For many Rolex collectors, the GMT Master 6542 is the watch to own. Although there have been numerous renditions of the GMT that have been produced throughout its continuous production run of more than six decades, the reference 6542 was the very first, and therefore holds a special place within Rolex’s history.
The GMT Master 6542 is a rare watch and it is hard to find.
More than 50 Years Ago: GMT Master 6542
First introduced in 1954, the now vintage Rolex GMT-Master, the reference 6542 GMT-Master was developed after Pan-Am Airlines made a request for a reliable watch that could simultaneously display two time zones for use on transatlantic flights. The reference 6542 was able to accomplish Pan-Am’s requirement for a second time zone display by adding a 24-hour hand and a rotating bezel to the GMT-Master’s self-winding movement.
By simply rotating the bezel to correspond with the difference in time, the GMT-Master could display a secondary time zone with its 24-hour hand and the accompanying hour markings on the bezel. Due to its multi-time zone capabilities, Rolex named the watch the GMT-Master, a reference to Greenwich Mean Time, the prime basis of standard time used throughout the world.
The GMT Master 6542 is a tool watch with a rotatable bezel.
Bond with the GMT Master 6542
Earning the nickname, “Pussy Galore” due to its appearance in the 1964 James Bond film, Goldfinger, the reference 6542 GMT-Master ranks among the most iconic Rolex watches of all time, and is largely responsible for starting an entirely new category of multi-time-zone-displaying wristwatches for pilots and frequent air travelers.
Production of the reference 6542 GMT-Master lasted only about six years; and by 1959, Rolex had already introduced an update to their GMT-Master line of watches in the form of the reference 1675. Although it was not in production for a very long period of time, the reference 6542 possesses a number of unique characteristics that set it apart from the other GMT-Master references, and help make it one of the most interesting and collectible Rolex watches to own.
Most obvious among the unique traits of the reference 6542 are its lack of crown guards and smaller case diameter. Crown guards were introduced to the GMT-Master line with the reference 1675, and have remained a constant presence ever since. However, because reference 6542 was heavily based on the reference 6202 Turn-O-Graph, its case was slightly smaller in diameter, and lacked crown guards completely.
Additionally, all reference 6542 GMT-Master watches were originally fitted with glossy gilt dials. Due to their short duration of production and incredibly early position within the history of the GMT-Master, the last reference 6542 watch had left the Rolex factory roughly a half-decade before the very first matte dials were being fitted to Rolex’s sport watches.
The GMT Master 6542 is a stunning watch.
When Rolex first released the reference 6542 GMT-Master, it had a bezel insert that was made from Bakelite, with luminous, radium numerals set into its plastic-like material. However, since these inserts were prone to cracking, Rolex changed the material of the reference 6542’s bezel insert from Bakelite to aluminum in 1956.
Although they were significantly more durable, these new aluminum inserts did not have the glowing, radium numerals of their Bakelite predecessors, and significantly altered the overall appearance of the reference 6542 GMT-Master. Due to their incredibly brief production period and fragile nature, original Bakelite bezel inserts are considered quite rare, and are highly sought-after by collectors today.
In addition to being the very first GMT-Master watch that Rolex ever manufactured, the reference 6542 possesses a lot of unique characteristics that collectively help to set it apart from later-era, GMT-Master references. Consequently, surviving examples of the reference 6542 – especially if they still have their original Bakelite bezel inserts – can frequently fetch high premiums whenever they manage to surface at auction. However, beyond any possible monetary value, the reference 6542 is a truly iconic watch with a fantastic history, whose creation helped start an entirely new category of wristwatches.
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