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Watches & Wonders 2022: The New Rolex Releases

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The moment we’ve all been waiting for is finally here. Watches & Wonders Geneva, now one of the most important expos in the annual horology calendar, threw open its doors this morning to unveil the latest creations from the industry’s biggest players.

Taking center stage as always is Rolex, who turned up with scores of new models and not a few surprises among them. Here we will be covering some of their most intriguing releases that range from the GMT-Master II, The Air-King Update,  A New Yacht-Master, and a pretty dial for the 31mm Datejust.

The GMT-Master II ref. 126720VTNR

The GMT-Master II ref. 126720VTNR

Well, who saw this one coming?! I’m not ashamed to say this has been a real shock to me. Rolex’s class-leading travelers’ watch, the GMT-Master II, has added to its range with not only a new bezel color scheme (the model’s most distinguishing feature since its debut in 1954) but has also arrived as an LHD. (Left Hand Drive)

That’s right, both the winding crown and the date display have been repositioned to the left-hand side, something of a godsend for all those southpaws out there who wear their watches on their right wrists (me included).

The Batman and Pepsi have been spotted with configurations on either the jubilee bracelet or the oyster bracelet, and the lefty GMT-Master II is also offered with those same bracelet options. The power reserve remains the same, hovering around the 70 hour mark.

To say that is unexpected is an understatement. While this is not the first time Rolex has issued a LHD, but why they have done it now, with this piece, is a complete mystery—albeit a very welcome one.

Just as importantly, that new green bezel color is an eye-catcher, looking more vibrant than the red the brand uses on the Pepsi and even the Batman’s blue. The only question is; what will the fans nickname it? I’m getting in early with the Sprite! We’ve also confirmed that the green on this GMT-Master II is the same green on the Starbucks.

The Air-King ref. 126900

The Air-King ref. 126900

This could have gone either way. On the run-up to Watches & Wonders 2022 there was speculation from all corners about whether Rolex would either grant the Air-King an update or trigger its demise. The brand itself goaded us with their ‘Prepare to Move Skywards’ teaser video a couple of days before the show.

As it turns out, the oldest name in the brand’s books has been given a new lease of life. The old ref. 116900 is no more and the ref. 126900 steps in. So what’s changed?

There are actually two big alterations; one on the outside, the other inside.

Guards now protect the crown for the first time in the watch’s long history, following the sporty, more muscular look of most of the rest of Rolex’s Professional Collection. Only the Explorer and Milgauss remain guard-less in the contemporary catalog.

And on the inside, as expected, the old movement has been replaced with the latest generation Cal. 3230. Created in 2020, the no-date mechanism is already installed in the most recent iterations of the Submariner, Oyster Perpetual and Explorer, and now drives the Air-King as well. A huge step-up from the retiring Cal. 3130, it features the Chronergy escapement, a highly efficient and antimagnetic component made of nickel phosphorous. In addition, revised barrel architecture raises the power reserve to 70-hours.

As for the rest, that distinctive dial is unchanged, with its prominent 3/6/9 indexes and easy to read minute markers.

The Air-King is one of the cult favorites in the Rolex portfolio, and it would have been a real shame to see it discontinued for the second time in its life. So praise is due to the brand for continuing its legacy.

The Yacht-Master ref. 226658

The Yacht-Master ref. 226658

Rolex surprised us all in 2015 when they released their Yacht-Master, a more luxurious take on the all-conquering Submariner, in a new 42mm guise, complete with black Cerachrom bezel and rubber Oysterflex strap.

It gave the somewhat conservative model a far more casual, sporty look and became a massive hit in the process.

That original rose gold (or Everose, to give it its Rolex name) watch was followed up in 2019 with a white gold version. Now, in 2022, the brand has completed the set and brought us the yellow gold piece too.

The popularity and appeal of yellow gold waxes and wanes, far more so than with the precious metal’s other hues. There is always the danger of it looking too ostentatious and too reminiscent of the flashy excesses of the 1980s.

Rolex is in the perfect position to counter this, operating their own foundry in their Geneva manufacturing base where they can take complete control over every aspect of the forging process.

