Its long long history, together with the number of well known variations to its coloring, have made the GMT-Master one of the most collectible models in the Rolex stable.
While the watch has been made in vast numbers over the last six decades, there are of course several references, and minutely different versions in amongst those references, that are rarer than others—with the corresponding increase in prices.
The Ref. 6542 Recall
The ref. 6542 was the very first example among the most sought out. Of those, the ones with their Bakelite bezel still present symbolize the holy grail for many collectors. Introduced in 1954, it was soon found that the plastic insert would easily crack in the heat. To make matters worse, the numerals were painted with luminous radium, the dangers of which had yet to be fully understood. But understood they were two years later when Rolex ordered a recall of all 600 or so ref. 6542 models that had been bought in the U.S. Those that were returned to the brand had their bezels swapped with an aluminum replacement. But it is the examples not returned, still with the original surrounds, that can attract significant sums of money.
As is the way with vintage watch collecting, the signs of a life well lived add even more of a premium. A faded bezel and a dial with an attractive patina tell the kind of story that every Rolex aficionado wants to hear, and prices for these ultra scarce examples are usually at the very top of the range.
The Ref. 1675 Details
The follow-up reference 1675 was released in 1959. It had the longest run out of all the different generations, lasting up until 1980. Certain models can represent the entry point of GMT ownership, particularly the Rolesor versions we looked at earlier. But any Rolex in production for more than 20 years is always going to come with a number of little details added or taken away over that time. These little details will make them less or more desirable.
The El Cornino Guards
In the 1675’s case, one of the most easily identified is the shape of its new crown guards. Until 1964/65, the guards were pointed, what came to be called El Cornino, after the Spanish word for horns. From the mid-sixties onwards, these were changed to the flatter, squarer shape we are familiar with today. Finding an early 1675 with El Cornino guards that are still sharp, as in, haven’t been over polished, is a real labor of love for collectors.
Around the same period as the crown guard change, Rolex also swapped the original small-arrowed GMT hand for a much larger one, in an effort to improve legibility. And it was at this time the glossy gilt dials with their chapter rings, carried over from the 6542, changed to a matte finish as well. All of these little details identify especially rare examples of a much loved watch, and the cost of acquiring one goes up proportionately.
The Clint Eastwood
This is also the reference that saw the introduction of the solid black bezel for the first time in the early 70s, as well as seeing in the Root Beer in 1963. The ref. 1675/3 featured the Rolesor case and bracelet but, in the earlier versions, had an all brown bezel and brown ‘nipple’ dial. Later models had the two-tone brown and gold surround. Otherwise known as the Clint Eastwood (because if there’s one thing the GMT-Master series is crying out for, it’s a few more nicknames) it lasted until 1977. It was reintroduced on the follow-up ref. 16750 a few years later; same bi-color bezel but with more standard hour markers.
One other super rare 1675 worth mentioning is what is called the Blueberry. Only available through a special order from the most exclusive jewelers like Tiffany or Cartier, or else issued to military powers such as the French or UAE Air Forces, these GMTs with an all blue bezel are very seldom seen and are subsequently lusted after.
The Fat Lady
The first of the GMT-Master IIs, the ref. 16760, or The Fat Lady, was only in production for five years and is the first model in the series to feature the black and red of the Coke surround. Inexplicably though, the cost of these little slices of history is still extremely sensible, considering their legacy. Think in the higher four figures, bordering on five. Its follow-up, the ref. 16710, with its slimmed down profile, is even more reasonable.
Strangely, both ranges, the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II, ran concurrently for many years. The final reference of the original series, the ref. 16700, sold almost as well as its supposed successor, due to its practically identical aesthetics and lower price point. It stayed in production all the way up to 1999 and it too is a surprisingly attainable watch on the pre-owned market.