Developed during the 1950s, the Rolex GMT-Master exemplifies the extraordinary success encountered by Rolex sport models. Among the most collectible timepieces to date, the GMT-Master was born when the now defunct Pan Am, back then world’s largest airline, commissioned Rolex to create a specifically designed watch that allowed their pilots to keep track of time in two locations.
Named after the Greenwich Mean Time, the Rolex GMT-Master was developed with an additional hour hand revolving once every 24 hours and a revolving bezel graduated for 24 hours. Throughout the years, reliability and quality of manufacturing lead the GMT-Master to international fame, enabling it to become one of the most cherished Rolex wristwatch for the novice as well as experienced collector.
GMT-Master Ref. 6542
Introduced in 1954, the reference 6542 was the first GMT-Master wristwatch and originated from a regular Rolex Turn-O-Graph reference 6202, with a modified bezel and movement. The timepiece featured a bright acrylic or bakelite bezel insert with 24 hour markings printed on its underside and divided in red and blue colors. The wristwatch was also bestowed with a beautiful black gloss dial with gilt printing, as well as a case without crown guards. Today, examples in mint and original condition are exceedingly rare and are cherished by the most sophisticated collectors.
Offered at auction by Christie’s in Geneva on May 16, 2016, the pictured GMT-Master featured one of the most desirable and unique dials ever seen on a reference 6542. Throughout the years, the dial color of present example achieved an extremely charismatic copper/brick tonality resulting from the now well-known reaction of the dial varnishes of the period to time and exposition to external elements.
With a beautifully preserved and original case as well as a highly attractive bakelite bezel with intense colors, the pictured timepiece can be considered as one of the most collectible and appealing example of the first GMT-Master reference.
GMT-Master Ref. 1675
Succeeding the reference 6542, the GMT-Master reference 1675 was produced from 1959 to 1980. Through its long production cycle, the timepiece encountered an astonishing success and captured the likes of many.
Embodying the quest of Rolex to develop the most reliable tool wristwatch, the timepiece was created with crown guards as well as an aluminum bezel, enabling its resistance to potential shocks or exposition to external elements arising from active wear. Highly collectible, the GMT-Master 1675 was created in different variances, with cases made of stainless steel, steel/gold and fully made of gold.
Part of the most collectible and rare variances of the reference 1675 include special orders, with the example of timepieces specifically commissioned for the Middle-East, including the United Arab Emirates or the Sultanate of Oman.
Resurfacing in the market on extremely rare occasions, these examples require some expertise in order to assess their authenticity and condition. At auctions, such timepieces grasp the attention of the world’s most astute collectors in search of the rarest timepieces in order to complement their collections.
This exceptional reference 1675 in stainless steel was scheduled to go on the auction block at the Christie’s New York Rare Watches auction in December 2016 and features a dial featuring the “Quraysh Hawk” printed in different padded layers. At its center sits a polychrome enamel Dhow or Arabian sailboat, replaced today by the UAE federation flag. The dial has Arabic text translated as Ministry of Defense. The rarity of the dial is further enhanced by its “radial dial” configuration, where the markers are placed closer to the center of the dial and the bottom of the crest touching the 6 o’clock marker rectangle lume plot.
GMT-Master Ref. 16758 SARU
With the expanding experimentalism of Rolex, some of the most highly coveted GMT-Master timepieces of today’s market were created, including precious-stone set examples of the reference 16758.
Launched during the 1980s, the model was called “SARU”, in reference to the alliance of sapphires and rubies tribute to the original blue and red bakelite bezels on timepieces of the 1950s.
Highly unusual for a period where tool watches were initially cased in stainless steel, only a small number of GMT-Master wristwatches were crafted in yellow gold. Timepieces set with gemstones were considered part of the most exclusive creations of the Geneva Manufacture and when offered at auction, often attract the attention of the most passionate collectors.
GMT-Master II Ref. 16710
Throughout the years, the GMT-Master benefited from further technical enhancements with the appearance of the quickset and hack feature, enabling a quicker change of the date and time, or a thicker case and sapphire crystal.
In 1989, Rolex introduced the GMT-Master II, encompassing a new caliber and a slimmer design. The reference 16710 produced until 2007 was now enabling the quickset for the 24-hour hand and encountered various changes of bezels and bracelets during its production.
Well received by Rolex collectors, the model could be obtained with an all-black, red and black or blue and red bezel. Throughout the years of production of the reference, the luminous material present on the dials gradually changed from Luminova to Superluminova.
Some of the most collectible wristwatches part of the reference 16710 include examples with dials bearing the signature of the prestigious retailer, Tiffany & Co. As one of the most renowned jewelry retailer, Tiffany & Co. was also known for selling wristwatches from a few manufacturers.
Scarce in today’s market, as the two companies have now parted ways, Rolex timepieces with Tiffany & Co. printed on their dials testify of the extremely prestigious relationship between the world renowned brand and Rolex.
GMT-Master II Ref. 116710
In 2007, the GMT-Master II reference 116710 was launched. An important evolution for the model, the wristwatch was a hit again and featured an important number of new characteristics, as well as multiple variants of cases and bezels.
The reference offered an improved movement, Caliber 3186, as well as a larger case, new bracelet, ROLEX engraving on the inner bezel ring and a ceramic bezel. Attracting much success and representing the most technologically advanced GMT-Master to date, part of the popular examples of the reference include the 116710BLNR nicknamed “Batman” due to the black and blue accents.
GMT-Master-II Ref. 116758SA
Showcasing the creativity of the Rolex manufacture, part of the most acclaimed GMT-Master timepieces include the 116758SA with a yellow gold case and a 24 hour rotating bezel set with precious-stones, alluding to the highly successful precious-stone set sport watches made by the brand during the 1980s.
Considered as one of the most recognizable timepiece in the world, the Rolex GMT-Master has reached a status that only few other wristwatches have been able to match.
With an identity and case design that have stayed consistent through time, the GMT-Master attracts a wide array of enthusiasts and has been part of the most collectible Rolex wristwatches.
With the rarest references fueling the desires of some of the most important and novice collectors alike, the GMT-Master is part of the most interesting and popular timepieces to own.
(Remi Guillemin is a junior watch specialist with Christie’s Watches and is based in Dubai)