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Bob’s Watches Presents: The History of the Rolex GMT-Master

November 29, 2018

BY Paul Altieri

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Hey everybody, and welcome to the Bob’s Watches video series. Today, we’re looking at another classic: the much beloved Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II.

This modern icon was thrown back into the spotlight at Baselworld 2018 when Rolex finally unveiled a new GMT-Master II “Pepsi” model on a stunning jubilee bracelet. Prices of this new release have been soaring as demand far outweighs supply. Why is demand for this watch so high? To answer that question, we need to take a quick dive into the history of the Rolex GMT-Master.

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Let’s Dive In

Though the GMT-Master has always looked like a fairly modern watch, its creation came more than 60 years ago, back in 1954. The original reference 6542 came in the classic Pepsi colors on a rotating external bezel, providing contrast against a black gilt dial with prominent lumed indices and hands.

The first reference had no crown guards, and most interestingly it featured a bakelite bezel for its first couple of years of production.

It didn’t take Rolex long to realize that this material was not suitable from a durability standpoint, and before long all bezel inserts were crossed over to aluminum.

Rolex GMT Master History

The Rolex GMT Master History begins with this Bakelite GMT-Master.

The premise behind its creation was a simple one. At the time, there was a legitimate demand from pilots for a way to track multiple time zones on the go as Pan-Am Airlines began undertaking Transatlantic flights. Accurate wristwatches were already a mandatory tool for pilots of the era, and Rolex was happy to develop a solution.

For the first while, the 24 hour hand fitted to the GMT-Master was directly linked to its standard hour hand, whereas its rotating bezel allowed for time zone adjustments on the fly.

Rolex GMT Master History

The GMT-Master 1675 has many other small variants that can potentially boost its value.

Next in Line: GMT 1675

By 1959, the reference 6542 was due for replacement, and the arrival of the reference 1675 brought with it a few small changes, and one very noteworthy one. It was the first GMT-Master to use crown guards. Crown guards are a unique design cue added to keep the crown from digging into the wearer’s wrist. The pointer of its 24h GMT hand also increased a fair bit when compared with its vastly more dainty cousin.  Its case size remained a modest 38mm, and its bezel continued to use its flagship colors.

Over the course of the 1675’s existence Rolex did integrate a few more models in different colors. Among others, an all black model, the rare blue-bezel “blueberry GMT” and of course the gold cased “rootbeer GMT” all surfaced during the lengthy production run of the reference 1675 that continued through until 1980.

Although the 1675 was well into production by 1964, this was the year that the earlier reference 6542 earned yet another nickname. Appearing on the wrist of a core character of the 1964 James Bond flick, Goldfinger, this GMT-Master came to bear the nickname “Pussy Galore” amongst collectors and enthusiasts from around the world.

The reference 1675 also led us to the combination of a sports watch on a jubilee bracelet, providing inspiration for the latest model that launched earlier in 2018. Sadly, by the time the GMT-Master ii arrived, GMT’s on jubilees quickly faded from the catalog.

Rolex GMT Master History

The updated GMT-Master was a fan favorite.

GMT-Master II 16750

The last of the GMT-Master references prior to the GMT-Master II came to be in 1980, featuring the updated caliber 3075 movement with a quick-set date function and an increase of it’s running speed up to 28,800 vibrations per hour. While this GMT-Master reference 16750 remained in production into the ‘90s, its successor the GMT Master-ii was presented for the first time in 1983.

We still have a hard time understanding why Rolex would offer both models overlapping the way that they did, but then again the mighty crown continuously works in mysterious ways.

Both of these models arrived in a larger 40mm case size, so ultimately what set the GMT-Master II apart was functionality. Rather than simply relying on the bezel for reading alternative time zones, its 24h GMT hand could be set independently of home time, and these adjustments would not stop the running of its seconds hand. This change proved quite practical for frequent travelers, and provided the brand all the more reason to kill off its predecessor.

The Master II also marked the arrival of another GMT nickname on the growing list, as a black and red bezel variant was instantly recognized as the Coke bezel GMT.

Rolex GMT Master History

The GMT-Master II 116710 “Batman” has its course set on becoming a highly collectible watch.

Hello Batman

2008 onward marked the arrival of a string of modernization for the GMT-Master II. A slightly beefier case, updated bracelets, and arrival of ceramic bezels brought the famed model up to modern specification. Bezel functionality was also improved, as these new models used a firm 24-click system rather than the conventional 120-click bezel like its Submariner siblings.

First arriving as the two-tone black dial reference 116710LN in 2008, it was soon followed by Batman – the reference 116710BLNR in 2013. A white gold cased Pepsi Bezel ceramic model came the following year. Through this period these models were powered by the caliber 3186, which incorporated modern technologies of Rolex R&D such as the parachrom hairspring, among others.

Rolex GMT Master History

The latest GMT-Master II is taking the market by storm.

New Kid on the Block

The final crown jewel of the collection is of course the reference 126710 BLRO Pepsi bezel, cased in steel on a jubilee bracelet. With this model, Rolex updated the GMT caliber to improve both on efficiency and power reserve, fitting it with its latest Chronergy Escapement and Parachrom balance spring. This new caliber 3285 nearly doubles its siblings’ power reserve, bumping up to 70 hours. It’s moves like this that prove that as great as the brand is, they’ll never be done innovating or pushing boundaries.

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