Sunday Morning Showdown: Rolex Yacht-Master Vs. Omega Aqua Terra
In this Sunday morning column, two of our writers go head-to-head in an epic showdown for the ages. Strong opinions and hysterical hyperbole are welcome (so feel free to join in with the fun in the comments section below). And don’t forget to let us know which watches you’d like to see torn to shreds/effusively exalted next week. We’ll try and feature as many of our readers’ choices as we can. After last week’s divisive debutant, the Tudor P01, we have a couple of controversial models from Omega and Rolex. This week, the Yacht-Master stares down the Aqua Terra in one of the loveliest (or should that be “lubbliest”?) showdowns in memory.
Wow, that was close. The polarizing Tudor Black Bay P01 duly polarized. It looked like it could go either way for a time, but Mikey Mike brought home the bacon with a 52/48 win. Less than 40 votes separated the camps. This week, I have a feeling it won’t be so close…
Omega Aqua Terra vs. Rolex Yacht-Master
I guess the clue is in the name. The Omega Aqua Terra collection features watches designed for water and land. But perhaps because the “Aqua” received top billing, the models generally look quite like early Seamasters, and the word Seamaster generally makes an appearance on the dial, it’s not hard to see why people might be tempted to think of these watches as more nautical than anything else.
The Rolex Yacht-Master‘s jib is cut a little cleaner. While this may not appear the most functional of watches, it does meet the criteria of yacht clubbing rather well. Gold is also highly resistant to corrosion. That should never be overlooked when bashing a luxury seafaring watch… But what do our contenders, Ben and Jorg, make of these two? Let’s hand over to Messrs Weppelink and Hodges to find out in which bay they plan to drop anchor…
Ben Hodges — Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra
Jorg is leading two-to-one on the Omega vs. Rolex showdowns. The Sub was just too much of a giant for my giant killer Seamaster 300M to fell. But that has not dampened my spirit. If anything, it’s spurred me on to keep fighting the good fight of the Omega Seamaster collection against the venerable diving Rolex.
The watches today are intended for the waves rather than the ocean depths. The Yacht-Master was that watershed moment where things are changing and never going back. Released in the early ‘90s, the Yacht-Master was a luxury sports watch that had no real guiding purpose for its existence. From this point onwards, the tool aspect of the Rolex professional lineup had lost a little meaning. In its place was the idea that a Rolex was merely an interpretation of the golden age of mechanical tool watches.
The Yacht-Master certainly was an aspirational timepiece for budding sailors. While known for hanging loosely on the boat-tanned wrists at the yacht club bar, many saw it as a trophy that indicated the success of achieving the Yachtmaster certificate. A gruelling challenge that not only assesses your adeptness at harnessing the winds and sea but navigation, distress calls and the ability to handle a man overboard situation. I am only at the level of a coastal skipper, so for me, the Rolex Yacht-Master eludes me. But I am quite happy defending the equally surface-dwelling Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra.
The Aqua Terra exists in the ether between land and sea, effortlessly blending into office life while reminiscing of the time diving off the back of the catamaran for a cooling dip. Rarely would I say this, but I think the TV commercials produced by Omega of Eddie Redmayne posing on a sailing boat encapsulates the spirit of the Aqua Terra. The 41mm two-tone Sedna and steel ups the luster without sacrificing the casual nature too. The horizontal grooves of the dial mimic the teak decking on a luxury vessel. Perhaps the nautical theme over-extended itself with the non-functional stitching on the rubber strap and matching solid Gold strap end tabs. But it plays into the fantasy that I’m only too happy to buy into.
Another thing I appreciate about the Aqua Terra is how identifiably “Omega” it is without the common traits. There is no helium release valve at 10 o’clock. Nor is there an asymmetrical chronograph case with crown guards. Yet, the subtle lyre lugs, conical crown and prominent shark-tooth indices still evoke pure Omega-ness (not a word, but should be).