As they have with the latest references of the Day-Date, their proprietary yellow gold on this new Yacht-Master has a nicely judged paleness to it, giving an understated overall aesthetic which perfectly suits the rest of the watch.

Other than the case metal, the ref. 226658 matches the other two 42mm models in every way. The movement is the well-proven, next gen. Cal. 3235 complete with Chronergy escapement and Parachrom hairspring, offering up a 70-hour power reserve and Superlative Chronometer accuracy.

The Yacht-Master ref. 226659

The Yacht-Master ref. 226659

There was one other new introduction into the Yacht-Master 42 family this year. The white gold ref. 226659 gained a new dial, described as the Falcon’s Eye.

The face has been given a fascinating texture, with an uneven brushed finish and bluey-green tint that will take on completely different colors in various lighting conditions.

It joins the other white gold 42mm model with a flat black dial.

The Deepsea ref. 136660

The Deepsea ref. 136660

Good luck spotting the differences here! Rolex’s ridiculously capable diver, the Sea-Dweller Deepsea, also gets an upgrade for 2022, although you’d be forgiven for not noticing.

We still get the two dial options; the simple black and the wonderful D-Blue (sometimes known as the James Cameron, with its graduating ombré effect).

But there have been tweaks (honest), as well as one quite strange deletion.

The bezel, with its 60-minute dive scale, is now a fraction slimmer. And the crystal has been changed to a more angular version to further emphasize its dome effect.

However, the Fliplock extension on the Oyster bracelet has been removed. This is the mechanism which allows for the bracelet to be easily lengthened an extra 26mm in order to fit the watch over a thick 7mm wetsuit. Rolex actually removed it from the latest Rolesor Sea-Dweller when it was released in 2019 as well, the thought presumably being that it wasn’t going to be used often enough to warrant its inclusion.

It will be interesting to see how this move plays out with the Rolex faithful. It is certainly unusual for an updated watch to offer less than the one it replaces. Happily, this new version still has the far more practical Glidelock and its ability to add an extra 20mm to the band in 2mm increments. And, of course, this is still the most hardcore dive watch in the arsenal, safe down to an astonishing 12,800ft.

The Day-Date 40 ref 228236

The flagship offering from Rolex got a whole host of fresh additions to add to its already well-stocked catalog—including one detail never seen before.

The latest platinum Day-Date collection, in both 36mm and 40mm, has been given platinum fluted bezels for the first time ever, using a new process just devised by the brand. Rolex has never issued a platinum bezel before, only gold, and so it is fitting that it should debut on their top-of-the-range offering.

All told there are 28 new platinum Presidents; 16 in 36mm and 12 in 40mm. There are also a slew of new dials to feast your eyes on, including a pink opal face on a 36mm model, further emphasizing the Day-Date’s changing role as a unisex wear.

There are a handful of additional dials for the yellow and Everose gold models as well, with a bright lurid green, almost reminiscent of the ‘70s Stella dials, being a particular standout on one of the 40mm pieces, available with either a fluted or diamond-set bezel.

The Datejust 31

The Rolex Datejust is a vast collection of watches, available in five sizes ranging from 28mm (the Lady Datejust) up to 41mm and a truly bewildering number of different dial, metal, bracelet and bezel options.

This year, the 31mm variant got an extra trio of models, each with an appealing floral-motif dial.

Firstly, there is a new white Rolesor piece with an azure blue dial and fluted bezel on an Oyster bracelet. The yellow gold model has an olive green face, diamond-set bezel and sits on the President band. And the Everose Rolesor watch comes with a silver face, diamond bezel and Jubilee bracelet.

Each of the flowered dials combines three different finishes; sunray, matt and grained, to leave a fascinating texture and depth. It gives this most traditional of names a certain playfulness that is sure to be extremely popular.

One thing to note is that the Datejust will come in several different variations, especially on the bracelet. We have seen the oyster bracelet, the jubilee, and even on the presidential bracelet.

 

This concludes all the new Rolex models… However, there is another watch photo that has been circulating on the internet. Similar to the Yacht-Master Haribo. Perhaps this is on the Rolex Secret catalog, but that watch we will save for another day.

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