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The Most Complicated Watch Rolex Ever Made: The Sky-Dweller

September 23, 2022

Ten years ago this year, Rolex introduced a new kind of wristwatch with a brand new design to the world. This was a big deal for Rolex, which is an innovative brand (despite what some watch lovers say) but tends to innovate behind the scenes and keep to the classic models it knows will sell. It's hardly a dumb tactic, and it's paid off well for them over the last century, but it is nice to see them innovate now and then. Our case in point for this week is the Sky-Dweller, one of the strangest creations from the 'coronet' but one that has sat well with fans since its launch.

The Sky-Dweller is a rare watch in a few ways. The first way being it's quite literally rare as it's always in demand, although we have no less than three fine examples on sale at the time of writing. Secondly, it's rare because it was designed from the ground up for something different. Typically, Rolex designs its watches for professionals, and it splits its watches between 'Classic' and 'Professional' monikers on its site, but most of those watches have been around for decades. 

The Sky-Dweller was never designed to be a professional tool worn by experienced pilots and aircrew; that's been the role of the GMT-Master since its introduction in 1954. The Sky-Dweller was, instead, designed to be worn by the people who are using the plane to travel, the passengers, who might still want to do some timezone trickery but don't need the whole scientific instrument vibe of the GMT. 

Clearly, it was intended for the passengers who can afford to fly business class or higher or have a jet or company travel account to charge, as the Sky-Dweller was released initially in solid 18k gold only. It's a particularly classy model. Of course, the case material is the main reason, but the signature fluted bezel borrowed from the DateJust and upscaled here adds to the appearance. You could even have it on a leather strap with a gold buckle instead of a bracelet if you wish. The rubber Oysterflex strap eventually replaced this leather strap. At 42mm across, it's one of the largest watches Rolex makes, beaten out by the 43mm Sea-Dweller, 44mm Deepsea and 44mm Yacht-Master II.

Funnily enough, it's that last model, the Yacht-Master II, with which the Sky-Dweller has the most in common. Both watches are examples of Rolex's out-of-the-box thinking. While most models stay within the predefined limits for Rolex design, the Sky-Dweller and Yacht-Master II indicate a creative flair. Also, both watches incorporate the bezel as a part of the control system for the movement, although they do different things.

While the Yacht-Master II features a regatta-style countdown chronograph with controls set into the bezel, the Sky-Dweller uses its bezel to control the watch's setting function, called the Ring Command bezel. You see, the Sky-Dweller features an annual calendar function. Named Saros, this patented design allows the watch to distinguish between months with 30 and 31 days within them, meaning it should only need adjusting in February if it's running all the time. We should be clear that the annual calendar is not new or exclusive to Rolex; Patek Philippe introduced it in the Calatrava ref. 5035 in 1996, as a simplified version of the perpetual calendar which adjusts for the length of February.

On the Sky-Dweller, the bezel is used in conjunction with the crown to set the time, travel time and calendar. Pulling the crown out to the first position and twisting the bezel fully anticlockwise until it stops allows you to set the reference time. Rotating the bezel one click in the clockwise direction enables you to select the local time displayed by the hour hand. The hour ring in the centre of the dial stays put, showing the reference time zone in 24-hour format. Returning the bezel to the first position allows you to adjust the annual calendar, which is displayed using the Cyclops-enhanced date and a set of discrete windows between each of the applied luminescent markers and the inner flange ring. Each marker corresponds to a month, with 12 being January, 1 being February and so forth. The red marker indicates the month. Check this video from Rolex themselves to see the Ring Command system action.

In 2017, Rolex made the Sky-Dweller in two-tone (known as Rolesor) with an Oyster bracelet, which helped the watch pick up more fans as more people could afford one. Then, in 2021, Rolex upped the Sky-Dweller's dressiness by adding the iconic Jubilee bracelet option. This matches the GMT-Master II, which also has the Jubilee as an option now.

All of the Sky-Dwellers feature the calibre 9001. It's an in-house made Superlative Chronometer, tested to +/-2s per day. This automatic movement also has a long power reserve of 72 hours, which exceeds most of the more mass-market mechanical movements on sale today, which usually sit at 40 hours. As is typical of Rolex, the movement is hidden by a closed caseback.

As you'd expect from a modern Rolex, the Sky-Dweller has some value retention skills. Of the steel models, we find the versions with the blue dial have the highest prices on the pre-owned market. Some of them command over £24.5k. The Jubilee bracelet seems to have a little increase in the price but not a lot. If you're looking for a good value purchase and don't mind which dial colour you have, the black and white dial versions have lower prices of around £23K, condition depending. With that said, your absolute bang-per-buck watches will be the two-tone versions, as they are often priced the same or less than their steel counterparts but offer a tasteful amount of gold and steel. If you're looking to go all-out on a Sky-Dweller, you can expect to pay around £32k-37k for a solid gold one on a strap and over £42k for one on a solid gold bracelet.

While the Sky-Dweller may not have the iconic President bracelet of the Day-Date, the super-long history of the DateJust or the iconic customer base of the Daytona, it is undeniably a classic in the Rolex lineup, and it would be weird if it weren't there. To see our range of watches in person, please get in touch with us and arrange a viewing where our experts will help you find the perfect timepiece.