Do you have your heart set on buying a pre-owned Rolex GMT-Master watch? We can’t blame you; regardless of which reference you get, they are all truly fantastic timepieces! Here are a few pro tips help you out while you search for the perfect one.
1. There are GMT-Master and GMT-Master II Models
Rolex first introduced the GMT-Master watch in the 1950s as a way for Pan Am airline pilots to keep track of two time zones while on the job. As some of you may know, pilots follow Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) – or “Zulu time” – as the universal time zone of the skies to avoid confusion. The Rolex GMT-Master watch allowed pilots to simultaneously read GMT via the 24-hour hand pointing to the 24-hour marked bezel and local time via the traditional 12-hour hand on the dial.
The traditional hour hand and the GMT-hand on the GMT-Master watch are linked. Therefore, to set the GMT reference time, the user simply has to rotate the 24-hour bezel to align the correct numeral with the 24-hour hand. This system continued on the GMT-Master watch for about three decades until Rolex released the GMT-Master II model in the early 1980s.
The GMT-Master II differs from the GMT-Master in that the traditional hour hand and the GMT-hand can be set independently. What that means is that the rotating bezel can be left in the neutral position (where the inverted triangle sits at 12 o’clock) and the 24-hour hand and the traditional hour hand can display two different time zones. Then, a third time zone can be read by rotating the bezel according to the appropriate number of offsets.
Rolex continued to make GMT-Master and GMT-Master II watches side-by-side for about 15 years until the GMT-Master was ultimately discontinued in 1999. Today, Rolex only produces the GMT-Master II watch; however if you intend to buy a pre-owned Rolex GMT-Master, you have a choice of a variety of different references.
2. The Material and Color Options of the GMT-Master
In terms of metal options, the GMT-Master collection is one of the most varied in Rolex’s lineup. Aside from the popular stainless steel versions of both the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II watches, there are precious metal versions in white gold, yellow gold, Everose pink gold, and two-tone steel and gold combinations. There are even some ultra-lavish gem-set versions of the GMT-Master II that are blanketed in diamonds and other precious stones.
Rolex has also offered the GMT-Master bezels in an assortment of materials and colors over the years. Very early GMT-Master watches had bezels fashioned from Bakelite, followed by aluminum. As of 2005, Rolex makes the GMT-Master bezels in a special ceramic alloy the company calls Cerachrom. Color choices are wide, ranging from red/blue “Pepsi” to red/black “Coke” to brown/gold “Root Beer” to black/blue “Batman.” There are also solid black bezels and the most recent bi-color combination added to the mix is black and brown.
Additionally while most Rolex sports watches are exclusively offered with Oyster bracelets, the GMT-Master is one of the few to have been paired with both the Oyster bracelet and the Jubilee bracelet.
3. Comparing Vintage Vs. Retro Vs. Recent GMT-Master Models
To make sense of all the references released throughout the GMT-Master history, we’ve grouped them into three parts: vintage, retro, and recent.
Vintage GMT-Master References (1955 – 1988)
The first model that kick-started Rolex’s pilot watch collection was the GMT-Master ref. 6542, officially launched in 1955. It sported a stainless steel Oyster case topped with a blue and red Bakelite bezel. However, Rolex quickly replaced Bakelite with aluminum – not only due to the material’s fragility, but also because there were concerns about the radioactivity of the luminescence inside the bezel. While the vast majority of GMT-Master ref. 6542 watches were made in stainless steel, there were some yellow gold versions too.
Next in line was the GMT-Master ref. 1675 (released in 1959) that introduced crown guards to the watch. With a production run that spanned over two decades, the GMT-Master ref. 1675 came in several materials including steel, gold, and two-tone. There were also some bezel options including blue/red, brown/gold, and monochromatic black.
The third generation came in the form of the GMT-Master ref. 16750, which housed Caliber 3075 with quickset date functionality. To accompany the steel GMT-Master ref. 16750, there was also the yellow gold GMT-Master ref. 16758 and two-tone GMT-Master ref. 16753.
Finally, the first GMT-Master II made its debut in 1983. The GMT-Master II ref. 16760 was exclusively available in stainless steel, fitted with a red and black bezel and furnished with a sapphire crystal.
Retro GMT-Master References (1988 – 2005)
Despite the release of the more practical GMT-Master II, Rolex continued making the GMT-Master as the less expensive option. In 1988, Rolex released the steel GMT-Master 16700 with a sapphire crystal, a slightly redesigned case, and the option of either a Pepsi or black bezel.
Around the same time, Rolex unveiled the 167xx family of GMT-Master II watches, which was a varied series in terms of material options and bezel colors. There’s the steel GMT-Master II ref. 16710, the gold GMT-Master II ref. 16718, and two-tone GMT-Master II ref. 16713. And depending on the model, pre-owned Rolex GMT-Master watches can be found with bezel colors that include red/blue, red/black, brown/bronze, and all-black.
Recent GMT-Master References (2005 – present)
2005 was the year that the GMT-Master II collection underwent the most drastic design changes. Rolex launched the new version of their flagship pilot’s watch with the yellow gold GMT-Master II ref. 116718, which featured a brand new black Cerachrom ceramic bezel, a heftier “Super Case,” a bolder “Maxi Dial,” and an improved bracelet. Other metal options soon followed including the two-tone GMT-Master II ref. 116713, the stainless steel GMT-Master II ref. 116710, and the white gold GMT-Master II ref. 116719. In addition to the first all-black Cerachrom bezel, other bezel color options soon emerged including blue/black and red/blue.
Finally, in 2018, Rolex ushered in yet another generation of the GMT-Master II with the introduction of the ref. 12671x family, which featured the brand new Caliber 3285 inside. A first for the collection are versions in Everose gold – the full Everose ref. 126715 and the two-tone steel and Everose ref. 126711. Another precious metal version is the white gold GMT-Master 126719. There are currently two options available for the steel GMT-Master II ref. 126710, one with a Pepsi bezel and one with a Batman bezel.
4. Understanding Replacement Parts
As with all Rolex watches purchased in the secondary market, it is important to understand what are aftermarket parts and what they do to the value of a pre-owned Rolex GMT-Master watch. Aftermarket parts are components added to the watch after the watch has already been made. These can include official Rolex replacement parts added by authorized service centers or custom non-Rolex additions.
Rolex collectors favor watches that have all of the same original parts that they had when they first left the factory; however with older models, this is not always feasible. Pre-owned Rolex GMT-Master watches are often sent in for servicing and as a result, worn out or damaged parts are replaced. This explains why a particular reference number that was made in the 1960s can have a dial style that was introduced a few decades later. While not entirely factory original, these are indeed 100% authentic Rolex watches.
On the other hand, some Rolex owners like to customize their watches with gems, different finishes, and so on. Since these are not official Rolex parts, these types of treatments can dramatically decrease the value of a piece. For instance, a pre-owned Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675 will command a significantly higher price if it has all of its original parts, than it it has been set with aftermarket diamonds, despite the fact that diamonds are inherently expensive.
Thankfully, none of the timepieces that we sell at Bob’s Watches are fitted with any custom or non-Rolex components. When you buy a pre-owned Rolex GMT-Master watch through us, you can rest assured that it is 100% guaranteed authentic – and this is the perfect example of why it is important to “buy the seller” when delving into the secondary Rolex market.