Today recognized as one of the most emblematic pieces of the crown brand, the Rolex GMT Master II has, like many others, An exciting and original story. Here is our reading of the genesis of a professional watch that has occupied a gallon …
Rolex GMT Master: where it all started
The history of this watchmaking monument begins in the early 1950s. For several years, international and transcontinental flights have been developed. More and more pilots are brought to cross the oceans, and thus land in a different time zone than their starting point. Is here Pan American World Airwaysthe PanAm for friends, who first had the idea of asking for a clock that could read the time in two time zones simultaneously. Why ? For two main reasons:
- GMT was the reference time that will be used for all aviation communications.
- It seems that being able to read the local time and the time of the departure port has a positive effect on the mind to combat the time lag.
For this somewhat special request, it is not surprising that the airline, which was one of the largest in the world, turned to Rolex, a giant in the world of watchmaking for more than 40 years at that time.
Rolex accepts the mission of reinventing the clock for pilots. Mission in which the brand has been working for some time, as evidenced by the 1953 launch of the Turn-O-Graph (below), the first mass-produced Rolex that offers a rotating bezel. The Turn-O-Graph is considered Rolex’s first professional watch, and was already used by pilots to perform navigation-related calculations thanks to its rotating bezel marked 0 to 60.
Therefore, it is on the basis of the Turn-O-Graph that Rolex develops its first GMT Master, presented in 1954. It may be interesting to note that a year earlier, in 1953, the Swiss watchmaker Glycine had presented the first version of his model Airman, a 24-hour dial watch with a rotating bezel that also shows 24 hours. Therefore, it allowed the reading of two time zones. The GMT Master uses a similar but slightly different display technique. It is not excluded that part of his inspiration comes from the concept of Wisteria …
GMT, what is it?
The letters GMT refer to Greenwich Mean Time. This is called average solar time. Indicates the average time in which the sun crosses the meridian of Greenwich, England, in which the Royal Observatory is located. It was around the time of world reference time, which has since been replaced by UTC, Coordinated Universal Time. The latter is more accurate since the GMT time could vary by 16 minutes during a year. However, the letters GMT have remained in the common language, and in the name of the watchmaking complication that offers simultaneous reading of two time zones.
Therefore, the Rolex GMT Master has the usual three hands of a classic watch, plus a fourth hand that rotates around the dial in 24 hours, allowing you to display a different time zone, which can be read on the bezel screen. 24. Turning the bezel so that the 4º Ahead of GMT, we could follow Greenwich’s time continuously, allowing pilots to quickly read this reference time for their flight sheets and other communications. Indeed, the pilots also used this additional time zone option to indicate the time of their departure port, not the average Greenwich time.
The famous 6542
The 6542 is the first GMT Master, and is an emblematic reference of Rolex. It is actually a Turn-O-Graph 6202 reference, with a different bezel and a modified movement to add the 4º hand that moves twice as slowly as the conventional hour hand. It is a red needle with a triangle at its end for easy reading. Then it cannot be adjusted independently of the other hands, and it is by rotating the bidirectional bezel without “clicking” that the second time zone is established. The other 3 classic hands are those of 6202, namely a “Mercedes” hour hand, a thick and straight minute hand that ends at a more classic point, and a “Breguet” style second hand.
The 6542 does not have a crown guard and uses the classic Oyster case of the time at 38 millimeters, which is lower than all GMT Master references that will succeed it, which will pass to a diameter of 40 millimeters. In its shiny black dial, there is a classic date window at 3 o’clock, which will remain in the following models, and that stands out for the famous “Cyclops” that Rolex launched the previous year in his Datejust.
Its 24-hour bezel already has two shades, with red extending from 6 a.m. at 6 p.m., which symbolizes the day, and the blue one at 6 p.m. at 6 a.m., which symbolizes the night. These two emblematic colors of the GMT complication gave the name “Pepsi” to this type of glasses, in reference to the tail brand that uses these two colors in its logo and its brand identity.
When the 6542 was launched, this rotating bezel was made of bakelite, the first plastic made of solvent benzene polymer, which takes its name from its inventor, the Belgian chemist Leo Baekeland. This material made the bevel numbers luminescent when treated with tritium, but it turned out that it cracked easily even when taken care of. Two years later, in 1956, the bezel of 6542 was replaced by an aluminum bezel, whose colors and appearance do not change over time, but which does not offer a luminescent feature.
