Military aviation fills our imagination with romance, adventure and derring-do, but it is the transformative democratisation of civilian aviation that opens new horizons by bringing peoples and goods closer together on our spinning planet. And in this, there are few more emblematic of hopping across time zones in the golden age of jet travel than the Rolex GMT-Master.

Origin

Once the “World’s Most Experienced Airline” before it went bust in 1991, Pan American World Airways (more famously, “Pan Am”) asked Rolex to develop a watch for its pilots that would display multiple time zones at a glance, to better manage jet lag. This relationship bore fruit in the GMT-Master of 1954, which also became popular among globetrotting business travellers, pilots in the military, and astronauts.

Vintage advertisement
Family picture taken on January 13, 1970 of the aircrew of the first commercial flight of the Boeing 747 from New York to London for Pan American. On September 30, 1968, the first 747 was rolled out of the Everett assembly building before the world's press and representatives of the 26 airlines that had ordered the plane, and first flight took place on February 09, 1969. The Boeing 747, called also "Jumbo Jet", entered service on January 21, 1970, on Pan Am's New York–London route. (Photo credit should read -/AFP/Getty Images)

GMT-Master Chronology

1954-1959: GMT-Master ref. 6542 “Pussy Galore”

  • The first GMT-Master, the official watch of Pan Am.
  • In 38mm steel case, water resistant to 50m, it featured a blue/red (“Pepsi”) bakelite bezel insert with 24-hour markings in luminescent radium paint.
  • As the bakelite was wont to crack, Rolex replaced it with an aluminium bezel two years into production.
  • Nicknamed “Pussy Galore” for the character who wore it in the Jame Bond movie Goldfinger (1964).
  • Several movements were used: cal. 1036, 1065, 1066. With non-independent GMT hand, a second time zone was tracked by working the b-directional rotating bezel.
  • Identifying traits: No crown guards, the red GMT hand is needle-thin with small triangle pointer and the dial simply reads “Officially Certified Chronometer”.

GMT-Master ref. 6542 “Pussy Galore” (Image: Phillipswatches.com)
GMT-Master ref. 6542 “Pussy Galore” (Image: Phillipswatches.com)
Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964)
Pussy Galore in Goldfinger (1964)

1959-1980: GMT-Master ref. 1675

  • In 40mm case, it’s the first Rolex sports watch to be made available with Oyster and Jubilee bracelets.
  • Driven by cal. 1565. From 1965, it used cal. 1575 which raised the beat rate slightly from 18,000vph to 19,600vph.
  • From 1971, cal. 1575 was modified to incorporate hacking.
  • Tritium is the luminescent material on the dial markers
  • Variants: ref. 1675/8 in solid gold, ref. 1675/3 in steel/gold.
  • Identifying traits: Along with a larger case, the presence of crown guards; in the 1970s, the GMT hand was changed to one with a larger triangle pointer; the dial reads “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified”.

GMT-Master ref. 1675 with Oyster bracelet
GMT-Master ref. 1675 with Oyster bracelet

1981-1988: GMT-Master ref. 16750

  • New movement, cal. 3075 features higher beat rate of 28,800vph, hacking and quickset date.
  • Tritium markers.
  • Increased pressure resistance from 50m to 100m
  • This reference two dial variants: matte and glossy. The former are very rare as they are often swapped for glossy dials during servicing.
  • Variants: ref. 16753 in steel/yellow gold; ref. 16758 in yellow gold with sapphire crystal.

GMT-Master ref. 16750 (Image: Antiquorum)
GMT-Master ref. 16750 (Image: Antiquorum)

1983-1988: GMT-Master II ref. 16760 “Fat Lady”

  • The first GMT-Master II, distinguished from the I model in concurrent production by having independent hour and 24-hour hands.
  • Driven by hacking self-winding cal. 3085 that beats at 28,800vph. The hour hand can be set independently in one-hour jumps to reflect local time, without affecting the 24-hour and minute hands. As a result, the GMT-Master II can track three time zones when used with its rotating bezel.
  • Nicknamed “Fat Lady” for its thicker case and thicker crown guards. Dial is protected by sapphire crystal.
  • Only available in steel and only with black/red ‘Coke’ bezel.

