The Rolex GMT-Master was produced in collaboration with Pan-American Airways for use by their pilots in 1954. Its bidirectional rotating bezel and GMT hand enable the wearer to keep track of multiple time zones. The Oyster Perpetual Date GMT-Master is available in stainless steel, white, yellow, and rose gold options, with retail prices starting at $8,450.
One of the most collectible Rolex sports watches, the Rolex GMT was designed in cooperation with Pam Am for use by their pilots. Since then the watch have gained tremendous popularity in the luxury watch market. The plethora of designs offered by the Rolex GMT and Rolex GMT Master II ensures that there is a reference worthy of both classic and modern styles.
Since the creation of the watch this model has gained tremendous popularity in both the new modern market and used vintage market Similar to Rolex's status in watchmaking, Pan American World Airways (Pan Am) was a trailblazer in air travel with plenty of "firsts" to its name. As Pan Am's fleet embraced international travel in the mid-20th century, the airline’s pilots had to deal with multiple time zones. Consequently, Pan Am turned to Rolex to design a pilot’s watch for its crew that could indicate two different time zones simultaneously. While pilots follow one universal time zone of the skies, they also have to be aware of local time zones whilst on intercontinental flights. During this era, universal time zone was Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) - the mean solar time of the longitude (0°) of the Royal Greenwich Observatory in England.
Designed in collaboration with Pan Am Airways, Rolex introduced the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master watch in 1955. The Rolex GMT-Master offered a simple and elegant solution to the dual time zone dilemma. Rolex’s then-new aviation timepiece included an additional hour hand, which would complete a full dial rotation in a 24-hour period. This arrow-tipped hand was designed to point to a rotating 24-hour bezel to indicate local time while reference time (GMT) would be displayed via the traditional 12-hour hand on the dial. Therefore, each time a plane landed in a new time zone, the pilot simply had to turn the bidirectional rotatable bezel to align the current local hour with the arrow-tipped 24-hour hand without disturbing reference time.
Although the GMT-Master was developed as an airline pilot watch for professional use, a much wider audience has since adopted it over the last six decades thanks to its striking design and practical functionality. Enjoyed by pilots, world travelers, and fans of versatile luxury watches alike, the GMT-Master has become one of Rolex’s most iconic sport watch models.
The first model to kick off Rolex’s aviator watch collection in 1955 was the GMT-Master 6542, which was loosely based on the Rolex Turn-O-Graph ref. 6202 introduced in 1953. Like the Turn-O-Graph 6202, the GMT-Master watch featured a 38mm stainless steel case without crown guards, a bidirectional rotating bezel, and a black dial with luminous hour markers and hands for optimal legibility. However, unlike the 6202, the ref. 6542 included a red and blue bezel insert and a modified self-winding mechanical movement featuring the additional 24-hour hand.
Over the years, Rolex improved upon the GMT-Master model with each new reference. Rolex launched the GMT-Master 1675 in 1959, which included crown guards on the larger 40mm case and a COSC-certified movement inside the wristwatch. Following this, Rolex presented the GMT-Master 16750 in 1981, which doubled the waterproof of the case to 100 meters and introduced the quickset feature thanks to a new movement. Finally, in 1988, Rolex presented the GMT-Master 16700 with sapphire crystal and white gold applied indexes on the dial. The 16700 was the last GMT-Master reference and Rolex discontinued it in 1999.
The Rolex GMT-Master II made its debut in 1983 as a mechanically enhanced version of the original GMT-Master model, where the 24-hour hand could now be set independently from the 12-hour hand. Consequently, wearers of the GMT-Master II could set two different time zones while leaving the rotating bezel in its neutral position, and then turn the bezel to read a third time zone. Retaining the same design codes as the original, the first GMT-Master II was the reference 16760, which was then replaced by the GMT-Master II 16710 in 1989, featuring a slimmer case and a new movement. In 2005, Rolex announced a revamped GMT-Master II collection with 1167xx reference numbers featuring the brand new Cerachrom bezels. Finally, in 2018, Rolex launched the newest GMT-Master II models with 1267xx reference numbers, complete with new-generation movements, material options, and bezel colors.
The bidirectional rotating 24-hour marked bezels of the GMT-Master are the most recognizable design traits of this particular Rolex Professional watch collection. Many of the bezels feature two colors - a design feature that is not just for aesthetic purposes, but also for convenience as the colors serve to differentiate between AM and PM hours on the 24-hour scale. The first GMT-Master came equipped with a blue and red bezel, where the red portion housed the daylight hours while the blue contains the nighttime hours. The striking blue and red combo is iconic to the collection and it is frequently referred to as the Pepsi. Other GMT-Master bezel color combinations with famous nicknames include the black and red Coke bezel, the brown and tan Root Beer bezel, and the black and blue Batman bezel. There are also GMT-Master watches with monochromatic black bezels.
