We feel the Rolex GMT-Master is one of the most iconic travel watches. For a long time, it was a bit in the shadow of the Rolex Submariner and Daytona, but since a couple of years, the Rolex GMT-Master increased its popularity rapidly. It is a great tool watch, which we love. About half of the Fratello Watches owns one of the GMT-Master references.
In this article we will have a look at the history of the Rolex GMT-Master watch.
In short: the Pan-Am company was looking for a watch that was able to display multiple timezones at the same time, as they started to operate transatlantic flights. Having an accurate wrist watch was an absolute necessity for pilots in those days, Rolex was able to give it to them.
As we know now, the GMT-Master wasn’t only popular amongst Pan-Am pilots (or civil aviation), also NASA (Jack Swigert of Apollo 13 wore one) and US Air Force pilots started wearing them. Also business people who travelled to different time zones started wearing the Rolex GMT-Master, as reading home time and local time at the same time has a positive [mental] effect on fighting jet lags.
We would like to give you a short trip down GMT-Master memory lane.
The first GMT-Master in production ever was the ref.6542 and was introduced in 1954. It featured a bakelite bezel (which was replaced after two years by an aluminum bezel because it cracked very easily) and had no crown guards. The James Bond fan also might recognize this watch as it was on the wrist of Pussy Galore in the Goldfinger movie. The Rolex GMT-Master ref.6542 was in production till 1959. Rolex used several movements for this reference, like calibers 1036 (1954-1959), 1065 (1957-1959) and 1066 (1957-1959).
Perhaps one of the most popular vintage Rolex GMT-Master watches is this ref.1675 (we recently talked about it in this article). Introduced in 1959 and was in production till 1980, indeed a very long time. This is also the reason why you can find a vintage ref.1675 GMT-Master in decent condition without too much hassle. Till the late 1960s, the extra hour hand featured a small triangle and was succeeded by a red hand with a larger triangle through-out the 1970s. Early models also featured pointed crown guards and a chapter ring. It was also the first Rolex sports watch that became available on both the Oyster (reference 78360) and Jubilee (reference 62510) bracelet.
The first 1675 watches came with Rolex caliber 1565. Until 1965, when Rolex started to equip them with caliber 1575. This movement had a higher ticking number (19,600vph instead of 18,000 vph). Later on, caliber 1575 was modified to have a hacking feature (seconds will stop when the crown is pulled out). This was done in 1971.
Followed by the Rolex GMT Master 16750 in ca 1980, a model with a new movement and glossy dials. Rolex started using the caliber 3075 movement, which featured a quick-set date. The movement also increased ‘speed’ to 28,800vph. This model was in production till 1988. Just a short period in time, which makes it a sought-after model of the GMT-Master series. However, probably not as much as the Rolex GMT-Master II 16760 aka ‘The Fat Lady’ (or ‘Sophia Loren’). This was the first GMT-Master II and had an advancement over the regular GMT-Master, which is the functionality to read time of three different timezones. Besides that, the ‘Fat Lady’ had a thicker case, thicker crown guards, sapphire crystal and only available in the ‘Coke’ configuration, which is a red/black bezel. The Rolex GMT-Master 16760 used caliber 3085.
The ref.16750 was replaced by the GMT-Master 16700 in 1989. Rolex also introduced the reference 16710 (we recently did an in-depth article on this reference here), successor of the Fat Lady. At first, the tritium dials were still used but in approximately 1997 this changed towards Super Luminova. In production next to the GMT-Master II ref.16710, Rolex ceased the production of the 16700 in 2001. What drastically changed was the movements (in both the 16700 and 16710). They now had caliber 3175 (16700) and caliber 3185 (16710). The construction of these movement changed and now featured a beautiful double balance-wheel bridge. The bracelets were Oyster (reference 78360) and Jubilee (reference 62510). Very quickly after introduction, the Oyster bracelets received the famous Oyster-lock (fliplock). This Oyster bracelet had reference 78790.