Jorg Weppelink — Rolex Yacht-Master 40
Ah, the Yacht-Master! A watch that I probably would have cursed when I first got to experience the joy of sailing. I vividly remember the instructors at the sailing camp in my senior year of high school in 1995. They fanatically encouraged us to curse those oversized and ostentatious motor yachts passing us. I would not be surprised if we verbally cursed a skipper with his first-generation golden Yacht-Master (ref. 16628) to the bottom of the sea somewhere during that week. Oh, the irony, because today I would happily wear a ref. 16628.
Ben: I have been there on both sides; either in the frenzy of Hobie cat racing between passing recreational yachts — as well as cruising the ostentatious yachts themselves. In both situations, I want everything and anything to get out of my way.
I have to say I like that you have put both watches into context Ben. Rolex does not have to sell the Yacht-Master to me based on its potential of being a luxury watch for yachting life. Neither does Omega with its Aqua Terra. I think you said it correctly that both of the timepieces seem to suffer from a lack of definition when it comes to their intended purpose.
Ben: True, but in my view, the Yacht-Master suffers move in that regard, because what you get from the Submariner is so much more.
Well, yes, the Yacht-Master is more outspoken in its flashy character with only the bidirectional bezel functionality to back it up — and it certainly gets a lot of flack from purists. Well, crucify me because I like the Yacht-Master. Why? Because from the moment I got face to face with the stainless-steel Yacht-Master (ref. 16622), I liked that it dared to be different from other hyper-focused Rolex sport models.
Why the Yacht-Master?
Viewing the steel Yacht-Master up close in 2005, I was intrigued, but not directly convinced. Rolex’s use of a combination of steel and platinum or “Rolesium” as Rolex put it, created an overall very grey aesthetic that seemed a bit boring. But the Yacht-Master changed the moment I put it on my wrist. Its case is very comfortable with its 40mm diameter and sleek profile with marked curves, and slightly plunging lugs.
…the watch turned out to be anything but boring.
Next to that, Rolex showed the magic of the Yacht-Master was in the details preventing it from becoming boring. First, there is the combination of sandblasting the bezel and polishing the numerals against the grainy character of the dial. They contrast perfectly with the polished upper parts of the lugs and polished center links for the oyster bracelet. What was blasphemy for purists, turned out to be perfect for the Yacht-Master. Add the lovely contrasting red seconds hand and red Yacht-Master name on the dial and the watch turned out to be anything but boring.
Enjoying shrimp cocktails
Fast forward to Baselworld 2015 where Rolex introduced the Everose gold Yacht-Master on the black Oysterflex bracelet (ref. 116655). Once again, it was that specific combination of materials, colors, and finishes that defines the Yacht-Master that made it a hit. The combination of a rose gold case with a black Cerachrom bezel, a black Oysterflex bracelet, and a black dial and created something that immediately made me want to become a yacht owner and steal some cocktail shrimp from the buffet at the local yacht club. It is easily one of my favorite Rolexes in the current collection.
Which brings us to the bi-color version of the current Yacht-Master (ref. 126621) that was first introduced in 2016 — at that time with ref. 116621 as the Yacht-Master with the updated Caliber 3225 was introduced in 2019. When it comes to the gold and steel combo, there is no brand that pulls it off better than “Das Haus” as Robert-Jan dubs in his review of this bi-color Rolex Yacht-Master. The combination of rose gold and steel or “Rolesor” with the chocolate-colored dial, is as much a statement as the Yacht-Master itself. Both are a statement of traditional sophistication and understated style. I am kidding, of course. The bi-color Yacht-Master is bold, it screams luxury, and it doesn’t hide it, and why should it?
The Yacht-Master IS style over substance, and that’s ok.
So, with the Yacht-Master, you know what you get. It’s a luxury sports watch from Rolex that is more about style than it is about substance. And there is nothing wrong with that. But tell me more about the Aqua Terra, Ben. Because if there is one thing I may never understand, is what Eddie Redmayne has to do with being on a boat sporting the Aqua Terra. It just seems unbelievable, undefined somewhat. Anyone can be on a yacht, even Eddie Redmayne. What makes Redmayne the right man for the job? Despite being incredibly talented actor, it looks like an act that he can’t pull off. Or is it maybe that speaks to the undefined character of the Aqua Terra?
