Did you know that in the 1950s, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) teamed up with Rolex to create a watch that could tell the time in more than one location? The result of this collaboration would be the GMT-Master one of the world's favourite Rolex watches.
From humble beginnings, the GMT-Master II is today one of the most collectable watches in the Rolex catalogue, and there are currently ten different combinations of metals, bracelet styles and bezel colours to choose from. But what makes the Rolex GMT-Master II such an important piece?
Let's look a bit closer at the beauty and function it offers while taking a short dive into the history of this fine watch.
The First Rolex GMT-Master
The first Rolex GMT-Master was the reference 6542. To meet the requirements of one of the world's largest airlines, Rolex designed the GMT-Master with two extra features over a standard Submariner. The first was the bezel, which was now two-tone with a set of 24-hour increments, and a fourth hand on the dial, which made one rotation every 24-hours. Pan Am staff could simultaneously read the local and home times by rotating the bezel forwards or backwards, depending on whether the plane was flying forwards or backwards across the timezones.
Rolex made the 6542 between 1954 and 1959. It was water-resistant up to 50 meters as Rolex didn't imagine it would be having much contact with water lest there was a crash landing. This first version also had a bakelite bezel insert, however, Rolex replaced it soon after because they'd found the bakelite was prone to cracking. Because Rolex only fitted Bakelite bezels onto the GMT-Master for the first two years of its life, watches with them fitted are both very rare and valuable.
Throughout its run, this Rolex used a 38mm Oyster case that was borrowed from the "Turn-O-Graph" and had three automatic movements: the cal. 1036, 1065, and 1066. Since Honor Blackman famously wears the watch in the James Bond film Goldfinger, it's affectionately known as the "Pussy Galore."
In 1959, Rolex came up with the next generation of GMT-Master watches, which lasted until 1980. Called the reference 1675, this watch came with a new case diameter, measuring 40mm across and would eventually come in a range of metal combinations with a choice of bezel colours and bracelet styles, much like the collection of today. This version was water resistant up to 50 meters like the original, but it also featured crown guards and a new dial inscription which read "Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified".
From 1959 to 1964, it used the calibre 1565. Eventually, this was replaced for the 1965 model year by the calibre 1575. In 1971, Rolex introduced hacking which stopped the movement when the owner pulled out the crown. This was the last significant change to the watch. However, Rolex continued to bring out new dial and bezel options which are nearly all collectors' favourites today.
Rolex GMT-Master II
In 1982, Rolex introduced a new version of their now-iconic pilot's watch: the Rolex GMT-Master II ref. 16760 and was somewhat hilariously dubbed "the fat lady" by fans due to the chunkier case.
This version used the calibre 3075, which featured the hacking seconds from the previous model but added a quickset date. Also, the wearer of a GMT-Master II now could set the hour hand independently of the other hands, which was a significant innovation for the watch. This increased the number of timezones the wearer could measure time simultaneously in from two to three (although this is a bit of a mental workout).
Its water resistance increased from 50m to 100 meters as well, denoting the shift from a tool watch to a recreational lifestyle watch. The diameter, however, did not change from 40mm.
The GMT-Master II reference 16750 had two options for its dials. One was a matte finish that featured printed luminous indexes, and the other was a glossy version featuring applied white gold indexes. Since most people chose the glossy versions and even replaced their matte ones during repairs, the matte versions are now scarce.
The GMT-Master II 116710
In 2005, Rolex updated the GMT-Master II. The new version had a Triplock winding crown, which was initially part of Rolex's diving watches. This crown provided extra security against water ingress should the crown not be adequately sealed. It also received their Parachrom hairspring for increased resistance to magnetism in the venerable 3186 movement.
An updated look with larger hands and hour markers (often nicknamed "maxi", as in maxi-dial, which denotes the increase in size) also debuted with the new watch, as did a bezel made of durable ceramic which was virtually scratch-proof. The ceramic-bezel version came first in solid 18k gold, then two-tone in 2006 and finally the ever-popular stainless steel in 2007.
The Rolex GMT-Master II Colour Bezels
The differences between the 116710 generation of GMT-Master IIs and the current are less obvious, but they do exist. Besides the movement, perhaps most notable is the expanded use of colour combinations on the bezels. While the previous GMT-Master IIs did eventually get two-tone ceramic bezels (a world first at the time), the current lineup consists only of contrasting colours. The most notable is probably the "Batman" configuration which has black and blue applied, but the models that seem to be performing the best (bar the very newest watches) are reference 126710BLRO, nicknamed the "Pepsi". These have the iconic red and blue colours associated with GMT Masters of the past and the Pepsi Company, although it's not an official collaboration.
When the "Pepsi" debuted, it had a Jubilee bracelet attached, something we hadn't seen on a GMT-Master in a long time. It also had an upgrade internally, with calibre 3285 that uses Rolex's patented Chronergy escapement to be more accurate and power efficient. Thanks to the Chronergy escapement (and other enhancements), the power reserve was bumped up from 48-hours to 70-hours. Another small but essential detail that changed was the self-winding rotor bearing which now uses ceramic ball bearings, making it (effectively) a sealed for life unit.
As with other Rolex models, the Rolex GMT-Master II 126710BLRO has a stable balance bridge instead of a single-sided balance cock, paired with the Paraflex shock absorber and free-sprung balance wheel. This gives the watch the durability Rolex watches are famous for. It also features a fine regulator with Microstella weights on the balance and a Breguet overcoil to increase accuracy.
Perhaps the thing the "Pepsi" is most notable for (other than being on a waiting list" is appreciation. The median price for one of these is roughly triple its original retail price at launch. Thankfully, it's built on decades of history as the go-to watch for pilots and travellers.
Opt for Timeless Beauty and Function
With the best watch technology around and years of history and innovation behind it, a Rolex GMT-Master is a purchase that you can revel in. We are proud to offer the Rolex GMT-Master II Pepsi and the Rolex GMT-Master II Black at Watches of Wales.
Contact us today to find the perfect watch.