Rolex began its GMT-Master story in 1955 with their very first pilot watch made for Pan Am, the ref. 6542. And just under 45 years later, the Swiss watchmaker concluded that chapter with their last GMT-Master—the ref. 16700. Of course, the Rolex pilot watch saga continues today with the GMT-Master II collection, but the GMT-Master is no more. Let’s delve into that very last GMT-Master with a look at the ref. 16700.
A Vintage Rolex GMT-Master 16700 Tiffany & Co. Dial.
The Caliber 3175
Although Rolex had already introduced the GMT-Master II collection in 1983 with the ref. 16760, the Swiss watchmaker continued to offer the GMT-Master model too. In fact, in 1988, Rolex unveiled a new version of the GMT-Master with the ref. 16700 just one year prior to their new GMT Master II ref. 16710. Having both versions of the aviation watch was just a matter of economics. The GMT-Master ref. 167oo offered an almost identical look to the GMT-Master II ref. 16710 model during the same time period, but at a lower price point.
The main difference between the GMT-Master and the GMT-Master II was the automatic mechanical movement within. Powering the GMT Master ref. 16700 was the Caliber 3175 where the two-hour hands were not independent. Since the center hour hand and the 24-hand were linked, this meant that the GMT-Master could only indicate two time zones rather than the three-time zones the GMT-Master II could display.
A peak inside the Tiffany GMT 16700.
The Caliber 3175 did, however, have both the hacking and quickset functions. The hacking feature means that the second’s hand halts when the wearer pulls out the winding crown, thus permitting a more precise time setting. On the other hand, the quickset date function allows the user to change the date instantly, rather than having to turn the center hands repeatedly until they pass midnight.
The Rolex GMT-Master ref. 16700 Features
Since the GMT-Master ref. 16700 was the more affordable option over the GMT-Master II, it comes as no surprise that it was only available in stainless steel. However, there were two bezel options—the iconic blue and red “Pepsi” bezel and, in much smaller quantities, the mono-color black bezel as well. Even though the black bezel option is a sleek choice, the blue and red one has the advantage of differentiating between day and night of the second time zone. Red represents daytime hours while blue indicates nighttime hours.
The GMT-Master ref. 16700 also featured the sapphire crystal protecting the dial, white gold surrounds on the luminescent hour markers and the option of an Oyster or Jubilee bracelet. The Oyster bracelet of the ref. 16700 also received an upgrade in 1989 with the introduction of the Oysterlock. The Rolex patented Oysterlock prevented the bracelet from accidentally opening, thereby beefing up the security of the watch.
A Vintage Rolex GMT-Master 16700 Tiffany & Co. Dial is nicknamed the Pepsi for its red and blue bezel.
During its over ten-year production run, the GMT Master ref. 16700 sported two different dials. The first one was the tritium dial until about 1997, followed by the Luminova dial from 1998 onward. Rolex finally pulled the plug on the ref. 16700 in 1999, signaling the end of an era. The Swiss watchmaker grounded the GMT-Master line to make way for the GMT-Master II collection to fly solo.
The GMT-Master ref. 16700 is often an overlooked vintage Rolex reference – especially since at the time, it was competing with its fancier sibling. Yet, since it is the very last GMT Master model, it represents a significant piece of the Rolex history and an interesting model to have within any vintage Rolex collection.
If you haven’t already, check out our previous articles on earlier vintage GMT Master models including the ref. 6542, ref. 1675, ref. 16750, in addition to the first GMT-Master II, the ref. 16760. And make sure to stay tuned as we continue our in-depth look at the history of the GMT Master collection where we dive into the GMT-Master II ref. 16710.
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