When Rolex unveils a new watch, it does it exactly when it wants to do it. As we told you before, when we were guessing what the new Rolex watches would be back in 2014, Rolex can be even more secretive than the famous Swiss banks. Our guesses turned out to be pretty accurate, and one of the models that we were hoping to see was a new Rolex GMT-Master II with red/blue “Pepsi” bezel. However, The “Pepsi” the brand launched that year elicited some rather mixed emotions at Monochrome headquarters.
At the moment that Rolex opened the windows of its Baselworld booth (which could easily serve as a large house or a huge, three-story boutique) — while the Monochrome-Watches team were attending the Tudor press conference and being presented the cool new Black Bay Blue — our colleague Mario, who was not present at Baselworld, sent us a text message with a link to the new Rolexes. Suspense, and then… YES… a Pepsi! But as quickly as the enthusiasm erupted, it faded away again. The reason for that was that Rolex decided to make its most desirable new watch in years in white gold.
Now, usually the metal used for a new timepiece is just journalistic jotting. However, when a watch is on our personal shopping list, the choice becomes an important factor and all journalistic “neutrality” vanishes. The white-gold GMT-Master II has a price tag that is 20,000 euros higher than the GMT-Master II 116710 BLNR that was introduced last year. We realized that we’ll have to put coins in our piggy bank for many more years, and won’t be able to buy the new Pepsi for “that life-changing event” later this year.
The new “Pepsi” does look very good, actually, pretty much exactly as we hoped it would look. What we hadn’t realized is that creating that blue/red bezel was rather difficult — in fact, you could easily label it ‘next to impossible’ — and that was the reason that Rolex hadn’t created the “Pepsi” bezel in Cerachrom before.
Here is some text from the official Rolex press release that we hope will help you to fully understand how difficult the process of creating a two-tone Cerachrom bezel is:
The name “Cerachrom” derives from a contraction of the word “ceramic” juxtaposed with the suffix “chrom” from the ancient Greek word for “colour”. The range of available shades for ceramic is however restricted by its very manufacturing process. Colours are generally created by adding mineral pigments that can withstand the very high temperatures at which the ceramic is fired for its densification and to acquire its characteristic hardness. Red, typically, is a colour for which no stable mineral pigments exist to create a Cerachrom component. Rolex nevertheless managed to produce a red ceramic. But this innovation represented only half the journey.
Rolex’s in-house engineers finally found an answer to the second half of the challenge. The ingenious process consists of introducing an intermediate step in the manufacture of the standard Cerachrom insert. During this innovative bulk-colouring step, half of the red ceramic insert is coloured blue. The colour is achieved by impregnating the part of the insert representing night-time hours, between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m., with a controlled quantity of a solution of chemical compounds. The solution is added before sintering at more than 1,600 °C, when the ceramic acquires its mechanical resistance properties as well as its colour. In the course of this firing, the ceramic densifies and the added compounds react with the basic elements of the red Cerachrom insert to conjure up the final blue colour.
Although the idea in itself may appear simple, a number of major technical hurdles had to be overcome before it could be implemented: the formulation of a solution of precursor chemical compounds that would turn red into blue; the homogenous application of an appropriate quantity of this solution; ensuring a sharp, precise and clear demarcation between the two coloured areas, the definition of the precise length of time and temperature for the sintering so as to prevent any distortion of the piece. Every single one of these parameters is crucial for the success of the process and the quality of the final product.
The Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II has been our favorite “multi-purpose” travel watch for a long time. There simply aren’t that many competitors when you think of its specifications. A) wears very comfortably; B) looks good with a suit and with a casual outfit; C) water-resistant and can actually be worn on the beach, in the sea, or in your hotel’s swimming pool; and D) its make is impeccable and solid. Just thinking of these qualifications, the only options that come to mind (and I hope you’ll forgive me for the ones I forget) are the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Compressor Geographic, the Girard-Perregaux Traveller WW.TC, Patek Philippe’s Aquanaut Travel Time and its new Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph and the Seamaster Planet Ocean GMT that Omega introduced last year (we’ll have a review for you in two weeks).
So, steep competition, not that there’s a choice between dozens of high-end watches with similar specs. The Rolex GMT-Master was one of the very first dedicated traveler’s watches: Rolex introduced the first version in 1955. At that time, intercontinental travel was developing and airliners began to fly swiftly across several successive time zones. Pilots and travelers alike wanted to know the time in various places in the world, such as at the airports of departure and arrival. The GMT-Master was developed to meet the specific needs of airline pilots and it became the official watch of the famous Pan American World Airways, better known as Pan Am.
The advantage that the Rolex GMT-Master II has over many ‘standard’ GMT watches, is that the 24-hour hand will keep indicating the home time (so you’ll know when’s the best time to call your office, and when to let your family sleep), while you can adjust the normal hour hand to your travel destination so it indicates your local time.
The Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi” ref. 116719BLNR is comfortable on the wrist; the steel bracelet can be adjusted (and micro adjusted) to fit your wrist perfectly. Although we must mention that it is also quite heavy, due to the use of white gold for the case and bracelet. And again, that is the only complaint we have. White gold is heavier, less resistant to scratches (especially compared to the hard 904L stainless steel that Rolex uses for other watches) and it is, as we mentioned 20,ooo euros more expensive. However, this Rolex still ranks among our favorite travel watches, and still deserves to be considered the “mother of all travel watches.” The ceramic’s sheen enhances the colors in a way that is reminiscent of the Plexiglas insert of the original GMT-Master, introduced in 1955.
This article was originally published in 2014 and has been updated.