When you think of the Rolex GMT-Master II, chances are that you imagine the ‘Pepsi’ version. That iconic blue and red bezel has been a mainstay of Rolex’s pilots watch collection since the first GMT-Master it was created back in 1954 – the bi-color bezel allowing airline crew to better differentiate between day and night hours while reading the second time zone via the 24-hour GMT hand.
While other bezels such as the black and red ‘Coke’ or the black and blue ‘Batman’ certainly have their fans, it is still the classic red and blue ‘Pepsi’ bezel that is most emblematic of Rolex’s iconic pilots watch. So today, we’re going to take a closer look at two of the most modern Pepsi bezel Rolex GMT-Master II references, the 16710 and 126710, which are both highly sought-after by collectors.
Rolex GMT-Master II 16710: 1989-2007
The reference 16710 was only the second iteration of the Rolex GMT-Master II collection and therefore an important one. The new release came with a slimmer case design and the caliber 3185 automatic movement. However, during its nearly twenty year production run, it also received a number of upgrades.
One of the biggest updates came when Rolex swapped out the COSC-certified Cal. 3185 movement for the new Cal. 3186 which offered the same independently adjustable hour hands, but featured a new and improved Parachrom hairspring. Rolex also introduced a crystal with a laser-etched crown at 6 o’clock and a case without lug holes during the life of the ref. 16710, with the later-produciton versions receiving a ‘T’ at the end of their reference numbers (ref. 16710T) to denote the update to case design. Another ongoing change was the lume, which went from Tritium to LumiNova to Super-LumiNova over the years.
However, the most important features stayed constant, like the aluminum bezel which has been known to fade over time and sunlight exposure. Even though this is a defect that was rectified by Rolex with the next generation of GMT-Master II watches, this flaw is sought after by many collectors for the unique ‘personality’ that each watch picks up as its red and blue bezel fades.
Rolex GMT-Master II 126710: 2018-Present
In between the Pepsi ref. 16710 and the current ref. 126710, which we’ll discuss here, there was the ref. 116719. Actually, there was the entire stainless steel ref. 116710 generation of GMT-Master II watches that existed in between; however the line’s iconic red and blue bezel was not available on the steel models from this generation, and was only fitted to the solid 18k white gold ref. 116719
This was a particularly important model that we can’t overlook, because its very design greatly influenced the popularity of the current Pepsi ref. 126710 that we have today. You see, before the ref. 126710 was introduced in 2018, the ref. 116719 was both beloved and contentious for its white gold Oyster case and bracelet that put it outside the budgets for many collectors. When the stainless steel ref. 126710BLRO GMT-Master II was released in 2018, many were excited to finally have a ceramic Pepsi bezel available on a stainless steel GMT watch.
However, Rolex didn’t stop there, giving the Oystersteel sports watch an elegant upgrade with the five-piece link Jubilee bracelet. Aesthetically, the ref. 126710 is more dressy than the ref. 116719 due to its new Jubilee bracelet; however its steel construction ensures that it is still a rugged and highly practical toowatch, which is just part of the reason why this reference has been such as success among collectors.
Now, compared to the ref. 16710, there are significant differences besides the Jubilee bracelet. While they’re both 40mm and constructed from stainless steel, the case of the new ref. 126710 has a significantly more bold apperance with thicker lugs, broader crown guards, and a larger Triplock crown (compared to the smaller Twinlock on the ref. 16710).
Additionally, the Pepsi bezel on the ref. 126710 has been forged out of ceramic, aka Cerachrom. This material is extremely tough, and is is incredibly resistant to scratching and fading. Since the Cerachrom ceramic Pepsi bezel will not fade or change colors, ref. 126710BLRO watches won’t pick up the same unique character as the older aluminum Pepsi bezels on ref. 16710 watches.
Other upgrades to the new Rolex GMT-Master II ref. 126710 include a bolder Maxi dial with larger hands and hour markers. The dial also features Chromalight lume that offers a bright blue glow for up to eight hours. Internally, the new ref. 126710 also boasts a new-generation Cal. 3285 Perpetual movement, which offers users a longer 70-hour power reserve, thanks in-part to its completely redesigned and more efficient Chronergy escapement.