The Complete Guide To The Rolex GMT Master [History & Background]
Rolex is a brand that needs no further introduction. It is known all over the world as a prestigious watchmaker, producing watches of only the best quality, and that is the ultimate symbol of success. It has a long and rich history, now more than a hundred years old, and during the course of its history, Rolex has collaborated and cooperated with a number of different companies and organizations.
For example, Rolex partnered with the Comex diving team and made particular diving watches, built upon the Sea-Dweller and Submariner models, which today have become sought-after collection items.
Rolex GMT-Master background
During the course of Rolex’s history, the watches that Rolex made always had a clear purpose, and were built as tool watches, made as tools that would actually be helpful in different areas, and thus had a clear purpose in mind. Today, this has changed to quite a large extent since there are much better and more accurate tools for measuring and doing different things, such as keeping track of how much oxygen is left in the tank (where diver’s watches previously were crucial), or instruments for keeping track of lap times when racing (which chronograph watches were originally used for), just to name two examples.
With new ways of doing all of these things, and with the iPhone in everyone’s pocket, people have many of the tools they need in their pocket, including all the world’s times, chronograph, and more.
As such, the reason people today wear watches is quite different from what they originally were. Sure, people still use the functions that tool watches offer today, but not at an equally great extent, and the vast majority of people never buy a tool watch because of the fact that they need it as a tool.
But back in the days, it was different, and this came to become the birth and beginning of the Rolex GMT-Master model.
Back in the 1940’s and 50’s pilots started to fly longer distances and was in need of a watch that allowed them to keep track of two time zones simultaneously. During this time, the watches that allowed the wearer to do this was limited.
As a result, the biggest airline at the time, Pan Am – Pan American Airways, requested Rolex to develop a watch specifically made watch for their aviation pilots which would allow them to keep track of different time zones at the same time.
The outcome? Probably one of the most well-known watch models ever made till this day, known as the Rolex GMT-Master.
In other words, the birth of the first Rolex GMT-Master II was the result of a request from pilots who needed a tool that would actually make a difference, and that would offer a function that would be truly helpful for airline pilots. The watch was issued by the airline to the crews on their long-haul flights, which thus tended to include transportation across different time zones.
What does GMT stand for? GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time, which is also known as Coordinated Universal Time.
The most unique feature of the GMT-Master is that it has a 24-hour display with a fourth hand that allows the wearer to keep track of two time zones at the same time. Two time zones, however, would only be the case until Rolex introduced a new GMT-Master in the 1980s when they introduced the ability to keep track of 3 time zones at once instead of 2 through the new function which enabled setting the GMT hand independently. The new GMT-Master would allow the wearer to independently adjust the adjustable quickset hour hand, adjusting it to local time without stopping the seconds or disturbing the minutes and 24 hour GMT hand for a greater accuracy.
Initially, the Rolex GMT-Master was only available in stainless steel, but since its launch, it has been and is made in both two-tone and full gold variants.
Rolex GMT-Master Reference 6542
The Rolex GMT-Master was made from an already existing watch in the Rolex family at the time, The Rolex Turn-O-Graph reference 6202. The difference between what would be the first Rolex GMT-Master reference 6542 and the Turn-O-Graph reference 6202 was the modified movement and the bezel.
The new modified movement was called 1036 and had an extra hand, that we know as the GMT-hand. At the time, GMT referred to Greenwich Mean Time which meant that the pilot had an extra hand installed on the watch, and then moved to bezel to match the current timezone they were in.
Even though the old GMT ( Greenwich Mean Time ) was changed to UTC in the 70’s, Rolex kept the name for the upcoming watches. In the first models of the GMT-Master reference 6542 and 1675, the GMT-hand could not be set separately, and therefore the rotating bezel was used to set the timezone.
The GMT-Master reference 6542 had at first a red and blue bakelite bezel that would indicate the day and night hours that later became known as the Pepsi-insert. The bakelite bezel was luminous, however, it was easily cracked, and therefore Rolex replaced the bakelite bezel with an aluminum bezel in 1956 making the very first 6542 with bakelite bezel very rare in these days. Today, it is difficult to find a GMT-Master with a bakelite bezel in good condition.
Even though the GMT-Master reference 6542 was produced between 1954 and 1959 it was equipped with 3 different calibers. The caliber 1036 ( 1954-1959 ), caliber 1065 ( 1957-1959 ) and the caliber 1066 ( 1957-1959 ).
The first GMT-Master was not only recognized for its red and blue bezel, but also for the 40mm case without crown guards and the GMT hand with a small red arrow. The dial of the GMT-Master was originally black but can today be seen with a tropical, gilt and glossy dial. There are even rumors that Rolex made a 6542 with a white dial known as the “GMT Master Albino”.
