Rolex is known for designing and creating watches specifically for special populations of sportsmen and adventurers. One example of this type of timepiece is the Rolex GMT Master wristwatch. As the flight industry began to really take off in the 1940s and 1950s, pilots began flying longer distances. Originally designed in collaboration with Pan Am Airways, the Rolex GMT Master was initially created for Pan AM, and issued by them to their crews on long-haul flights. The key feature of the watch was that the wearer could tell different times simultaneously. The original GMT Master watch has a 24 hour display fourth hand complication directly linked to and displaying the same time zone as the standard 12 hour hand. The GMT hand enables the wearer to set the watch to GMT or any other time zone for the main time view, then set the rotatable 24 hour scale bezel to a second time zone. The name GMT is derived from Greenwich Mean Time. Greenwich Mean Time is also known as Coordinated Universal Time, and is the time zone that is required for all aviation planning, weather forecasts, and schedules.
The first GMT Master model was issued with ref. 6542 (pictured below), and was a regular Turn-O-Graph ref. 6202. It was produced from 1954-1959, and was pressure proof up to 50 meters (165 feet). The first version of the ref. 6542 had a luminous bakelite bezel insert. However, this bezel soon proved unacceptable, as it easily cracked. Thus, a new metal bezel was introduced in 1956. The first GMT Master is also fondly nicknamed the “Pussy Galore,” as it was famously worn by “Pussy Galore” (actress Honor Blackman) in the James Bond film Goldfinger in 1964.
GMT Master ref. 1675 was introduced in 1959, and was produced until 1980. It featured caliber 1565 until 1964 when it was replaced by caliber 1575. Hacking was intruded in 1971. Like the original GMT Master, ref. 1675 promised resistance to pressure up to 50 meters (165 feet). However, unlike the original, the new model featured a crown guard and new dial inscription reading “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified." The ref. 1675 also came in several variations, including a gold version featuring a leather, oyster, or jubilee bracelet and a steel and gold version, also featuring the oyster or jubilee bracelet.
A new version, ref. 16750, was introduced and produced from 1981 to 1988. It features the new caliber 3075, hacking option, and quickset. Unlike its predecessor, the ref. 16750 increased its pressure resistance, ensuring pressure resistance up to 100 meters (330 feet). The new model also offered two different variations of the dial, including one with a matte finish without white gold indexes, which is considered very rare, and a glossy version, featuring white gold indexes. During service, many matt dials got replaced by glossy dials, leading to their rarity.
In 1983, the Rolex GMT-Master II ref. 16760 (pictured below) was released. Despite this new model, production of the original GMT Master (with modifications) continued until the late 1990s. On the outside, the two versions of the GMT Master look nearly identical. However, their biggest differences lie within. The new GMT Master II utilizes a movement that has the additional capability of an independently adjustable quickset hour hand that can be adjusted to local time without stopping the second hand or disturbing the minute hand and 24 hour GMT hand. The new version of the GMT Master II also contains the rotatable bezel feature, allowing the wearer to easily add a third time zone reference. The original GMT Master II is fondly nicknamed the “Fat Lady” as its case is thicker than the original GMT Master. Despite its larger case, the GMT Master II is very aesthetically appealing. It is the first GMT to feature white gold indices borders and sapphire crystal. Only produced in steel, it did offer variety in the bezel, featuring a new red and black color combination.
Despite the release of the GMT Master II, production on new models of the original GMT Master continued. From 1988 to 1999, the GMT Master ref. 16700 was produced. The ref. 16700 replaced the ref. 16750. Featuring the caliber 3175, the new model of the GMT Master maintained the non-independent hour hand.
In 2005, Rolex released an updated version of the Rolex GMT Master II. The new model features a number of technical changes. Utilizing technology from other designs, Rolex added a larger Triplock crown, originally featured on their divers’ watches. Rolex also utilized their patented Parachrom hairspring. Aesthetically, the new model changed slightly. Featuring a larger case and a new look for the hands and hour markers gave the GMT Master II a fresh, new look. A new bezel, made from extremely hard ceramic material that is designed to be more scratch and fade resistant, was also added. The style of bracelet also changed, incorporating a mix of stainless steel and precious metal.
In 2007, GMT Master II ref. 116710 was introduced in 2007, and is the current model for the GMT Master II. Like its predecessor, the current version ensures pressure resistance up to 100 meters (330 feet). However, the new model introduced several new features, including an anti-reflective Cyclops lens, green 24-hour hand, maxi dial, ceramic bezel offering 24 clicks compared to 120 clicks, and numbers made of gold or platinum. Inside, the new version features the new 3186 movement, offering minor improvements including a new Parachrom Bleu hairspring and a larger case. The newly designed Parachrom Bleu hairspring was developed after years of research. Crafted from a highly stable paramagnetic alloy that includes niobium and zirconium, it is insensitive to magnetic fields and up to 10 times more resistant to shocks.
Rolex released their latest GMT at Baselworld in 2018 - the GMT-Master II reference 126710 BLRO. Although Rolex had recently released a white gold version of their classic GMT-Master "Pepsi" bezel, they doubled down on their most famous color combination and constructed their new GMT in their patented Oystersteel and placed the watch on a stylish Jubilee bracelet.
Although the GMT-Master was initially designed for use by professional pilots as a tool, its combination of functionality and aesthetic appeal has attracted a much wider audience. Suitable for globetrotting, or simply as an everyday watch, the GMT Master’s versatility makes it a perfect single purchase or an excellent addition to any Rolex collection. Click the following link to learn more about Rolex brand watches.