Few watches are more iconic, or have a more interesting reason for being, than the Rolex GMT-Master. The watch was originally conceived in the early 1950s as a tool to keep airline pilots and their international passengers safe. You see, intercontinental travel times were coming down due to the new jets, and hopping the pond was getting popular.
Those rapid travel times were causing problems with pilots’ sleep patterns. This was the newly discovered phenomenon of jet lag. Pan American World Airways made note of this and recognized it as a safely concern. To address this growing concern, PanAm teamed with Rolex to create a watch that would allow pilots to remain on their home sleep schedule by knowing their home time. At the same time, the same watch would let them know the local time where they were.
A fourth hand – a 24 hour hand – working in conjunction with a rotating bezel would allow them to do just that. And so the GMT-Master ref. 6542 was born.
Rolex GMT-Master ref. 6542
First examples had no crown guards, and were only 38mm in diameter. And that rotating bezel – Bakelite on those first watches – was colored red and blue and destined to become a classic. The 24 hour hand was directly connected to the regular hour hand. To create a second time zone, the wearer simply rotated the bezel until the desired time zone was indicated by the 24 hour hand.
And so the GMT-Master evolved. The early Bakelite bezels were replaced by painted aluminum, the case grew by 2mm and now sported crown guards. Other bezel colors appeared over the years, and the movement evolved too. The 24 hour hand declared its independence from the hour hand, thus enabling the wearer to read a third time zone if they were clever enough to do so (an additional 24 hour chapter ring at the outer edge of the dial would have helped).
(photo courtesy of RolexDiver)
The iconic (there is no other term for it) red and blue “Pepsi” bezel was discontinued in 2007, and a year later a whole new reference (116710), with the beefed up “super case” and ceramic bezel, was introduced. All black bezel first, then the “Batman,” the BLNR black and blue bezel. And a couple of years ago, Rolex revived the Pepsi, albeit in white gold only.
And now, with Baselworld2016 only a week away, will we see a new GMT-Master II? Perhaps a steel Pepsi, or now a Coke (black and red bezel)?
Well, a continent-hopper can dream, right?