GMT-Master II ref. 16760 “Fat Lady” (Image: Antiquorum)
GMT-Master II ref. 16760 “Fat Lady” (Image: Antiquorum)

1988-1999: GMT-Master ref. 16700

  • An update for the GMT-Master I, it replaces the ref. 16750.
  • Sapphire crystal instead of acrylic, and from 1998, Luminova was used in place of tritium.
  • Uses a more robust movement, the cal. 3175 movement with balance bridge. Differentiating it from the GMT-Master II model however, is its continued lack of independent hour/GMT hands.
  • Only in steel, in two bezel options: blue/red and black.
  • Identifying traits: the last “GMT-Master” with directly-linked hour/GMT hands, fronted by sapphire crystal glass.

GMT-Master ref. 16700 (Image: Christies.com)
GMT-Master ref. 16700 (Image: Christies.com)

1989-2007: GMT-Master II ref. 16710

  • Offered alongside an updated GMT-Master (ref. 16700) this second edition of the GMT-Master II replaces ref. 16760.
  • 3185 movement with balance bridge beating at 28,800vph. From 2007, movement was upgraded to cal. 3186 with Parachrom hairspring.
  • From 1998, Luminova was used in place of tritium. From 2000, SuperLuminova was used.
  • Sapphire crystal, anodized aluminium bezel with 120 clicks.
  • Three bezel configurations: Coke, Pepsi, black.
  • Variants: 16718 solid yellow gold, 16713 steel/yellow gold “Eye of the Tiger”
  • Identifying traits: from 2003, the lugs are not drilled through, and a crown is laser-etched onto the sapphire crystal.

GMT-Master II ref. 116710BLNR (Image: Shoptify.com)
GMT-Master II ref. 16713 “Eye of the Tiger” (Image: Bobswatches.com)

2007-Present: GMT-Master II ref. 116710

  • Features carried over: water resistance to 100m, self-winding cal. 3186 beating at 28,800vph, sapphire crystal, Superluminova.
  • Identifying traits: changes compared to 16710 include ceramic bezel, larger Triplock crown, ‘maxi’ dial enlarged hour markers and broader hands, Rolex engraving on bezel inner chapter ring, polished bracelet centre links.
  • Scratch-proof and impervious to UV rays, the ceramic bezel rotates over 24 clicks instead of 120, with number markings PVD coated in gold (for gold, gold/steel models) or platinum (steel models).
  • From 2016: deviation of within +/-2 seconds per day is guaranteed for five years.
  • Variants:
    • 2013 GMT-Master II ref. 116710BLNR with 2-colour Cerachrom bezel insert in blue and black with blue GMT hand. Rolex achieved a world’s first with this bezel, in creating a single-piece ceramic component sporting two colours.
    • 2014 GMT-Master II ref. 116719BLRO in white gold, with blue/rouge bezel and black dial.

GMT-Master II ref. 116710
GMT-Master II ref. 116710
GMT-Master II ref. 116710BLNR (Image: Shopify.com)
GMT-Master II ref. 116710BLNR (Image: Shopify.com)
GMT-Master II ref. 116719BLRO in white gold
GMT-Master II ref. 116719BLRO in white gold

2018: GMT-Master II ref. 126710

  • In particular, ref. 126710BLRO is the latest Pepsi, with blue/red ceramic bezel, black dial, cased in 40mm stainless steel.
  • Uses the cal. 3285 movement featuring Parachrom hairspring as well as Chronergy escapement that increases the power reserve by more than 45%, to 70 hours.
  • Also released in the same year:
  • 126715CHNR in rose gold, and ref. 126711CHNR in rose gold/steel; both with brown/black (“root beer”) ceramic bezel.
  • To distinguish the steel cased ref. 126710BLRO Pepsi from the white gold ref. 116719BLRO introduced in 2014, the latter now sports a blue dial.

From left: GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLRO, 126711CHNR, 126715CHNR and 116719BLRO
From left: GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLRO, 126711CHNR, 126715CHNR and 116719BLRO