Rolex GMT-Master and GMT-Master II Are The Ultimate Globetrotter Companions


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Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II, 40 mm, Oystersteel

The Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II is the ultimate cosmopolitan watch. Developed for professionals who criss-cross the globe, it debuted in 1982 as the successor to the GMT-Master, which was introduced in 1955.

Aesthetics-wise, the GMT-Master II speaks the same design language as the 1955 original – a testament to the brand’s perfection of the line’s style and technical design from the get-go. Meanwhile, decades of technical advancements have kept it at the forefront of watchmaking, where it remains as the GMT watch of choice for discerning connoisseurs.

The 1950s and 1960s were periods of great progress. Civil aviation, in particular, saw major advancements such as the development of passenger jets. This, coupled with the booming global economy, led to a burgeoning demand for air travel – for the first time in humanity’s history, large numbers of people were rapidly travelling across time zones.

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Photo of lieutenant and engineer William J. Knight. On 3 October 1967, piloting the rocket-powered X-15, he set the highest speed ever recorded, 7,274 km/h (Mach 6.7), wearing a GMT-Master.

Against this backdrop, Rolex developed the original GMT-Master. It was a true tool watch, with a design that remains de rigueur for GMT-function models even today, featuring two anchoring characteristics. The first: a large triangle-tipped hand that circled the dial in 24 hours. The second: a bidirectional rotatable bezel with a 24-hour graduation, with the most classic iteration having red and blue halves to visually demarcate daytime and nighttime respectively.

Together, these features formed the GMT complication; by setting the bezel, the GMT-Master could display a second-time zone simultaneously for the wearer, who simply had to read the 24-hour hand. Professionals such as pilots and myriad others now had at-a-glance access to a second-time zone.

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GMT-Master, stainless steel, red and blue Plexiglas insert, 1955, ref. 6542

Following its introduction, the GMT-Master quickly established its reputation in aviation and came to epitomise the aeronautical watch, accompanying many groundbreaking achievements. This included the first non-stop transatlantic flight from New York to Moscow made by a Pan Am Intercontinental Jet Clipper, as well as the Mach 6.7 speed record set by the hypersonic X-15 experimental aircraft.

The GMT-Master also found itself being relied upon in other fields, where it witnessed triumphs on the wrists of globetrotters, explorers, and adventurers alike. The Pegasus Overland expedition, for instance, was accomplished over 51 weeks across 34 countries with a GMT-Master on the wrist of each team member. Likewise, certain astronauts of Apollo 13, 14 and 17, wore GMT-Master timepieces on their respective missions.

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GMT-Master, stainless steel, red and blue bezel insert, 1959, ref. 1675 (above)

Constant Progress

Never one to rest on its laurels, Rolex introduced a new movement in 1982, ensuring that the GMT- Master continued to evolve and adapt to the needs of a perpetually changing world. The calibre 3085’s defining feature was how its hour hand could be adjusted forward and backward in one-hour increments – independently of the other hands, and without stopping the movement. With this, local time could now be quickly and easily set by the wearer as they crossed the globe. To clearly mark this evolution, the watch with the new movement was named the GMT-Master II. The two models would be offered simultaneously until the discontinuation of the original in 2000.

Indeed, both the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II have seen a slew of technical innovations developed by Rolex, to ensure that the latest iteration of each watch would always be the most aesthetically and technically accomplished. And it is this constant march that has helped to forge the line’s reputation for excellence.

The 24-hour graduated bezel, an anchoring feature for the line, has unsurprisingly been a focus for various improvements. The original GMT-Master initially sported a Plexiglas bezel insert, which was shortly after updated to an aluminium one in 1959. In 2005, Rolex introduced the first bezel insert made of ceramic on a Rolex watch. This significant update did not just mean a virtually scratchproof bezel, but also confirmed Rolex’s place at the cutting edge of innovation for research and development into high-tech ceramic components.

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Red and blue Cerachrom bezel insert during surface polishing, following coating of the inscriptions.

