In this feature courtesy of our friends at WatchTime Middle East, Dubai-based Christie’s watch specialist Remi Guillemin traces the evolution of the Rolex GMT-Master —the iconic Rolex dual-time watch and among the most collectible models to date — through six important references.
Developed during the 1950s, the Rolex GMT-Master exemplifies the extraordinary success achieved by Rolex sport models. Among the most collectible timepieces to date, the GMT-Master was born when the now defunct Pan Am, at the time the world’s largest airline, commissioned Rolex to create a specifically designed watch that allowed its pilots to keep track of time in two locations.
Named after the abbreviation for 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 led the GMT-Master to international fame, enabling it to become one of the most cherished Rolex wristwatches for the novice as well as the experienced collector.
Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 6542
Introduced in 1954, 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 into red and blue sectors. The wristwatch was also bestowed with a beautiful black gloss dial with gilt printing, as well as a case without crown guards. Today, original models in mint 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 GMT-Master pictured above featured one of the most desirable and unique dials ever seen on a Reference 6542. Throughout the years, its dial color achieved an extremely charismatic copper/brick tonality resulting from the now well-known reaction of the dial varnishes of the period to time and exposure 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 Rolex GMT-Master reference.
Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 1675
Succeeding Reference 6542, the GMT-Master Reference 1675 was produced from 1959 to 1980. Through its long production cycle, the timepiece was astonishingly successful and captured the hearst of many.
Embodying Rolex’s quest to develop the most reliable tool wristwatch possible, this timepiece was created with crown guards as well as an aluminum bezel, enabling its resistance to potential shocks or exposure to external elements arising from active wear. Highly collectible, the GMT-Master 1675 was created in different variations, with cases made of stainless steel, steel and gold, and all gold.
Among the most collectible and rare variations of Reference 1675 are special orders, with many examples of timepieces specifically commissioned for the Middle East, including the United Arab Emirates and 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 went on the auction block at 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, in which the markers are placed closer to the center of the dial and the bottom of the crest touching the rectangular 6 o’clock marker.
Rolex GMT-Master Ref. 16758 SARU
With its expanding devotion to experimentation, Rolex produced some of the most highly coveted GMT-Master timepieces on the market today’ — including precious-stone-set examples of the Reference 16758.
Launched during the 1980s, the model was nicknamed “SARU,” in reference to the alliance of SApphires and RUbies that paid 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 to be some of the Swiss brand’s most exclusive creations and, when offered at auction, they often attract the attention of the most passionate collectors.
Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 16710
Throughout the years, the GMT-Master benefited from further technical enhancements, as with the appearance of the quickset and hack feature, enabling a quicker change of the date and time; and the use of a thicker case and a sapphire crystal.
In 1989, Rolex introduced the GMT-Master II, which featured a new caliber and a slimmer design. The Reference 16710, produced until 2007, enabled the quickset function for the 24-hour hand and encountered various changes to the 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 this reference was in production, the luminous material present on the dials gradually changed from Luminova to Super-LumiNova.
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 world’s most renowned jewelry retailers, 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 to the historical relationship between the famous jeweler and Rolex.
Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710 “Batman”
In 2007, the GMT-Master II Reference 116710 was launched. An important evolution for the model, the wristwatch was a hit once again and featured an important number of new characteristics, as well as multiple variations of the case and bezel.
The reference offered an improved movement, Caliber 3186, as well as a larger case, a new bracelet, a ROLEX engraving on the inner bezel ring, and a ceramic bezel. Attracting much success and representing the most technologically advanced GMT-Master to date, one of the most popular examples of the reference include the 116710BLNR, nicknamed “Batman” due to its black and blue accents.
Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116758SA
Showcasing the creativity of the Rolex manufacture, one of the most acclaimed GMT-Master timepieces is the Ref. 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 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 a case and dial design that have remained consistent over time, the GMT-Master attracts a wide array of enthusiasts and has earned its status as one of the most collectible Rolex wristwatches, fueling the desires of seasoned and novice collectors alike.