What started as a request from Pan-Am Airlines for a multi-timezone watch in the 1950s has turned into a sea of Rolex GMT references over several generations. To appreciate the 16710 is to appreciate the evolution of design and technology that culminated in that final pre-ceramic-bezeled reference.
The GMT Master II in discussion today first started in 1954 as a bakelite-bezeled Rolex GMT Master reference 6542. This particular reference answered the call of long-haul pilots by adding a fourth hand used to track an additional timezone, specifically Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Unlike modern GMT watches, this hand was linked to the standard hour and could not be adjusted independently. Instead, the wearer would turn the bezel in order to set the second timezone.
From this initial four-year run, the GMT Master continued to evolve and change over the next several decades with notable changes including an aluminum bezel, crown guards, a hacking and jumping date movement, and the addition of a jubilee bracelet option.
In 1983 Rolex introduced a major functional change to the movement - one large enough to denote a new model name. The GMT Master II reference 16760 allowed, for the first time, the hour hand and GMT hand to be adjusted separately. Dubbed the “Fat Lady” due to its thick case, the 16760 ran for five years before being replaced with the hero of this post: the 16710.
First entering the market in 1989 the GMT Master II reference 16710 had an impressive 18-year production run. Owing to that long run is a healthy population of vintage watches available for sale. Picking an example from the late 90s, you can find a timepiece that has all of the movement technology one would need paired with the design and soul of the original GMT Master.
When looking at Rolex stainless sport watch prices, there are two pricey extremes. One extreme is vintage watches whose value climbs with age, their condition and originality so prized that they are locked away from regular wear. On the other extreme are new production models safely covered in stickers and selling for nearly twice their MSRP. But, between those two poles of empty bank accounts lies some great opportunity for wearable vintage.
On the outside, the 16710 echoes so much of the style that has solidified early GMT masters as true classics. The slim, tapered lugs contrast against the blockier lugs of modern Rolex sport offerings. The aluminum bezel, even if newer, reminds the wearer of gently faded inserts of more pricey vintage pieces. Depending on age, it might also feature drilled lugs and hollow end links.
On the wrist, the bracelet is a joy to wear. A modern Rolex bracelet is beefier, more solid, and certainly more precise. Yet spend just one day wearing a 16710 and instead you just might find yourself falling in love with the thinner, lighter, and more balanced feel of an old, rattly bracelet.
In use, the vintage style gives way to the modern excellence of the movement. The “flyer” GMT functionality allows for a jumping local hour hand, giving you the chance to adjust to your new local time between touchdown and deplaning. All the while your GMT time stays in sync.
Perhaps what makes the 16710 so interesting isn’t just the long production run, it might be that its successor, the 116710, is just so startlingly different. Its jubilee bracelet sparkles more aggressively while avoiding any of the rattle of the old oyster model. The larger, ceramic two-tone bezel shines with the confidence of a material that promises not to scratch and fade over time. It is without a doubt a different watch for a different time, perhaps marking as well as anything, the 16710’s place in the vintage world.