Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy: Rolex GMT-Master II


Over the past 100 years or so, Rolex has produced more than a few “dynasty” series of watches — from the Datejust to the Day-Date, to the Explorer, Daytona, and Speedking, to the piece we will be focusing on today: the GMT-Master II. These watch collections originally built much of their reputations on functionality and durability, but have over the years transitioned more into the luxury (i.e., more expensive) side of horology, giving them another layer of intrigue to many consumers.

Rolex GMT-Master - vintage

The Rolex GMT-Master II, the descendant of the original GMT-Master (as you might have guessed), is no different. The GMT-Master series, first launched in 1954 with the Reference 6542 model, was aimed at pilots and travelers looking to keep track of the time over various time zones. This watch, with its familiar oyster case, had a 24-hour bidirectional Bakelite bezel, a lack of crown guards, and a prone-to-patina dial depending on the owner’s level of use. Over the next few years and references, Rolex introduced a less fragile (relative to the Bakelite) metal bezel, crown guards for more protection, and various improvements on the original movement.

In 1983, the original GMT-Master II made its first appearance, with Reference 16760. This “sequel” series to the GMT-Master came to be recognized for its larger, thicker case, more prominent crown guards, and more robust overall feel compared to previous pieces in the broader history of the series. In 1999, the original GMT-Master was discontinued, but today the GMT-Master II still stands strong as an integral pillar in Rolex’s portfolio.

Rolex GMT-Master II - blue-black - reclining

The modern reference, the 116710, is an interesting piece with both contemporary and vintage design elements. Cased in a 40-mm steel, yellow or white gold, or steel-and-yellow-gold case, with the familiar 24-hour rotating bezel and crown guards, the piece is powered by the durable automatic Caliber 3186. On the dial resides applied circular, rectangular, and triangular hour markers in white gold; a date indicator with “cyclops” lens at the 3 o’clock mark; and a host of different writing, including the corporate logo toward the top of the dial and descriptors of the watch toward the bottom.

The last key features to notice are the hands, which include a “Mercedes”-style hour hand, a sword-shaped hand for minutes, a lollipop-tipped hand for seconds, and, finally, a triangle-tipped GMT hand pointing to the 24-hour scale on the bezel. The GMT-Master II is widely available at many different dealers, and most often starts in price at around $7,000.

Rolex GMT-Master II - blue-black - soldier

On one hand, there are many similarities between the modern GMT-Master II and more historical references, but on the other, there are also many differences. Today, the 24-hour bezel, GMT hand, and dial features have remained practically the same, outside of a few color options and material improvements. Coversely, however, the lugs are much shorter, the case is much thicker, and some color options previously available on the steel versions (such as the famous red-and-blue “Pepsi” bezel, as seen below) are now available only on the models made of more precious metals, such as white gold. Overall, the modern watch is a very different piece as compared to the original GMT-Masters of the 1950s and ‘60s. It is today a much more masculine and bold watch, more likely to be found sitting thick upon the wrist of a boardroom executive than that of a pilot — despite its very interesting heritage in the world of aviation and its enduring fame among lovers of pilots’ watches.

Rolex GMT-Master II - red-blue - reclining

I have mentioned in the past the strong craving of many vintage-watch enthusiasts for more historically faithful re-editions by Rolex. But the brand, thus far, has focused much more on appealing to modern tastes than by humoring those seeking the designs of years past. That said, the current GMT-Master II reference has been in production for almost 10 years (it was released in 2007), so fans of the series are likely to see an update to the collection in the not-too-distant future. And, if the newest Daytona released at this year’s Baselworld was any indication, it might just include a historical nod, whether in the form of a bezel, a color option, or perhaps even more.

Rolex GMT-Master II - blue-black - side

For our most recent article, in which I compare the modern Zenith Pilot Type 20 Extra Special to its vintage counterparts, click here.

Caleb Anderson is the Director of Outreach at the online vintage watch boutique and blog theoandharris.com. Since starting at Theo & Harris, he has garnered extensive knowledge on vintage watches, and spends much of his time sharing his opinions within the field. Currently located near New York City, he is a persistent student in all things historical, a writer on watches, and a casual runner.

4 Responses to “Vintage Eye for the Modern Guy: Rolex GMT-Master II”

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  1. Brian Copeland

    I recently decided to add a GMT to my collection, so I researched them very thoroughly. The choices were to buy a vintage model (e.g. Ref. 1675), buy one of the current models (i.e. the newer models with the ceramic bezels, larger cases, and modern bracelets). In the end, I purchased a 16700 GMT Master. This model features a Pepsi bezel (only Pepsi or Black for this ref.) and had a very vintage vibe. Despite being vintage (this one was made in 1991), it had the features that I wanted in a watch that I wear daily: a sapphire crystal (first GMT to have one) and quick set date (not available in the newer ref. 16710). The second hour hand is not independent like it is in the newer models, which means that it can only track a second time zone using the bezel. However, I barely have the need to track 2 time zones, much less 3. The watch I purchased (a full set) was as expensive as a new GMT II, but it will serve me well daily, give off a vintage vibe the new ones never will, and probably appreciate much more in the next few years. I think the new ones are lovely, but when it came to spending $9K on mine I went with the Ref. 16700!

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  2. A vintage GMT or GMT II just plain gets me excited whenever I see one. The imperfect, colorful Coke and Pepsi bezels they sport, the all brushed bracelets, the slightly yellowed hour markers, all want to make me get out my credit card and blow my monthly budget on one of these beauties. Conversely, I’ve never been tempted to pick up one of the contemporary models. Sure, they look nice enough. They just don’t have any kind of vibe to them, nor do I believe they are a good investment. They aint making anymore 1675s, 16700s, 16710s, or 16760s. My advice is get one of these while you still can. The market for vintage Submariners has become ridiculously overpriced. My guess is that the GMT market will be next…

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  3. Patrick Creutz

    how do you get the price of Rolex watch without going to a dealer–to find out if you are getting a good deal or not

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    • Caleb Anderson

      Hi Patrick,

      Often times if you call or email a dealer ahead of time for a specific watch they will give you pricing on the piece. As well, you can search online retailers for the watch you’re looking for and compare those prices. Hopefully from comparing the prices you’ll be able to determine what a fair price is, and possibly give yourself some bargaining power if a price is negotiable.

      Caleb

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