the 5 mm extension deployed. Then I snapped it closed. Now the watch sits snugly on the wrist, doesn’t slide around, yet can be easily loosened should I need just a scotch more room.
The bracelet is proportionally wide. It takes some getting used to seeing it cover such a large part of wrist real estate. It has a polished center with a satin finish on both sides. I wondered if the mirror center would become a sea of scratches. So far the answer is no.
Rolex Sky-Dweller Functionality
Rolex did not just toss the Sky-Dweller’s unique set of requirements on the engineers’ desks and say, “make this.” The brand took years to figure out exactly what the frequent traveler between various time zones would need and how best to serve the task.
Rolex equipped it with its in-house developed and manufactured Caliber 9001. This is without a doubt the most complex movement Rolex has ever developed on its own. No wonder: between seven and twelve patents (the exact number seems up for debate) protect it.
All functions are controlled using a combination of inputs from the screw-down crown and what’s known as the command bezel. The instructions are logical and easily remembered.
However, I found there’s a particular order of procedures for setting the watch. Disregard the ordained order and things you thought were unaffected suddenly turn out wrong. The good news is that the order is logical and follows the way most of us set a watch.
First, set the exact seconds, then the minute, then the reference time on the off-center disk. Next, set the local time with the central hour hand. This moves in one-hour increments forward and backward, making it quick and easy. It also moves the date back and forth – a nice touch of user friendliness.
Lastly, set the month and the date. That’s it. Easy.
For my purposes, I use the reference time for client location of whichever project I’m working on at the time. This I do frequently.
When traveling, I set the reference time to my home time, then use the hour and minute hands for local time. This I change as I move between time zones.
I very seldom change the month and date since this is an annual calendar watch.
Rolex advises that the watch is accurate to +/-2 seconds daily. I’ve found that to be true when it’s in the winder. Accuracy improves to +1 second daily (or less) when on the wrist.
Comparing the Sky-Dweller with other Rolex timepieces
This is among the biggest watches Rolex produces at 42mm. Only certain diver’s watches like the Deepsea are bigger (see 5 Professional Diver’s Watches Surfacing At Baselworld 2018). Most of Rolex’s collection is smaller, 40 mm or less in diameter. Being bright, shiny steel the watch and bracelet present a wide swath clamped around your wrist. It’s a striking size difference that takes some getting used to.
It’s also a thick watch at 14.1 mm. Though that thickness doesn’t stop it from easily sliding under a shirt cuff since the command bezel slopes smoothly downward, making a nice ramp for the shirt cuff to slide up and over neatly.
I’ve always liked the design of the Datejust and Day-Date: that fluted bezel easily identifies the piece. The Sky-Dweller bears the same case design and fluted bezel.
The solid-link Oyster bracelet is also the same used throughout the collection. The crystal bears the expected Cyclops 2.5 x magnifying window over the date. The dial appears the same until you get to the off-center reference time disk.
In creating the Sky-Dweller collection, Rolex kept the “DNA” of its brand totally intact, while still developing an entirely new addition to the Oyster collection. There are many similarities that make the Sky-Dweller immediately familiar. But there are also new innovations to appreciate.
Rolex Sky-Dweller features that I use
It seems the more complex the technology, the less of it I generally use; I’m certain that I use only a fraction of my iPhone’s total capabilities.
But that really isn’t so with the Sky-Dweller. The most frequently consulted functions I use daily are the local time and the reference time where my editors are located. I usually know the month and date – except when traveling between vastly different time zones. Then the date can be confusing.
I’m a CPA by profession. I like my balance sheets to balance and I like an accurate timepiece.
When I set the watch, it’s set to the exact second. What’s the point of having such a precise timepiece if you’re not going to allow it to function for you as designed and engineered? That’s just personal preference, though.
I like that the 9001 movement is automatic. I wouldn’t like having to reset all the functions because the power reserve wound down.
And I use its water resistance of 100 meters almost daily. We live at the beach and I appreciate a watch that likes the water as much as I do. Some of my daily schedule is either conducted in dark places or at night. The Sky-Dweller’s bright, aqua-colored Chromalight-infused dial is important to me.