Aside from varying colors, the material used for the GMT-Master bezel inserts has also evolved over the decades. The very first GMT-Master featured a bezel insert fashioned from Bakelite, but due to the material’s proneness to cracking and the high-amount of radiation emitted from the glowing radium numerals set into it, Rolex quickly replaced it with anodized aluminum. Rolex continued to use aluminum until 2005, when the company turned to high-tech Cerachrom inserts. Cerachrom, a Rolex exclusive alloy, is a hard ceramic material that is scratchproof and resistant to fading, providing superb robustness and longevity.
Initially, Rolex maintained that it would be impossible to create a bi-colored bezel in ceramic, and only offered Rolex GMT-Master II black Cerachrom versions. Yet, thanks to Rolex innovation and technology, two color Cerachrom editions eventually joined the collection in the form of the GMT-Master II Pepsi, the GMT-Master II Batman, and the GMT-Master II Root Beer. The two-color combination on a single piece ceramic component was a world first.
The Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II collections are some of the company's most varied in terms of material options. Rolex has made stainless steel, two-tone yellow gold and stainless steel (yellow Rolesor), and full yellow gold versions of the GMT-Master. Furthermore, Rolex has manufactured stainless steel (known as Oystersteel since 2018), two-tone yellow gold and stainless steel (yellow gold Rolesor), two-tone Everose gold and stainless steel (Everose Rolesor), and full yellow gold, white gold, and Everose gold versions of the GMT-Master II. There are even some rare Rolex GMT-Master II gold versions paved with diamonds and other precious gemstones such as sapphires and rubies.
The dial layout of the GMT-Master is similar to other Rolex professional watch models. They feature a mix of round, triangular, and rectangular hour markers and a Mercedes style hands, all coated with luminescence for legibility in low light. Of course, there’s also the arrow-tipped 24-hour hand on the dial to use in conjunction with the 24-hour graduations on the bezel. The GMT-Master watches also include a date window at 3 o'clock, accompanied by a Cyclops lens affixed to the crystal above it to magnify the date.
Although most GMT-Master and GMT-Master II dials are black, Rolex has made a few other special dial designs such as the champagne and silver "Serti" dials set with diamonds and ruby hour markers, full diamond pavé dials, brown dials, blue dials, bright green anniversary-edition dials, and even meteorite dials.
Both the three-link Oyster bracelet and five-link Jubilee bracelet have been made available on the GMT-Master collection over the years. And depending on the specific GMT-Master model, there are two-tone, steel, and solid gold variations of both bracelets.
As of 2019, Rolex has organized the GMT-Master II collection whereby the Oystersteel versions come exclusively equipped with Jubilee bracelets while the 18ct white gold, 18ct Everose gold, and Everose Rolesor versions are fitted only with Oyster bracelets.
There have been numerous automatic mechanical movements that have powered the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II watches throughout their history. The main difference between the GMT-Master and the GMT-Master II is that on the former, the 12-hour and 24-hour hands are coupled thus, reference time is synchronized with local time display while on the latter, the two time zones can be set independently
The newest Caliber 3285 was introduced in 2018 as a new-generation Rolex GMT-Master movement. Boasting 10 patent applications during development, Caliber 3285 not only offers enhanced precision, reliability, and shock resistance but also an improved power reserve rating of 70 hours (compared to the previous 48 hours).
Rolex GMT-Master II price has increased on the secondary market in recent years due to surging demand. This is particularly true of the stainless steel GMT-Maser models, which are some of the most sought after Rolex watches right now. For instance, the Rolex GMT-Master II 2019 editions are currently sold out in boutiques worldwide with waitlists stretching over years. Depending on the model (vintage GMT-Master, discontinued GMT-Master, or current-production GMT-Master), examples of the stainless Rolex GMT-Master II for sale on the secondary market can range anywhere from $10,000 to $22,000 while precious metal versions can reach up to $35,000.
The GMT-Master and eventually the GMT-Master II has been a part of the Rolex catalog for over 60 years.
The Rolex GMT-Master has been a constant presence since it was first introduced in 1955; however between the original GMT-Master and GMT-Master II models, Rolex's iconic pilots watch has existed in a number of differences.
Positioned as the ultimate cosmopolitan watch for the jet-setters, it's no wonder that celebrities favor Rolex GMT-Master II watches. Here are just a few of the famous people that wear the GMT-Master’s emblematic design.