Rolex followed up with a two-tone, black-and-blue bezel in 2013. The release marked yet another milestone, as the brand had achieved the first two-colour monobloc Cerachrom bezel insert – it represented a triumph of engineering and applied research. The classic red-and-blue Cerachrom bezel insert was introduced the following year, with additional colours unveiled subsequently. They share the same crucial traits: even saturation for each coloured area, and a perfectly clear demarcation between them thanks to precisely controlled production parameters and processes that are patent-protected.

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Integration of the oscillator in calibre 3186, with which the GMT-Master II was equipped from 2005 to 2018.

In the same vein, the 24-hour “GMT” hand has undergone various iterations over the decades. Initially slimmer and more discreet, it was given a bolder design after 1959 for enhanced legibility. The triangle at the tip, in particular, was enlarged for greater visual weight. Today, the “GMT” hand is recognised both for its legibility and balanced design, with perfected details including the luminescent material at its tip, as well as a main body that is lacquered in a matching colour with the lower half of the bezel for some references.

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24-hour hands of different versions of the GMT-Master II.

Beneath the dial, Rolex has kept a steady pace of improvements to the movement too. In 2005, for instance, the brand upgraded the GMT-Master II’s movement to calibre 3186, which featured its proprietary Parachrom hairspring for greater resistance against magnetic fields, shock, and temperature changes. Calibre 3285 followed in 2018 and incorporated the Chronergy escapement for improved efficiency and magnetic resistance – with the oscillator mounted on Paraflex shock absorbers for enhanced shock resistance, no less. No details have been overlooked; since 2023, Rolex has fitted the movement’s oscillating weight with an optimised ball bearing.

The GMT-Master II Today

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Movement 3285 A equips the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II

Like every other model in Rolex’s line-up, the latest iteration of the GMT-Master II is always the best possible – both technically and aesthetically. The two references for the GMT-Master II in Oystersteel with grey and black Cerachrom bezel insert, which have been unveiled earlier this year, showcase this perpetual quest for perfection.

Both references have been fitted with calibre 3285, of course, and benefit from Rolex’s latest technologies including the Chronergy escapement and blue Parachrom hairspring. The combination of the movement’s barrel architecture and its escapement’s efficiency gives the timepieces an approximately 70-hour power reserve.

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GMT-Master II, Oystersteel, grey and black Cerachrom bezel insert, 2024, ref. 126710 GRNR

On the exterior, the most striking element of the new watches is their Cerachrom bezel insert in black and grey. This colourway blends in subtly with the familiar Oyster case – rendered here in Oystersteel – with the platinum-coated recessed graduations on the bezel tying all the details together. For a touch of visual interest, the black lacquer dial bears the inscription ‘GMT-Master II’ in green, echoing the colour of the triangle-tipped 24-hour hand – an element that features strongly in the model’s design.

The difference between the new references concerns the choice of bracelet, with both the Jubilee and Oyster bracelets available. The Oyster bracelet sports a three-link design and is known for its robustness. It is also the most universal bracelet within the Oyster Perpetual collection. The Jubilee bracelet, on the other hand, has five links that has given it a reputation for suppleness and comfort. Both bracelets have been fitted with the Oysterlock folding safety clasp, and feature up to five millimetres of fine adjustment with the Easylink comfort extension link.

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Roger Federer, former tennis player and Rolex Testimonee, with a GMT-Master II in Oystersteel on his wrist, featuring a bezel with a grey and black Cerachrom insert.

The finishing touch concerns the certification standards that Rolex applies to all its timepieces. Each complete GMT-Master II, consisting of both the case and movement, is covered by the Superlative Chronometer certification redefined by Rolex in 2015. This builds and improves on the industry standard set by COSC – not just with an improved precision of +2/-2 seconds a day, but also with requirements for waterproofness, self-winding performance, and power reserve. Rolex backs this with an international five-year guarantee.

The GMT-Master line was envisioned as a tool for professionals to keep track of the time in two different time zones but has grown well beyond this original raison d’être. Today, it also represents a link to a location elsewhere – a place of significance for the wearer, whether as a memory, a plan, or something else entirely. For those who venture across time zones and frontiers, it will continue to be a loyal companion, as it has been for nearly seven decades.

This article is slated to appear in WOW’s Summer 24 Issue, out soon.

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