Late last week, we showed you two new divers from Tudor and while they arguably stole the show from big-brother Rolex, that doesn’t mean Rolex didn’t come out and play at all. The big announcement from Rolex this year is the new Sky-Dweller which offers some fantastic technology but unfortunately wraps it up in a dial design that seems to have left Basel attendees rather cold. This new 42mm model comes in the three variations seen below and offers a technological first for Rolex, a watch with both an annual calendar and dual timezones. I will do my best to explain these, but please see the included video as the visual is quite helpful. The annual calendar complication means the Sky-Dweller can account for how many days are in each month so, with the exception of leap years, the Sky-Dweller won’t need to have its date advanced for months with less than 31 days. Further more, the month itself is cleverly shown on the dial via an aperture at each hour marker (see photos, eight o’clock is a different color so the Sky-Dweller is indicating it’s August), very cool.
The most visible feature on the Sky-Dweller is certainly the 24 hour wheel prominently displayed just off-center of the handset. This wheel is meant to display the reference time (time in your home timezone) while the handset is meant to show the local time. The hour hand is jump set so setting local time only involves moving the hour hand, not the entire hand set (this is faster and more accurate). This 2nd timezone complication seems to throw the familiar Datejust design off balance, making for a rather awkward dial design. While the Sky-Dweller’s dual timezone feature may be quite practical, it certainly isn’t pretty.
The Sky-Dweller has one more trick up its sleeve as Rolex has designed a simple and ingenious method of choosing which feature the crown will control when turned. The feature select is done via a four position setting in the bezel, which Rolex calls “Ring Command”. By rotating the bezel counter clockwise, the user can select month/day control, local time, and reference time (fourth setting is idle). The level of understanding that goes into a technical design such as this should not be overlooked and you can even try a simulation of it here. Rolex had to create a new in-house movement, the Calibre 9001, for the Sky-Dweller which is both chronometer certified and sports a 72 hour power reserve.
The way I see it, the Sky-Dweller is a bitter-sweet design from Rolex. On one hand, you have a complex but practical movement that integrates multiple complications into a simplified and pusher-free user interface and Rolex should be celebrated for the technical design and its implementation. On the other hand, the Sky-Dweller is neither pretty or classic in terms of its visual design. It is essentially a large Datejust with a somewhat messy dial that may appeal to some well-heeled travelers.
The fact that Rolex is not making a steel version of the Sky-Dweller could make this new model something of a novelty but I also I think that it is indicative of Rolex’s slow-but-steady march away from their tool watch roots. Pricing has yet to be announced but given that a white gold 36mm Datejust (ref 116139) had a 2011 price of $20,500 USD, it’s safe to say that the Sky-Dweller, with its host of technical additions and improvements, will retail for far more. Only time will tell if buyers will accept the Sky-Dweller as a top tier offering from one of the world best known watch brands or if it will fail to find the same rabid fan-base that surrounds many of the marques more conservative models.