More than 20 years later, this reference will be nicknamed Pussy Galore, referring to the character of the same name who used it in the James Bond ” Goldfinger “Launched in 1964.
It is the 1036 caliber that drives the first 6542 and beats at a speed of 18,000 A / h. There are also some parts produced between 1957 and 1959 equipped with 1065 and 1066 calipers.
As a tool watch par excellence, it was only available in steel when it was launched, but gold was quickly invited to the party with a yellow gold version, with more sober and elegant hands, with a brown bezel like the dial, and markers of Yellow gold hour with a luminescent point in the center.
The 6542 with an original Bakelite bezel are collectible items that rarely appear in the most popular auctions and that reach extraordinary prices.
The shiny black spheres initially evolved in different ways over time and wear, which gave life to unique watches as we can see here:
Its mechanism and the choice of materials may not have been perfect, but it contributed greatly to the birth of the entire category of wristwatches with multiple time zones.
The iconic Rolex GMT Master 1675:
As of 1959, reference 1675 took over. It’s about a lot “of the first real GMT model“The one who made the Rolex GMT a true icon! It is probably the best known Rolex GMT Master of the time. If 6542 has become almost impossible to find, 1675 is easier to find because it was in production until 1980, more 20. However, be careful: finding 100% original is far from easy, and obviously costs more and more.
One of the most popular references because very little production is the “Long E”, also called “Mark 1”. One of the peculiarities of the dial of this reference lies in the fact that the 3 bars of the “E” in the “Rolex” logo are the same size.
Another reference that has made less noise than those that bear names of soda (Pepsi, Coca) but that is beginning to have the wind in its sails is the “Blueberry”. The latter quickly identifies with its completely blue bezel.
The 1675 is equipped with the 1565 caliber that beats at 19,600 A / h for parts produced between 1959 and 1965, then the 1575 caliber for those produced later. This 1575 caliber was modified later so that the second hand stopped when the crown was changed.
The sphere remains bright until 64, then it becomes matt. The box is 40 millimeters in diameter.
We observe here the appearance of the crown protector, which will be present in all the most recent GMT Masters. It is also strong until 1964/65, before becoming softer in curves, as seen below:
The box has widened slightly, the hands remain more or less the same, with a change in the GMT needle: the arrowhead at its end is small until the end of the 60s, and becomes much larger after that.
It is the first Rolex offered with the Oyster bracelet reference 78360 and the Jubilee bracelet reference 62510. It is also the first sports Rolex available in “Rolesor”, that is, a mixture of steel and gold for the case and bracelet, which He turned it into a two-tone watch, in addition to the bezel that was already there. It was also available in all gold for the less cold. Interesting details: the fully golden version did not have a crown guard until 1967 …
From 1970, we discovered a very black version, the “Pepsi” glasses, giving way to the most sober ones. Versions with a gold crown are also appearing.
Above reference 16753 known for its two nicknames:
- Root Beer for the colors of its bezel.
- Clint Eastwood because it is the watch worn by the actor and director in the movie “Line of Sight” in 1993.
In 1980, after more than 20 years of production in 1675, Rolex introduced the 16750, driven by a 3075 caliber that offers a quick date change option, and a rate of 28,800 A / h. It was produced until 1988, and is also highly sought after by collectors, particularly the version with a matt dial and no white gold indexes. Versions after 1986 offer a bright dial with white gold indexes.
In addition to the GMT Master II “Fat Lady” discussed below, Rolex continued to produce classic GMT Master references. This is the case of 16700, produced between 1988 and 1999, driven by a 3175 caliber. It still offers a non-independent GMT needle. It offers a slightly modified case and white gold indexes. It is only available in steel and offers a blue and red “Pepsi” bezel or a black bezel.
The arrival of the GMT Master II
It is the much sought after reference 16760, also called “Fat Lady” or “Sofia Loren”, which marks the arrival of the GMT Master II in 1983. It is its case and its crown protector, both ultra thick. Give him this nickname. He is also the first to use a sapphire crystal to replace the acrylic crystal used in previous versions.
