History of the legendary Rolex GMT Master

By Fabrice Guéroux. In the early 1950s, Pan American Airways was soaring to new heights, traveling farther than ever before. The airline decided to give its pilots a handy tool that would allow them to keep track of both local time and the time of the country they were in.

That's when Rene-Paul Jeanneret, the head of public relations at Rolex, got a call from PanAm asking if Rolex could create a double time zone watch that was easy to use and read.

The different generations of the GMT Master watch:
GMT Master 6542GMT Master 1675GMT Master 16750GMT Master 16760 « Fat Lady » - GMT Master 16700GMT Master II 16710GMT Master II 116710LNGMT Master II 116710BLNRGMT Master II 126710BLRO

The first reference : GMT-Master 6542

In the year 1954, Rolex launched the first ever GMT Master 6542 watch. It was a perfect fit for the pilots as it had a case similar to the Submariner, a date window and a fourth hand with a bidirectional rotatable bezel made out of Bakelite, graduated to 24 hours.

Ref. 6542 ©Phillips Auctions.

Back in the 1950s, the GMT Master 6542 watch quickly became a hit among pilots and the public alike. There were two versions of the reference 6542, one with a bakelite bezel and one with a non-luminescent aluminum bezel. The first version, with the bakelite bezel, proved to be a problem for the manufacturers as the numbers and markings on the bezel were coated in a luminous material that at the time caused issues with the United States Atomic Energy Commission. This luminous material was loaded with a large amount of radioactive radium. Rolex even had to face a lawsuit from a private individual after the media caught wind of the radioactive scandal. To understand the problem, it's important to note that in the mid-1950s, nuclear fear was a big topic in the news.

Vintage ad by Rolex

In the 1950s, Rolex was flying high with the success of their GMT Master 6542 watch. They got rid of the radioactive bezel and replaced it with a sleek aluminum one. They also added a crown protector, a bigger case, and a more advanced movement. And in 1959, they unveiled the new and improved GMT Master 1675. It quickly became one of the most popular sports watches of all time, and was loved by pilots and watch enthusiasts alike for over 20 years.

Two Rolex reference 6542 watches are depicted in the photo, with the one on the left featuring a bakelite bezel and the one on the right featuring a non-radioactive aluminum bezel. ©Christie’s.

The reference 6542 model enjoyed a twenty-year period of popularity, with variations in dials, hands, bracelets, and bezel inserts that are just as numerous, if not more so, than those found in the Rolex Submariner.

The long-lasting GMT-Master 1675

From a collector's perspective, complications come into play in the first series of this new reference. The first dials of the 1675 retain the text "Officially Certified / Chronometer" (OCC) from the dial of the 6542. This detail, while important, is a result of the transitional nature of these early examples. The OCC text means that the underlying movement is not the caliber 1565, which is found in all later 1675 models, but instead houses the earlier 1535, without the Microstella adjustment. As this is a transitional period, OCC dials have been seen with later 1565 movements. It is only after this transition phase that the dials will be stamped with the famous "Superlative Chronometer / Officially Certified".

Type 0 Dials – photo ©Rolstaff (VRF)

Different types of dials for model ref. 1675

For this specific reference, there are a total of eight lacquered dials and nine matte dials available. These different dials have been organized by their date of production and the information provided is relatively consistent. This information, however, has not been officially verified by Rolex. This is because Rolex did not keep records of individual components during that time and, as the brand's production process became more industrialized, parts were used until they were completely exhausted. This led to the use of dials intended for repair and replacement being used in earlier productions. This is also true for case backs and inserts. Additionally, with the advent of the internet and so-called "expert" articles, there have been instances of watches being modified. While the rules and standards for collecting these watches have changed over the years, the information provided by reputable sources such as the website gmtmaster1675, is considered to be accurate and reliable in terms of the reference's production history up until 1980.

The Lacquered Dials with Gold Markings (Gilt Dial)

Type 0 : « Swiss Only » dial chapter ring OCC (Officially Certified Chronometer)
Type 1 : « Swiss Only » dial chapter SCOC (Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified)
Type 2 : « Swiss Only » dial with chapter ring
Type 3 : Cadran “Swiss Only” dial with chapter ring
Underline : “Swiss Only” dial indicating the removal of radium
Type A : “Swiss Only” dial indicating the removal of radium
Type B : “Swiss Only” dial indicating the removal of radium
Type C : « Swiss T25 » dial. tritium makes an appearance

For more information on these dials, you can refer to the website gmtmaster1675.. Pictures from : HQ Milton, Iconic Watch Company et Beaumont Miller II

Matte Dials with Gold Markings (Gilt Dial)

All of these dials were manufactured during various timeframes, ranging from 1959 to 1980. Each of them possesses distinct features that will be discussed in an upcoming, more technical article.

