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Traveling Through the History and Evolution of the Rolex GMT-Master
Similar to so many famous Rolex watches, the GMT-Master came about as a solution to a particular community’s problem. According to GMT-Master history, this watch allowed Pan Am pilots to keep track of two time zones simultaneously as commercial travel boomed. Today, the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II are some of the most popular luxury watches in the world. Join us as we travel through the history and evolution of Rolex’s famous pilot’s watch.
The one that started it all was the GMT-Master ref. 6542 in 1955. In addition to the center hour and minute hands, the GMT-Master had an extra GMT hand that pointed to 24-hour markings on the two-tone Bakelite bezel. As a result, the watch could now display local time as well as home time. Due to its fragility, Bakelite was swiftly replaced with an aluminum insert in the same red and blue “Pepsi” colors.
In 1959, Rolex GMT-Master history follows up with the GMT-Master ref. 1675 with new crown guards around the winding crown in addition to the “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified” designation on the dial. In the 1970s, Rolex unveiled a black bezel version as an additional choice to the bi-color bezel. Rolex also presented a full gold GMT-Master with the ref. 1675/8 and a two-tone GMT-Master with the ref. 1675/3.
After the ref. 1675 came the GMT-Master ref. 16750 in 1981 and with it, Caliber 3075 with the super practical quickset to permit date setting independently of the hour hand. The 18k yellow gold version was the ref. 16758 while the two-tone GMT-Master of the era was the ref. 16753.
1988 saw the launch of the ref. 16700 with sapphire crystal, indexes with white gold surrounds, and Caliber 3175. The ref. 16700 was the last GMT-Master model and when its production ceased in 1999, it made way for the GMT-Master II to completely take over.
Rolex GMT-Master II
The ref. 16760 was the very first GMT-Master II that came out in 1983 with a brand new black and red “Coke” bezel on top of its thicker case. The deeper case accommodated the new Caliber 3085 that had the center hour hand and the 24-hour hand independent from each other. Subsequently, the GMT-Master ref. 16750 and the GMT-Master II ref. 16760 were available at the same time with the latter being the more expensive version.
The GMT-Master II ref. 16710 from 1989 is the most varied GMT-Master II model to date. In fact, there are three bezel options: black and red, blue and red, and full black. Plus, there’s also the Rolesor ref. 16713 and the full gold ref. ref. 16718.
Finally, in 2007, Rolex unleashed the current GMT-Master II model. Dramatically different to all its predecessors, the GMT-Master II ref. 166710 offers the Cerachrom ceramic bezel, the heftier case, the Triplock winding crown, the Maxi dial, and the new Caliber 3186. In addition to many gem-set models, there’s the steel ref. 116710LN with the black bezel, the steel ref. 116710BLNR with the black and blue “Batman” bezel, the white gold ref. 116719 with the “Pepsi” bezel, the yellow gold ref. 116718LN and the two-tone ref. 116713LN.
While the origins of the GMT-Master began as a pilot’s tool watch, this Rolex quickly took off as a luxury sports watch for the general population too. And six decades later, the GMT-Master remains as one of Rolex’s icons.
Brief History Of The Rolex GMT-Master
In the 1940s and 50s, flying distances got longer and the pilots traveled through multiple time zones. As a result, in the 1950’s Pan Am asked Rolex to develop a watch which could tell different times simultaneously. Rolex GMT history shows that the first GMT (Ref. 6542) was a regular Turn-O-Graph (Ref. 6202) with a different bezel and a modified movement. It was first launched in 1954 with a Bakelite bezel which was likely to crack. The advantage of the original bezel was its luminosity. In 1956 the Bakelite insert was replaced with a steel one due to the cracking. It was equipped with 3 different calibres during its life the 6542 had the 1036, 1065 and 1066 in its 5 year production run.
Next was the Rolex GMT-Master reference 1675 equipped with calibre 1565. It ran from the years 1959 up until 1964 and the newer calibre 1575 from 1965 until 1980. With the Calibre 1565 equipped models they all featured gloss dials, whereas the later editions with 1575 calibres featured matte dials with white printing. Up until the late 1960s the GMT-hand was small, afterwards Rolex made the move to the larger GMT-hand that we see today. Originally, all GMT-Masters had red and blue bezels, in the early 1970s the first ever all-black version was introduced. Another aesthetic feature is that some of the earlier 1675s had gold coronets for the Rolex logo rather than a white printed version.