The reference 6542 with a white dial, more known as the Albino is a watch that’s been very controversial. In 2010 the famous watch collector Stefano Mazzariol published an article on his blog with several proofs that his “Albino” was genuine. He did not just claim that it was original by the look of it, he also compared it with different known black dials and saw that the texture and form in the dial were the same.
Even though the proofs for his Albino, the vintage Rolex collectors highly doubted it actually existed. It wasn’t until some years later that more examples of the reference 6542 Albino came out and today we know that in the early days of the GMT reference 6542, Rolex did, in fact, sell some GMT-Master examples with the white dial, to compare its rareness it would be more likely to find a million dollars in 100-bills laying in central park NYC, untouched.
Even though it was an aviation watch it had a water resistance of 50m/165ft. Despite the great importance it had in the aviation world for both pilots and businessmen that traveled, the reference 6542 was featured in the James Bond movie Goldfinger in 1964 and could be seen on Honor Blackman, known as Pussy Galore in the movie’s wrist, and from there it picked up the nickname Pussy Galore.
There are some rare examples of the reference 6542 in yellow gold that was equipped with a brown dial, even known as nipple dial because of the yellow gold indexes that surrounded the luminous material and the brown bezel. The hands on the reference 6542 in gold were different and it didn’t carry the classic Rolex Mercedes hands, instead, it was equipped with different hands that are known as the “alpha” or “leaf” hands and are extremely rare.
Rolex GMT-Master Reference 1675
In 1959 the Rolex GMT-Master reference 6542 got an upgrade and was developed to be the new modern reference 1675. The new GMT-Master included a new fancy body with pointed crown guards ( 1959-1965 ) and a larger case. The dial on the previous reference 6542 had the text ” Officially Certified Chronometer ” printed and was now changed to ” Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified “.
The new reference 1675 was equipped with the new caliber 1565 and wasn’t updated until 10 years after the caliber 1575. These calibers were warriors and something the aviation pilots without a doubt could trust though it’s seen as one of Rolex best calibers ever made. All the calibers starting with 15xx are seen as strong movements that wouldn’t give up, even after 10 years without a service the movement would still perform within the standards for COSC-certified movements.
Until the late 60s Rolex continued to equip the newer reference 1675 with the old small GMT hand after they made the GMT hand bigger and more easily readable. With the new 1675, as a buyer, you had the opportunity to use the old-fashioned oyster bracelet or the new Jubilee bracelet making it the first Rolex sports watch with a Jubilee bracelet. The newer GMT headed in a new direction and a new insert for the stainless steel model was available. In the early 1970s, the all-black insert was introduced that later became known as the “licorice ” insert.
Rolex GMT-Master Reference 16750
In 1980, Rolex updated the reference 1675 to what would be the new revolutionary 16750. The new GMT Master has equipped with a quickset feature thanks to the newly developed caliber 3075. The quickset feature meant that you could set the date a lot faster by just moving the hour hand.
Before you had to set the date by moving the minute hand a lot of hours. The new 16570 was modern and can today be seen as the ultimate vintage watch according to many watch lovers. The new quickset feature changed the order that the hands were placed. In earlier models, like the newer watches today, the hands were set GMT/Hour/Minute/Second, and the new 16570 were set Hour/GMT/Minute/Second
Until 1986 the dial of the 16750 was matte with painted indexes, however, that changed to a glossy dial with white gold indexes around the luminous material. Because of this, the matte dial is a lot rarer to come by, and in our honest opinion the better option.
The 16750 could also be seen as in the two-tone reference 16753, also known as the “Rootbeer” or the all-yellow gold version reference 16758.
In 1983 Rolex introduced a new insert that would come on a bigger case that was a brand-new reference, the 16760 also known as the “Fat Lady”. The new 16760 had a larger case with bigger crown guards, more or less it was a new GMT in a Submariner case, however, the new reference would not be called the GMT-Master, this was a brand new reference that had the name GMT-Master II printed on the dial. It was also the first GMT-Master with white gold index borders and sapphire crystal.
The 16760 was produced for 6 years and during that time it was equipped with the newer caliber 3085 which made it possible to set the GMT hand separately. The “Fat lady” was only available in stainless steel and with the new black and red insert, also known as the “coke” insert.
Rolex GMT-Master Reference 16700
Even though this reference came after the 16760, it’s still an updated version of the 16750. This modern reference was produced from 1988 to 1999 and was a cheaper option than the reference 16710 that was produced during the same time. The main difference between these two references was that the 16700 was equipped with the caliber 3175 and still had the non-independent hour hand.