GMT-Master Model Ref. 16750

The Rolex GMT-Master 16750 reference was produced from 1981 to 1988 and introduced the quick-set date function with the automatic Rolex caliber 3075 movement. The GMT-Master 16750 was available with the iconic red/blue Pepsi bezel or with a fully black 24-hour bezel. Early versions of the GMT-Master 16750 were fitted with matte dials with printed indexes. It is a rare piece to collect. Later production of the 16750 reference (approx. from 1986), were fitted with glossy black dials with white gold indexes. The Rolex GMT-Master 16750 was equipped with an acrylic crystal and available with Oyster or Jubilee bracelets.

Image of a Rolex GMT Master 16750 "Pepsi"

GMT-Master 16760 "Fat Lady"

In 1983, Rolex introduced a new "parallel" model of the GMT-Master, known as model reference 16760. This new model featured a sapphire crystal and an updated automatic movement, the caliber 3085, with a quick-set hour hand, allowing the wearer to track a third time zone. The Rolex GMT-Master II 16760, colloquially known as the "Fat Lady" or "Sophia Loren" due to its thick case design, was only available with a red and black "Coke" bezel insert.

Image of a Rolex GMT Master 16760 "Fat Lady"

GMT-Master 16700

The Rolex GMT Master 16700 was released in 1988 and featured the automatic movement caliber Rolex 3175 with GMT and date functions. The red GMT hand allowed the wearer to track two time zones - ideal for pilots and frequent travelers. The GMT Master 16700 replaced the GMT Master 16750 and was intended as a more affordable option than the GMT Master II 16710, which was released at the same time. The Rolex GMT Master 16700 was only available with a Pepsi red/blue or all black bezel insert, there was never a Coke red/black version. Production for the 16700 reference was discontinued in 1999.

Image of a Rolex GMT Master 16700

GMT-Master II 16710

The Rolex GMT Master II 16710 was produced from 1989 to 2007 and was available in several variations, including the iconic red and blue Pepsi bezel insert, the black and red Coke bezel insert, or a fully black bezel. The GMT Master II 16710 was powered by the Rolex 3185 automatic movement with GMT and date functions. Prior to 1999, the GMT Master II 16710 featured a SWISS T25 dial with tritium indexes and hands. In 1999, the watches were upgraded to feature "Swiss Only" dials, and starting in 2000, all watches were fitted with SWISS MADE dials with SuperLuminova indexes and hands. The last 16710 models were powered by the 3186 automatic movement.

Image of a Rolex GMT Master II 16710 "Coke"

GMT-Master II 116710LN

The Rolex GMT Master II 116710LN, which was released in 2007, was the first GMT model to feature a ceramic bezel and a polished and brushed Oyster bracelet. Initially, it was only available with a fully black 24-hour bezel. The 116710 was powered by the automatic Rolex caliber 3186 movement, which included date and GMT complications. The 116710LN also saw the GMT hand change from red to green and was the first GMT Master to feature an engraved inner rehaut displaying the serial number at the 6 o'clock position.

Image of Rolex GMT Master II 116710LN

GMT-Master II 116710BLNR "Batman"

In 2013, the Rolex GMT Master II 116710 BLNR, also known as the "BATMAN" due to its blue and black 24-hour bezel, was released. The BLNR featured a blue GMT hand and was powered by the automatic caliber Rolex 3186 movement with date and GMT complications. The 116710 BLNR was eventually discontinued in 2018.

Image of Rolex GMT Master II 116710BLNR "Batman"

GMT-Master II 126710BLRO

In 2018, Rolex returned to its roots with the release of the GMT Master II 126710 BLRO Pepsi, which features a blue and red Cerachrom bezel and the return of the Jubilee bracelet. Powered by the automatic caliber 3285 movement with a GMT function and 70-hour power reserve, the 126710 BLRO has a 40mm stainless steel case, a sapphire crystal, and is water-resistant up to 100 meters. The following year, Rolex released the GMT Master II 126710 BLNR, which features a blue and black bezel and a Jubilee bracelet, and has since been known as the "Batgirl" version.

Image of Rolex GMT Master II 126710BLNR "Pepsi"

Rolex GMT-Master production chart since 1954

Model Ref.SizeMaterialInsert ColorCalibreProduction
654238 mmSteel or GoldBakélite/alu15301954 - 1959
167540 mmSteel, Gold & Steel, GoldAlu Pepsi15XX1959 - 1980
1675040 mmSteelAlu Pepsi, Black15XX1980 - 1988
1676040 mmSteelCoke15XX1983 - 1988
1670040 mmSteelBlack15XX1988 - 1999
1671040 mmSteelPepsi, coke, Black15XX1989 - 2007
116710LN40 mmSteelBlack15XX2007 - 2019
116710BLNR40 mmSteelBlack/Blue15XX2013 - 2019
126710BLRO40 mmSteelPepsi15XX2018 - ...
126710BLNR40 mmSteelBlack/Blue15XX2018 - ...

Rolex GMT-Master dans James Bond

"Pussy Galore" isn't the only nickname for the GMT Master 6542, it's also known as the "Bond, James Bond" watch because it was worn by none other than the suave secret agent himself, in the 1964 film Goldfinger. But it's not just Bond who made this watch famous, the stunning Honor Blackman, who played the character Pussy Galore, also sported the GMT Master 6542, solidifying its place in history as a true icon of spy-worthy style.

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