It seems that ref.16710 went through a lot of changes from 1989 till 2007. This watch started out with a tritium dial and ended with the Super Luminova dials, the bracelet got Solid End Links (in 2000) and the pin-holes in the case disappeared. The last ones sold came with the plastic warranty cards instead of the paper certificates. Before we forget, the box set changed as well for this model to the current one. Available with three different bezels, as shown above. Also, in 2007, the movement of the Rolex GMT-Master II was upgraded to the caliber 3186. Most important change was the use of the Parachrom hairspring.
From 2008 till now, the GMT-Master II 116710LN (Lunette Noir) is production. The watch case received a slight redesign, the Twinlock crown has been replaced by a Triplock crown, the aluminum bezel has been replaced by a ceramic bezel and the case of the watch has grown a bit (still 40mm, but with beefier lugs and crownguard etc.). The dial has become a ‘maxi dial’ with large numerals and the hands have become wider. This also results in a watch that is perceived bigger than its predecessor, while still being 40mm. Since 2016, all watches are now within a -2/+2 seconds a day deviation and guaranteed to perform so for 5 years. All watches have been chronometer certified of course, but afterwards (when being cased) stringent tests have been performed in-house by Rolex.
Also, the bracelet received a small update to the joy of many Rolex aficionados. It has the Easy-link system that enables you to widen or tighten the bracelet by 5mm (the old models required a toothpick). It is also the first generation of Rolex bracelets that don’t have that famous ‘rattling’ sound when you wear it (a lot of people like that though). The center links have been polished (PCL), which is not to everyone’s taste. It adds a touch of glamour to the ‘toolwatch’ though.
Below , we show you our favorite version in gold/steel (ref.16713LN). The all gold version (reference 116718LN) was already introduced in 2005. For this new generation of watches, Rolex uses caliber 3186.
In 2013, Rolex introduced a new version of the GMT-Master II 116710, but this time, with a black & blue bezel. And a blue GMT hand. This version received the 116710BLNR reference number, where BLNR stands for Blue & Noir.
Then, in 2014, comes up with a combination that all Rolex (GMT-Master) fans have been waiting for. A new style Rolex GMT-Master II with a Pepsi bezel. Hence, Rolex comes up with their reference 116719BLRO (Blue & Rouge). However, as Rolex does, it is not completely what people expected. The new Pepsi Rolex is made of white gold. Rumors are that this is done to keep the production low, as it seems to be difficult to get the red and blue ceramic bezel produced in larger quantities. As you can see, we would say that the blue of the white gold version has a slightly different tone than the blue they used in the past. The Rolex GMT-Master II reference 116719BLRO also used caliber 3186.
Just before we forget, we would like add that the GMT-Master was already available in the gold/steel combination. Root beer, nipple dial and Tiger Augen are the nick names of these models from the past.
Furthermore, some of the historic GMT-Master references have an /8 added to it, which means the watch was made out of solid gold. Later references had the 8 as the last digit in the number (e.g. 116718LN).
The Rolex GMT-Master is the most recognizable traveler’s watch in the world. One of the successful ingredients for this, is that Rolex always has been consistent regarding the design of the GMT-Master. Whether it is a white gold Rolex GMT-Master II with ceramic bezel or the very first reference 6542, a child can see that these watches are related to each other. Even a full gold reference 1675/8 can be connected to a ‘Batman’ 116710BLNR. That is also something that makes Rolex such a strong brand anyway, as this is applicable for almost all of their timepieces.
Whether you are hunting down that perfect vintage GMT-Master 1675, 2000s Rolex GMT-Master II or simply entering an authorized dealer to buy one of the new references, it is all good. We hope this overview gives you a good idea of all different models and references. It is not complete (we skipped a couple of variations per ‘major’ reference), but we will keep updating this article in the future.
More information via Rolex on-line.
*This article originally appeared on January 3rd 2012 on Fratello Watches already. But we updated its contents, photos (more & larger versions) and did a more thorough description on all the major references mentioned.
Ever since he was a young child, Robert-Jan was drawn to watches, even though it were digital Casio and quartz Swatch models at the time. In the mid-1990s, his interest increased when he started to read about mechanical watches in... read more