The 2023 Rolex Skydweller Floating in the clouds

The Rolex Sky-Dweller Gets it's First Update in 11 Years

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The Sky-Dweller has always been an important watch for Rolex. It’s their most complicated, feature rich and arguably most useful watch for the world traveller.

Among the craziness of Watches And Wonders 2023, (go home Rolex Puzzle Day-Date, you’re drunk), there was some less dramatic news that flew in under the radar at the Rolex booth.

It was subtle, a new movement here, a new dial colour there. Nothing dramatic, but they were the kind of changes that Rolex collectors go crazy for. In 50 years we will no doubt see auction results through the roof with 'transitional year' watches. Rolex being just a slow moving brand I get it, it's exciting and rare when they change. It's cool to own something that represents that.
With this in mind, let’s turn our attention to a watch that Rolex hasn't updated since it was released in 2012. One that finally received some love at this year's Watches And Wonders.

Forget the Emoji Day-Date for now, if you can….

Let’s Look To The Sky (Dweller)

The Sky-Dweller has always been an important watch for Rolex. It’s their most complicated, feature rich and arguably most useful watch for the world traveller. At least I hope people use it as intended, Siri may have taken over. It’s an annual calendar, can track a second time zone and has a twenty-four hour scale. All essential features for those that can’t miss that important meeting, or want to check if they will wake the wife at home when they call after hours. Critical.

A Brief History Of The Annual Calendar Complication

The first annual calendar wristwatch was released in 1996 by Patek Philippe, with the 5035 and its calibre 315 S QA. It was a 37 mm, yellow gold dress watch and had a slightly squinty, centre focused dial layout. It was the epitome of classic watchmaking from Patek at the time, albeit with a brand-new category of complication.

The Patek Philippe 5035 Annual Calendar

The reason they decided to create an all-new category of watch was, surprisingly, a commercial one. Within their lineup, Patek Philippe had their relatively affordable three hand Calatrava watches and their more expensive perpetual calendars complications. And in terms of pricing (and complexity) there was a big gap between the two. And with the call for more commercialisation in the early 90s, a good middle ground solution was needed.

Patek Philippe created in the annual calendar, a movement that could self adjust for all months excluding February, a useful feature that left out the exponential complexity of knowing at what point in the leap year cycle you were.

It was a great complication, but once a year, on the first of march, you have to adjust your annual calendar watch like a chump while all of your perpetual wearing mates laugh at you with smugness in their eyes.
Even so, it turns out the annual calendar was extremely popular and was one of Patek’s most highly regarded complications. It was even awarded ‘Swiss watch of the year’ when it was launched, by whom? No idea.

In a somewhat cheeky move, the Sky-Dweller is the physical manifestation of Rolex taking the innovation of another brand and improving on it. Making it more usable, reliable and better looking.
This is the Rolex way, and it works. ”Let’s wait until the patent runs out” Is what I assume the big wigs at Rolex murmured in their dungeons in Geneva.
And that’s what they did.

In 2012, sixteen years after Patek Philippe released the 5035, Rolex launched their interpretation of the Annual Calendar, The Oyster Perpetual Sky-Dweller. It was a big leap forward for the complication, improving on the usability of the annual calendar from Patek Philippe, but also throwing in a whole new complication, a second time zone. Boss.

To go on a tangent for a minute…This was a smart move for Rolex.
Strong research and development are often seen as the markers of a good company. But there’s something to be said for letting others spend the development money, seeing how it’s used, then improving on things in your own unique way. The most valuable company in the world, Apple, does this regularly. They’re very rarely the first, but are almost always the best.

The Saros Complication And Ring Command System

This brand-new complication was called Saros. What does that mean I hear you ask? After a quick google search, here’s the definition.

saros. / (ˈseɪrɒs) / noun. a cycle of about 18 years 11 days (6585.32 days) in which eclipses of the sun and moon occur in the same sequence and at the same intervals as in the previous such cycle.

