For many Rolex collectors, the Rolex 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.
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.
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.
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.
We have a 6542 gmt head that has a lost bezel and insert. Is there any chance getting a replacement?
Thanks Steve Ventura G.G.
Original bezels for the ref. 6542 GMT-Master are both incredibly rare and also expensive (if/when you can find them available). An original bakelite insert will likely not be able to be easily sourced, but you may have some luck finding a later-era aluminum service insert.
Nice article! Thanks for that. Is a 6542 without a original bakelite bezel still a good investment? Or is a 6542 with original bezel the way to go?
If you can find one with a Bakelite bezel, that is definitely the way to go but it will certainly cost a steep premium above a similar example with an aluminum bezel. As a material, bakelite is relatively fragile and due to the recall of the original Bakelite bezels, there are only a relative handful still in existence today.
All of that being said, any example of a ref. 6542 will make a fantastic investment provided that it still has its original dial and hands. The reference was only produced for a few short years during the second half of the 1950s, so it is easily the rarest and most collectible Rolex GMT-Master reference.
I am curious: if the GMT 6542 is indeed so valuable, why your company only offered me $5,400 when I made inquiries? I purchased the watch used, from an authorized Rolex dealer in 1981. Granted, at some point before I purchased it the dial had been repaired / repainted, but the bracelet is a genuine Rolex Oyster (purchased from a Rolex AD in 1981), the bezel insert is genuine Rolex – not one of those very common fake Bakelite modern substitutes, and the watch has recently been serviced and is running very well.
The key detail here is your repainted dial – a repainted dial is an aftermarket process and thus a non-genuine Rolex part. For vintage Rolex watches, a HUGE part of the overall value is its original dial. Even if your dial was genuine and just a later-era service replacement, the difference in values would be tens of thousands of dollars. The fact that it was repainted and therefore not authentic means that the value of the dial itself is entirely worthless and Rolex will even refuse to service a watch that has non-genuine components inside it.
If anyone other than Rolex re-prints the Rolex name or logo on any parts, that technically makes those parts counterfeit and Rolex has the right to decline to repair or service that watch, mandating that you purchase a new dial (and any/all other parts found to be non-authentic) as a condition of service and restore the watch to its entirely factory-intended condition. This is why we only sell 100% genuine Rolex watches and stand behind every single watch we sell with a lifetime authenticity guarantee.