It is the first GMT Master that offers a GMT hand configuration independent of other hands, thus offering the ability to read 3 time zones: one on the main dial with the classic time hand, a second on the main dial with the GMT hand, and a third in the rotating bezel with the GMT hand as well. Actually, it is the hour hand that can be set independently of the other hands.
It is the 3085 caliber that drives it, and makes it possible not to stop the second hand when setting the time. It does not stop until the crown is fully removed.
It is also the first to offer the black and red two-tone bezel called “Coca-Cola”, and is the only option available for this reference.
It was replaced in 1989 by reference 16710, driven by a caliber with the same operation: 3185, then 3186. It will occur until 2007.
The luminescent treatment of the indexes is done first with tritium like the previous models, then it goes to Luminova, then to SuperLuminova from the year 2000. The case is refined and the design too.
This was available with a black and red “Coca-Cola” (or Coca Cola), blue and red “Pepsi” bezel, or simply black. It is available in steel, paper and gold.
This is a new edition, reworked and redesigned, first presented in 2005 only in yellow gold, to celebrate the 50th anniversary of the model. In fact, it seems that Rolex dates the launch of the GMT Master in 1955, while its production started well in 1954.
Therefore, this special anniversary edition was only available in yellow gold with a green dial, then the black dial option appeared. In 2006, we saw the appearance of the “Rolesor” version of steel and yellow gold, then in 2007, it was the turn of the steel version to make its appearance.
This new reference is equipped with the caliber 3186, as the previous reference, but it offers many new features in addition to its reworked design: the crown fixation system has been improved, the date of the cyclops is treated with an anti-reflective treatment, the hand GMT is green and one of the most important changes: the bezel is ceramic, with white gold or platinum numbers depending on the version.
The Oyster bracelet is also modified with a polishing of the central links and an improved folding clasp.
The flange is engraved with the brand name on the entire dial.
In 2013, a version with “Batman” glasses, black and blue, visible during the day.
References 116719 and 126719.
Reference 116719 made its appearance in 2014, after a long wait. It succeeds 116710 and offers a completely white gold version, with its iconic “Pepsi” bezel and a black dial. It seems that the design of the blue and red ceramic bezel is a technical challenge, which would explain why the only option for this model is to opt for all the gold, which obviously limits potential buyers.
It is equipped with the same caliber as the previous references.
In 2019, the black dial option is no longer in production for the white gold model. We must focus on 126719, which remains in white gold, with a blue or white / gray “meteorite” dial.
The long awaited 126710
We had to wait until 2018 to discover the new GMT Master II in steel with its “Pepsi” bezel. Only offered with a Jubilee bracelet reworked for the occasion, the case has once again been slightly redesigned and, above all, is equipped with a new movement, the 3285. This offers 70 hours of power reserve, a 5-year warranty and a margin of error of + 2 / -2 seconds per day.
A new version also offers a blue and black “Batman” bezel, also made of steel. These two versions have been so expected that stocks are sold out in a very short time, and the waiting lists in stores are endless. Resale prices of second-hand models, used or not, have obviously exploded.
There are also variants, such as references 126711 and 126715, which use the rose gold alloy developed by Rolex called “Everose”. These references are at least as difficult to find as the previous ones.
Thus ends our historical journey through the most emblematic travel clock in the world, the Rolex GMT Master, which has become the GMT Master II. Whether you prefer antique watches or contemporary watches, you will surely find a GMT Master that suits you.
In view of the incredible success of this model that was originally supposed to be a professional watch, the Rolex brand has strived to offer more sober versions, others more striking, some with strong classical inspirations “heritage”, and others with more updated aspects … the collection is vast, but the spirit remains intact, and all references share a kind of aura and common image.
The people who talk best about it are still Rolex, when they say the GMT Master II is “a cosmopolitan watch, a legend of an important era in the world of aviation, and the perfect way to navigate today in a connected world …“
The GMT Master II has often been copied, but has never been matched. It is easily recognizable and conveys a powerful sophisticated image of a connoisseur. It translates a success, an attachment to the values of yesteryear while having a vision towards the future, a freedom on a financial level as well as on a geographical level … In short, it is a clock that has character and is not afraid to show it