A Newer Version
1981 sees a slight facelift from the 1675 to the newer 16750, the main differences being a new calibre the 3075 and the quickset date feature. There are two different variants for the dial, matte with white gold indices and a glossy dial option. The matte black is the rarer of the two. Of note there is the variant 16753 which is steel and gold with a jubilee bracelet. This particular version is commonly known as the ‘Rootbeer’, due to the gold and brown bezel.
The first ever GMT-Master II, ‘Sophia Loren’ aka the ‘Fat Lady’ or the reference 16760 was a short run of only 5 years from 1983 till 1988. There were some big improvements here, the use of the calibre 3085 allowed for a 24-hour hand which could be independently adjusted and also hacking which meant for accurate time whilst setting the watch. First GMT with white gold index outlines and also the first with a sapphire crystal. Steel was the only option, no precious metal variants were offered. Also, this was the first ever Rolex GMT-Master or GMT-Master II to be offered with a red and black bezel.
From here on there is a bit of a cross-over between two references the 16700 and the 16710. The 16700 was produced between 1988 and 1999 with a calibre 3175 inside. Offered with the blue and red ‘Pepsi’ bezel an later on in its life Luminova was used for the first time. Featuring a slightly different case and also the non-independent hour hand made it distinguishable compared to the 16710.
The ability to track two time zones
In 1989 the Rolex GMT-Master II reference 16710 was launched and was produced alongside the 16700. This slightly newer reference has the 3185 movement with the quickset 24 hour hand and hacking function. It also introduced Super Luminova for the first time in 2000. Late in 2007 also saw a slight update on the calibre 3185 to the 3186. It was the 16710 that was the first to be available in in both ‘Pepsi’ and ‘Coke’ configurations.
The most recent reference introduction is the GMT-Master II 116710 released in 2007 and is currently still in production. The new features on this current edition are quite extensive, new Triplock crown, anti-reflective cyclops lens, the maxi dial, new movement 3186 which has the new Parachrom spring, polished centre links on the bracelet with new clasp and a ceramic bezel inlaid with gold/ platinum. These are also known as the Cerachrom bezel.
From Batman to Pepsi
The most popular of the new references are the 116710LN with the black bezel, the 116710BLNR was released in 2013 with the blue black bezel, aka ‘Batman’ or ‘Bruiser’. And even more recently at Baselworld 2014 the release of the Rolex GMT-Master II in white gold with the ‘Pepsi’ red and blue bezel, but the watch itself is in white gold.
What else do you expect from one of the most popular Rolex models.
Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II Milestones
|1954||First ever GMT-Master, modified Turn-O-Graph 6202 with different bezel, featuring a Bakelite bezel.|
|1956||Bakelite bezel on ref. 6542 replaced with steel one due to inherent cracking issues.|
|1959||Ref. 1675 equipped with the new calibre 1565.|
|1965||Sees the new calibre 1575 introduced into the reference 1675 GMT-Master|
|1970s||1st ever black version of the GMT-Master is released with the designation ‘LN’ after the reference number.|
|1981||Facelift model 16750 replaces the 1675, new calibre 3075 has a quickset feature. 2 dial variants are also available matte black or gloss black. Also the first time we see ‘Rootbeer’ in the lineup|
|1983||Sophia Loren’or the ‘Fat Lady’ makes her first appearance featuring a thicker case, new calibre 3085 and an adjustable 24 hr hand. Also the first GMT-Master II, also first dial with white gold outlines on the hour markers. First appearance of black and red colored bezel and also another first, only stainless steel was offered with the extra-large crowns.|
|1988||Rolex GMT-Master II reference 16700 makes its first appearance. Sporting a new calibre and sapphire crystals, a slightly different case and Luminova in some of the later models.|
|1989||Confusingly the Rolex reference 16710 was launched and was running in tandem with the 16700. Notable difference being the 3185 calibre with quickset 24 hour hand and hacking function.|
|1999||End of the 16700 meaning at this time only the 16710 with the newer movement was available.|
|2007||The latest and current edition of the GMT-Master II 116710 is released with lots of new features. New Triplock crown, anti-reflective cyclops, maxi dial, new calibre 3186 which has Parachrom spring, polished centre links and also a new clasp. Most interestingly the use of ceramic / Cerachrom for the new bezel which is inlaid with gold or platinum depending on color variant.|
|2013||Baselworld 2013 releases the 116710BLNR ‘Batman’, first ever GMT-Master II with a blue and black bezel.|
|2014||Baselworld 2014 releases the 116719, first ever ‘Pepsi’ blue and red bezel on a white gold watch.|