What’s inside the Sky-Dweller box?
Being Rolex, initial presentation is like a good book drawing you in. The story begins with the eggshell-colored outer case with the Rolex crown logo subtly embossed on the top.
But this is just the hors d’oeuvre before the main course. As the outer cover lifts off, the inner case front slowly falls forward revealing another crown logo in gold, this time with the venerable brand’s name in its traditional green livery.
The watch box inside is also a beautiful Rolex green with embossed waves on top and (again) the Rolex crown in gold. Lift the spring-loaded lid and the Sky-Dweller greets you for the first time.
Its burly steel elegance reposes on a curved pillow amid an ocean of eggshell-colored suede. Its fine leather scent exudes quality. There’s a hidden compartment in the lid (with another gold crown and green Rolex logotype) just for the paperwork: warranty card, warranty booklet, and instruction booklet. There are the hangtags including the green, gold, and white Superlative Chronometer certification tag.
The watch itself has two layers of protection – Thess Duong kept them on for me to see. The bezel is protected with a hard plastic ring. There was plastic wrapped over most every surface it seemed.
I had the watch for a month before I noticed the last of the plastic still clinging to one of the mirror-finished lugs.
All in all, a magnificent first impression for a great timepiece.
Is the Rolex Sky-Dweller the perfect watch?
I’m pretty discerning. I doubt I’ll find the perfect watch, but that won’t stop the hunt.
However, for the purpose Rolex built the Sky-Dweller and what I use it for, it comes pretty close. Still, there are some minor bumps.
- The hands are a little difficult to read in some light conditions. I find myself sometimes having to twist and turn the watch to reflect available light off the hands to read the time. Because of the occasional difficulty in reading the dial it is definitely not a pilot’s watch. But it was never intended to be such, even though it is a GMT.
- The rotating GMT disc has no luminous Chromalight on it and therefore cannot provide the reference time in the dark. Not essential, but would have been nice. It would have also added a bit more color to the piece at night.
- The command bezel takes a bit of getting used to. Though the instructions are quite straightforward, getting am and pm in sync with the date display is error prone – but only at first.
- Damn, but this is a big watch. It wears big. It looks big on the wrist.
The Rolex Sky-Dweller could be the one for you if . . .
- You’ve never owned a Rolex before and have resisted finding out why this is the world’s most recognized watch brand. This could be said of any Rolex model, though. The Sky-Dweller is a great platform to see for yourself why the world loves Rolex.
- You own other, maybe older, Rolex models and are dying to see how far the brand’s state of the art has come. Quite a distance, I’d say.
- You appreciate the sheer beauty and majesty of this watch (did I mention that it’s big?) and you appreciate the effort Rolex put into getting its technical sophistication perfect.
- You want a watch that effortlessly crosses from suit to sporty casual with attitude.
You may wish to continue your search if . . .
- Your wrist is small and doesn’t take well to outsized chunks of steel wrapped around it.
- You don’t much care what time it is anywhere but where you happen to be at the moment.
- Your eyes are not what they used to be and it’s becoming harder to read the fine print on your watch without glasses or [gasp] a magnifying glass.
- You dislike fussing with a watch that requires occasional attention to make it function as designed.
For more information please visit www.rolex.com/watches/sky-dweller.
Quick Facts Rolex Sky-Dweller in steel-and-gold Rolesor with blue dial
Case: two-tone stainless steel and white gold or yellow gold (Rolesor), 42 x 14.1 mm, rotating Ring Command bezel for function selection
Movement: automatic Caliber 9001, 33 x 8 mm, Parachrom hairspring, Paraflex shock absorption, Superlative Chronometer certification (C.O.S.C. and Rolex certification after casing), 72-hour power reserve, 4 Hz/28,800 vph frequency
Functions: hours, minutes, sweep seconds; second time zone, annual calendar with date and month
Pricing: $14,400; aftermarket prices currently vary between $20,000 and $24,000 depending on the version
Time to delivery: don’t hold your breath
You might also enjoy Spending Time With The Most Complicated In-House Rolex: The Sky-Dweller.
For more articles by Chris Malburg:
Also published on Medium.