Ben: You got me on the ropes now, Jorg. Or am I just doing the rope-a-dope? Actually, it is blasphemy to mention ropes in the context of sailing. Officially, there is only one rope on a sailing vessel and that is tied to the ship’s bell. All other ropes; sheet, line, jib, halyard etc. has a name to match the function. Otherwise, could you imagine the confusion? “Pull the rope!” “Which one?”
Jorg: To avoid any big catastrophes let’s meet up on a motor yacht okay?
Ben: I digress…what I still do not understand is what the Yacht-Master brings to the table. All previous sport Rolexes had a function or feature or some form of professional application. I can see that with the Yacht-Master II, but the first outing is just a luxury void.
Jorg: It’s funny how this keeps popping up in all the discussions about the Yacht-Master as if that is necessary to like a watch? And just to be clear, any Rolex has primarily become an outing of luxury. And as you brought it up, the majority of Rolex owners that use this argument hardly use their watch for its intended purposes anyway. If finding that functional purpose is absolutely necessary for you, then my yacht is off-limits for you Ben.
Ben: With the Aqua Terra, what you have is the legacy of the dressy vintage Seamaster design from the late ’40s. Before the Seamaster 300 came into the fray in 1957 and made the collection dive-focussed. Yet still, the Aqua Terra has diving potential, 50 meters more than the Yacht-Master I might add, at 150 meters. From the innovation standpoint, Aqua Terra was the first Omega to house an anti-magnetic movement that is certified to at least 15,000 gauss. That is a considerable achievement for Omega. The Globemaster may have got there first with the Master Chronometer Co-Axial calibre and stamp of approval by METAS in 2015. But the benchmark of anti-magnetism was already set two years prior by the Aqua Terra with Calibre 8508. That specific reference was 126.96.36.199.01.002.
Ben: Now, the Aqua Terra we have today has circumnavigated full circle and is also fitted with the METAS certified Calibre 8900 with Master Chronometer status since 2017. The other improvements along with the new calibre were shifting of the date window to 6 o’clock and flipping the grooves horizontally. All subtle design changes that brought attention back to the casual wristwatch. I also really like the choice of colors of the Aqua Terra. There less a focus on bold primary colors as you see on the Planet Ocean. And more of tranquillity in soft blues and gentle greys.
Ben: The Aqua Terra is a watch for sailing seas in a good mood, which are all the reasons why I think Omega captured it with Eddie Redmayne on a yacht. And no, it is nothing to do with Redmayne as a person. He is a good actor, great actually. But in the context of the TV commercial it’s the calmness content with which he exudes on a beautiful yacht without another soul in sight.
Jorg: I could parry your story with the story of how the design of the Yacht-Master had been around since the 1960s as an updated version of the Submariner. Or how the Caliber 3235 movement is a great step up from the previously used Caliber 3135. And how it’s one of the easiest automatic movements to service, but also one of the most robust that can withstand daily wear perfectly. But somehow I feel the choice between either one of these two watches is predominantly based on the difference in character rather than its technical details.
Jorg: We could go on for hours about details but maybe it’s best to sum up this showdown by drawing a comparison between Eddie Redmayne and Pierce Brosnan. The difference in character between the watches is the difference between Eddie Redmayne in the Omega commercials and Pierce Brosnan in the Thomas Crown Affair — yes I know he wore a Reverso in the movie but we’re talking yachting here.
Jorg: You probably remember the scene where Brosnan as his character Thomas Crown pushes his catamaran to the edge. In the end, he deliberately lets it capsize just because he can. Where the Aqua Terra and Redmayne bring calmness and an almost serene silence, the Yacht-Master stands for the excitement and fun that Thomas Crown has when he pushes his catamaran to the edge and goes far beyond that edge. It’s an over the top statement that not everyone may appreciate, but one I very much like because of it.
Jorg: But let our readers decide which of the two stories they think is more compelling. Is it the flashy outgoing character of the Yacht-Master or the more distinguished character of the Aqua Terra. Let us know by voting for your favorite of the two watches!