Hands-On Review: Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi Bezel”

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.

Rolex GMT Master II Pepsi - reclining 1

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.

Rolex GMT Master II Pepsi - front

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.


Rolex GMT Master II Pepsi - reclining 2

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.

Rolex GMT Master II Pepsi - on wrist

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.




No Responses to “Hands-On Review: Rolex GMT-Master II “Pepsi Bezel””

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  1. srhardy

    rolex are for old people with too much money, where as omega’s are for young people with too much money – casio are for you and me with not much money but want a watch that tells time, all the time, where as INVICTA are the second watch we buy to prove that being poor isnt a crime and we wanted that rolex look but was never going to find the money in this lifetime!

    • JeffBD

      I wish people wouldn’t make generalizations about people by the watches they wear. My Yachtmaster is subtle as hell…just fades to grey. Most Rolex fans that know watches don’t wear them to be noticed; they are under the cuff, where they should be. They are dependible and tough as nails…generally like their wearers. :) And some use them to bludgeon onlookers or impress. But those people are offensive no matter what watch they display. Being subconsciously aware of those type of people kept me away from Rolex for a long time. my bad. And your Casio is okay with me. If you care about the tradition of telling time from your wrist-machine over the fashion of brand names, then you’re my kinda guy.

  2. This watch was also on my shopping list, alas – no more. Aside from the cost, white gold is not as durable or suitable for daily wear in a travel/utility watch. I wear various GMT watches daily, often a Seamaster 300 GMT (b/c of the quickset hour). I was really waiting for the release of the new pepsi in stainless steel; alas I’ll shift my attention elsewhere.

  3. MikeMc

    I recently spoke to our Rolex representative, and he said production of the two color ceramic in blue/red combination is so much more difficult than the other colors, that the bezel costs them about $4000.00 more than the solid black. The difficulty is not only in the red, but the line between the blue red has a tendency to bleed into each other. That’s why it isn’t offered in stainless steel. Maybe one day it will be easier, and we can get it in steel.

  4. Roger McKinney

    I wear the earlier ‘coke’ version of the Rolex GMT II with an upgraded Jubilee bracelet. Great watch!
    No plans to buy into the new version, but I believe Rolex will do well with its sales.

  5. Oscar Barragan

    GMT is not only one  of the most beatififul but also a very usefuel watch while traveling.
    I have a therory about  the fact that the watch has only be made in White Gold.
    I considere that little time has passed since the technical mastery was achieved to produce ceramic bicolor. Perhaps this has led to a limited production of bezels. Large volumes of ​​ceramic bezels would be required if the watch had been produced and offered to potential buyers in Steel.

  6. Seasow

    All that discussion, but no price listed for the watch? “20,000 euros more than xyz” doesn’t count. And I know I’m not alone in thinking that all Rolex watches with the cyclops window look “corrective”. No other manufacturer uses them. It’s a fine watch, but the crystal ruins it.

  7. Chris Launder

    Rolex apparently stated that the new bezel is incompatible with steel and that’s why there will only be a white gold version , which sounds somewhat unusual . If they can put a platinum bezel on the Yachtmaster why can’t they put a white gold bezel on a new stainless steel version of the pepsi ?

  8. I purchased my first GMT in 1967. When I heard that a new GMT with a Pepsi bezel was being released, I called my local dealer and asked for an arrival date. Then I learned that it is being offered only in gold. I wrote to Rolex and was told for marketing and production reasons, it would be not be offered in steel.


  9. When oh when are you people going to wake up an realise that Rolex makes the same thing as it has for decades, with only the tiniest adjustments and minimal effort invested, and they’re all really worth nothing more than what your obsession projects?
    These exact watches by any other name would be mentioned in the same breath as the latest from Glycine or Oris or Seiko, at the summary end of an article dedicated to real horlogerie.

  10. Robin Henry

    The more Rolex diving watches change, the more they stay the same. This “new” GMT doesn’t look much different from previous versions. I know there is only so much you can do with a wrist watch and some of the changes may be internal, however, Rolex should keep the design the same … like the Volkswagon car … throughout the decades and not pretend it’s different by simply changing the bezel colour.

  11. Bluezzer

    I think you should add the various Ulysse Nardin GMT +/- to watches that meet your requirements.
    Great lume for night viewing. No extra hand that gets in the way. No need to take it off to adjust the local time, or accidentally pulling the crown too far and mess it the setting. The screw down crown makes it usable for swimming.
    One could even say it’s a better travel watch as it doesn’t stick out like a site thumb!

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