I’m uncertain if this was relevant in the conception of Rolex’s annual calendar module, but there’s no doubting that it’s definitely cool (am I a nerd?) that they’ve named it after an extremely precise astronomical calculation.
Are we going to see a Sky-Dweller II with a solar eclipse countdown timer in the future? I hope so.

The Rolex Saros module

One of the main usability features of the Sky-Dweller is the Ring Command System. Launched first on the Yacht-Master II in 2007, it is used to connect the rotating bezel to the movement. Sounds simple enough. In the Sky-Dweller, the fluted bezel acts as a function selector, allowing the wearer to set the time, second time zone, date, and month all via one position on the crown. It’s a system that removes the need to have teeny tiny buttons on the side of the case that required a seperate tool to operate. I wonder if Patek Philippe knows that people just use dirty tooth picks instead of their solid gold pusher tools to use these buttons. I don’t think they would be very impressed.

Rotating the fluted bezel is also a call back to the early days of the Oyster case. When fluting was developed to help the watchmaker grip the bezel with their fingers and screw it into the mid-case. All in the pursuit of ultimate ‘waterproofness’ in 1926. Very cool.

Caliber 9002 - The First Update In 11 Years.

When the Sky-Dweller was launched in 2012, it’s caliber, the 9001, had 380 components and was the most complicated movement Rolex had ever made. Although it was advanced for its time, it was lacking some of Rolex’s innovations that were developed in the years following.
With the model launched at Watches and Wonders 2023, we see the caliber 9001 get these updates to bring it in line with the companies more modern movements. Enter the Rolex Calibre 9002.

The Rolex Chronergy Escapement

Rolex’s patented escapement was launched in 2015, a full three years after the launch of the first Sky-Dweller. So up untill this point, the Sky-Dweller was outdated. It’s great to see it finally included in caliber 9002. You can read a fantastic explainer of the Chronergy escapement in this article by sjx, but here’s the basics.
1. It’s made of nickel phosphorus, therefore highly anti-magnetic.
2.The geometric upgrades on the pallet lever and the escape wheel teeth make for a more efficient action, giving the watch a higher power-reserve.
3. Skeletonisation of the escape wheel reduces inertia, helping to improve movement efficiency overall.

The Rolex Chronergy Escapement

Updates To The Perpetual Winding System

A new skeletonised winding rotor is also included. It looks a little nicer, which makes me think that Rolex is going to gradually roll out sapphire case backs on more models. Consider that a prediction, mark the date!
There’s also optimised ball bearings connecting the rotor to the movement, all in the name of efficiency. These upgrades won’t be noticeable to the average wearer. Perhaps a bit of a bump in power-reserve, but that will be it.

Rolex Calibre 9002

Updates to the Aesthetics The Rolex Sky-Dweller

In perhaps the most Rolex move ever, the main visual update is a Slimmer seconds hand. Big news!
There’s also Two small crowns at 6 o'clock, and all the lug widths have been ‘harmonised’ across the range. Although to be honest, I didn’t even know that the oyster flex Sky-Dweller had a different lug width than its bracelet clad brother. Some watch blogger I am, I might as well just quit now. Along with some new dial colours (hello green!), we also welcome back to the collection a solid 18k white gold version for those with a $60k stack taking up too much space in their wallets.

The Rolex Skydweller Green DIal
The White gold Rolex Skydweller
The Everose gold Rolex Skydweller with blue dial

The Stats

Reference number: 336239
Movement: Caliber 9002
Power reserve: 72 Hour (approx.)
Accuracy: +-2 seconds per day (Superlative Chronometer certified)
Case Size: 42mm
Warranty: 5 years, the usual Rolex stuff.

The Sky-Dweller is an impressive watch, and even with its relatively minor updates for 2023, it remains one of the most usable annual calendar complications in the industry.
Rolex may never re-invent the wheel when it comes to their yearly releases, but one thing we can always count on is Rolex’s ability to take something great and push it a little further into the future. Just enough to keep the people excited.

Go and annoy your local AD and get yourself on a list for that green dial, I know you want to.

See you in the next one..


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