Since this reference is still a GMT-Master and not the Brand new GMT-Master II, what was new to this Model-line was the updated sapphire crystal, white gold indexes, and a new, updated case. Up until 1992/93, the date wheel had the vintage open 9s and 6s which today is very sought-after today by collectors. Up until 1997 the GMT-Master reference 16700 was equipped with a tritium dial, which changed over the years, and eventually lost its luminous characteristics, and during this year, this material was changed to the new updated luminous mass that replaced the tritium version.
This reference could only be seen in stainless steel and had 2 different inserts for the bezel, the Pepsi version ( red and blue ) and all black.
Rolex GMT-Master Reference 16710
This would be the second GMT-Master II in the production line that was released at the same time as the reference 16700, however, the production of the newer GMT-Master II reference 16710 would be longer, until 2007 approximately. The 16710 was a replacement for the 16760, also known as the “Fat Lady”, with the same functions including a quickset GMT hand, but in a slimmer case.
During the 16710 production years, a lot of changes were going on, which makes this model special in that sense. This evolution is interesting and worked like this:
- 1997-2000 – Tritium dial – luminova dial – superlominova dial
- 2000 – Solid end links introduced ( SEL )
- 2003 – With Rolex trying to make it harder for copies coming out on the market, they started laser attaching a crown at the 6 o’clock position in the glass that could be seen at certain angles.
- 2003 – Stoped with lug holes in the late Y-series.
- 2007 – Stoped with certificates in paper formed and changed to a plastic cards.
- 2007 – In the last production year leaning towards its end, Rolex introduced the new updated caliber 3186.
The 16710 could be seen with 3 different inserts for the bezel, the Pepsi ( red and blue ), the coke ( red and black ), and the all-black version.
It was also a two-tone version in yellow gold and stainless steel, the reference 16713 that could be seen with either the root beer or all black with gold numerals inserts.
They also had an all-yellow gold version with the reference 16718 with an all-black insert.
Rolex GMT-Master 116710
This was a huge update starting its production in 2007. This new GMT-Master II had a ceramic insert, a green GMT hand, a maxi dial, and hands and had the new, but a little more improved 3186 movements. It was also equipped with a rehaut ( the text in Rolex inner-ring that says Rolex Rolex Rolex… ). With a more modern look, the 116710LN was equipped with a new bracelet that had polished center links and brushed outer links.
This model did not come available with the jubilee bracelet. The new case was equipped with a Triplock crown, a more safe and reliable crown that could stand against water a lot better.
In 2013, a new version of the 116710LN came out featuring a new blue GMT hand and a black and blue ceramic bezel, also known as the Batman.
Rolex GMT-Master 116719
With the new ceramic GMT-Master II, the Pepsi-insert was gone, however, it got introduced again in a Cerachrome version, but in a white gold version. Ever since this model came out people wished for a Pepsi in stainless steel, something many did not believe because of the already existing highly exclusive variant in white gold.
This version can be seen both with a black and later with (2018) blue dial.
Rolex GMT-Master 116718
For the 50th year anniversary of the GMT-Master, Rolex released 50 years anniversary variant in all yellow gold with a brand new ceramic insert and a green dial. Ever since this model came out, Rolex made some different versions of it including one with a black dial and even some with diamond dials and bezels such as:
- Ref. 116713LN steel/yellow gold
- Ref. 116758SA
- Ref. 116758SARU
- Ref. 116758SANR
- Ref. 116759SARU
- Ref. 116759SA
- Ref. 116759SANR
- Ref. 116769TBR
Rolex GMT-Master Reference 126710
What enthusiasts didn’t even think of happened. In Basel 2018, Rolex released a brand new GMT-Master II, featuring a jubilee bracelet and a Pepsi ( red and blue ) insert. This shocked a lot of people since not many believed the version was ever going to be released because of the already existing white gold version ( although it had an oyster bracelet ).
The new GMT was very well received and got waiting lists for up to 10 years, making this the most wanted Rolex in 2018.
As we can see, the GMT-Master has been through a lot, starting from a request from Pan Am to where it is today.
A lot of changes have been made to the GMT-Master when compared to the first, however, with the iconic look with the two-colored bezel, an extra GMT hand, and different bracelet variations still available, it’s very easy to see the similarities the newest 126570BLRO have with the old and first 6542 with a bakelite bezel specially made for Pan AM. This iconic watch plays a big part when it comes to Rolex history, and influence in the watch world.
Reading this article, we hope that you have learned something, and perhaps even changed your mind and now considering buying a GMT-Master.
The GMT-Master is truly a masterpiece that will stick around for a long time.