If next week we had to pack our suitcase to participate in a caving expedition, climb eight thousand meters or descend into the dark depth of the Mariana Trench, one of the last things that would come to mind would be to include a piece of high watchmaking as a part of our equipment. It would be easier to take an Iberic Ham Blister rather than the piece that we usually wear in great occasions. As you may know, you don’t scratch the ham, you eat it.
In the middle of the last century, however, there was a very different conception of what today we mistakenly consider a “sports watch”.
In 1926 Rolex had already patented the dust and water resistant wristwatch case under the name Oyster, which provided optimal protection to the internal mechanism by incorporating a back cover and screw-down crown.
Just 5 years later, the firm manages to invent the first self-winding movement, giving birth to the quintessential Swiss manufacturer of reference: the Rolex Oyster Perpetual.
But Hans Wilsdorf, founder of Tudor and Rolex, had a restless mind. His continuing need for innovation led him to another idea that, in the early 50s, would be a true revelation. The bezel was there as something purely aesthetic and that had no place for Hans and his team of engineers; it must be a functional item. In 1953 the “Professional Watch” was born, (we use to call it that from now on, ok?) Embodied in a 36mm oyster body under the name “Oyster Perpetual Turn-O-Graph”. A little overturn to our hearts; it is one of our favorites ...
Although Rolex had already tried it in 1937 with a somewhat successful and extremely rare prototype, the reference 6202 from 1953 was the turning point that a little later would give rise to the Rolex Submariner. This already sounds more familiar to you, doesn't it?
The Submariner came equipped with a corrosion resistant steel case, folding opening and safety catch. The rotating bezel would allow divers to calculate dive times, while a redesigned dial made it easier to read underwater.
Unintentionally, the engineering team realized that the rotating bezel could give the watch the ability to provide a second time zone. This was nothing new, as Glycine had patented this complication on its 1953 "Airman" model.
Always wanting to stay one step ahead and driven by a special order from Pan American World Airways, Rolex introduced a second hour hand to a wristwatch for the first time, and Voila !, we already have one of the most iconic watches and recognized names in history: The Rolex GMT Master. Welcome!
Unlike the Submariner, the 6542 GMT Master Ref. 1954 featured a translucent bicolor blue and red bakelite bezel with luminous radio numbers. Yes, yes, radio, you read that right. The same one that made the Geiger counter dance.
In addition, the scale went from showing the minutes to showing the even hours from number 2 to 22, with a large triangle in the upper central part that marked 24 o'clock. There is the triangle of the Eye of Providence and the one of the GMT bezel from Rolex.
But just two years later, and due to the fragility of the Bakelite, the firm decided to replace the bezel with an aluminum one, which gave the watch a more solid and modern look. What does that mean? If you own a GMT with a bakelite bezel, you're in luck; You don't have the Holly Grail of the Rolex, but almost. Your Bakelite bezel watch has become a highly sought after piece and sought after by collectors around the world. Translated into Spanish, it is worth a penny. Think about it very well if you are going to sell it. We don't know if he sold it or not, but one who did have one in Bakelite was Fidel Castro. It is that the revolutions, you see, better to do with a Rolex. Fidel had a few; in case one failed, of course.
Fidel Castro with Rolex GMT Bakelite
Rolex GMT allowed Pan American World Airways pilots to easily change the second time zone based on the GMT zone where they were, while keeping the local time of their country of residence.
The combination of blue and red colors of the bezel, nowadays called “Pepsi” with all the affection, served to differentiate the daytime and nighttime hours. Until then, the Rolex GMT was reserved for professional use by commercial pilots. It was in 1959 that the true revolution of the professional watch took place with the arrival of the reference 1675. For the first time a watch understood as a “tool” became an object of worship for actors, industry magnates and businessmen of the epoch. Famous is Marlon Brando's GMT in “Apocalypsis Now” that last year reached a whopping 1,7 million euros at an auction organized by Phillips in New York. Change go.
Marlon Brando with Rolex GMT
The Rolex 1675 featured several relevant innovations. On the one hand, the new case incorporated crown guards for the first time, and the size grew to 40mm, becoming a relatively large watch for its time.
Additionally, it incorporated the Rolex caliber 1565, capable of generating 18 vibrations per hour. This marked the change from the COSC “Chronometer Officially Certified” certification to “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified”. This certification would later be used in the creation of such important models as the Daytona. Since then, the GMT Master undergoes a slow evolution. After the launch of the reference 800, the novelties introduced by the firm were generally of an aesthetic nature or of "refining" its mechanics.
In an attempt to get the consumer’s attention, Rolex began to launch GMT units with different bezel combinations, such as full black, red and black (known as “Coke”), black and brown (aka “Root Beer”) or the controversial full blue bezel (“Blueberry”). By the way, a collation of the names, in this battle, there are no subjective opinions, Pepsi beats Coke.
By the way, not only did Brando owned a GMT. Clint Eastwood in his early days when he shot "In the Line of Fire" or Dustin Hoffman when he did the same in "Kramer vs Kramer" (watch out for this movie and Hoffman's clothes), they also wore a Rolex GMT. The first came out on the big screen with a "Root Beer" 1675 GMT Master; while the second did so with a Pepsi GMT Master 1675 Mk1 to proclaim himself the winner of an Oscar award.
Dustin Hoffman Rolex GMT Master 1675 MK1
Clint Eastwood Rolex GMT “Root Beer” 1675 GMT Master
At the end of the 80s the GMT Master II appeared on the market. At first glance, it seemed identical to its predecessor, but this one equipped a third time zone as it managed to separate the movement of the 24 o'clock handle (the one in the shape of an arrow).
During the last third of the XXth century, GMT suffers a significant decline in popularity. The model remained dormant until 2007, when Rolex decided to introduce the ceramic bezel on the GMT Master II, reference 116710. Since then, steel GMT Masters have become practically impossible to obtain, especially the Jubilee bracelet models of the last years. We are surely in full swing of the professional watch. To the lucky ones who can afford one, grab it before they fly! never better said.