While Rolex is certainly known for their sharply designed timepieces, use of precious metals, and status symbol watches, there’s another side to the brand that’s just as important—the tool watch side. Rather than just dashing accessories, there are specific Rolex watches that serve a purpose beyond just telling the time. In our Tool Watch Time series, we’ll delve into these utilitarian Rolex timepieces. We’ll highlight why they were made and how best to use them. In our first chapter, we take a look at the best Rolex watches for traveling.
Rolex Watches for Traveling #1: GMT-Master and GMT-Master II
Born in 1955, Rolex developed the GMT-Master at the request of Pan Am as a tool for the airline’s pilots. Remember, there was a growing need to keep track of different time zones as traveling distances became greater.
Along with the hour, minute, and seconds hand, the GMT-Master watch came equipped with a 24-hour hand. This hand points to a blue and red bezel marked with 24-hours. The rotating bezel permits the pilots to follow another time zone beyond their local time—typically GMT time, hence the name. That blue and red bezel later became known as the “Pepsi” bezel and it remains the most popular style today.
While the GMT-Master indicates two time zones via a rotating bezel, in 1983 Rolex unveiled the GMT-Master II. This time, the super practical tool watch allows the wearer to read three time zones since the 24-hour hand now adjusts independently from the center hour hand. Rolex eventually discontinued the GMT-Master to focus exclusively on the GMT-Master II.
Throughout the last six decades, Rolex has offered the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II in a range of materials and colors. There are steel, gold, and two-tone GMT-Master (and II) models available, along with some lavish full-gem set ones. Plus, bezel materials have gone from Bakelite to aluminum to the current ceramic one—and bezel color options are abundant.
Rolex Watches for Traveling #2: Explorer II
In 1971, Rolex debuted the Explorer II as a tool watch for spelunkers, better known as cave explorers. Rolex developed the watch with details to cater to this very specific audience. There’s plenty of luminescence on the dial, tough stainless steel construction, impeccable water resistance, and an AM/PM indicator. Considering how much time people who explore caves spend in darkness, the day/night indicator on the Explorer II—displayed via an extra orange hand on the dial pointing to a fixed 24-hour engraved bezel—was an easy way to differentiate between daytime and nighttime in the absence of sunlight/moonlight.
The earliest editions of the Explorer II had the center hands and the extra 24-hour hand connected. That’s why it was originally an AM/PM indicator watch. However, in 1985, Rolex released a new Explorer II model with the pair of hour hands set independently from each other. By doing so, the Explorer II could now indicate a second time zone when the wearer sets the 24-hour hand to point to another hour on the bezel. From then on, the Explorer II became an even better watch to travel with as the traveler can now see the time at home, as well as, the time in his current location.
While Rolex has tinkered with the design of the Explorer II over the years—for instance today’s models are 42mm in size compared to the 40mm case sizes of past editions—all Explorer II watches regardless of the production date are made in stainless steel. Furthermore, they all include fixed engraved bezels, a date window, and a sturdy Oyster bracelet.
Rolex Watches for Traveling #3: Sky-Dweller
The Sky-Dweller is Rolex’s newest watch collection, first presented in 2012. It’s also one of the more complicated Rolex watches available, boasting a slew of practical functions—particularly for the globetrotter.
The Sky-Dweller is Rolex’s version of an annual calendar watch, which not only indicates two time zones, the day, and the month, but it also adjusts automatically in accordance to how many days are in each month. The only time the wearer has to manually adjust the watch is at the end of February—explaining the term annual calendar.
In terms of design, the Sky-Dweller sports a large 42mm case topped with a fluted bezel. That bezel is, in fact, a Ring Command Bezel. This means that it’s used by the wearer to adjust and set the functions of the watch. Originally, the Sky-Dweller was exclusively available in gold. However, Rolex introduced a stainless steel version along with a two-tone steel and gold version just last year.
Perhaps not considered a tool watch by many due to its flashier look and more expensive price tag, make no mistake that the Sky-Dweller provides plenty of useful functions for the man who’s always on the go.
From both editions of the GMT-Master to the Explorer II to the Sky-Dweller, Rolex offers plenty of choice when it comes to watches with more than just a single time zone. Any of these models would make the ideal travel watch. And because this is Rolex we’re talking about, they can keep up with even the most avid jet-setter.