Rolex GMT Master, born to “ease” jet lag

May 18, 2021By Bonetto Cinturini

Rolex GMT-Master, nothing will be as it was before
21 April 1955 is a date to remember: it was when the Rolex GMT-Master was created. Not just an ordinary watch, but the iconic Watch of the 1950s, the years when the first intercontinental flights took off for the first time, and also when even the pilots had to deal with something new for the first time: jet lag. They were the years of Pan American World Airways, and flights to destinations that had never been reached by air before. Even though it was wonderful, something that had never been experienced until that moment, time zones were a rather stressful condition for pilots who had to face very long journeys; they would lose cognition of hours and minutes whenever they covered long distances. All the Pan American World Airways pilots were under the same stress, and this is why the Rolex company took the opportunity to gift the world with the magnificent GMT-Master.

It was the years when Rolex was starting to create watches that could mark time to perfection, a period when the Rolex brand was becoming extremely successful, when it started conquering the world. An ascent that was never interrupted, not even after more than 60 years.

The story goes that Pan American desperately needed a watch with “Dual Time” functions, a device that could mark in parallel the precise time of the places where the pilots were, countries that were far away but reachable finally thanks to the new aeroplanes. The Rolex GMT-Master watch was created for this purpose, a small engineering jewel to be worn on the wrist and never forgotten.

Rolex GMT-Master: a story that has continued since 1955 

Rolex has always been a synonym of elegance and luxury, just like the Rolex GMT-Master. It is a watch that is known for its style and precision in counting hours, minutes and seconds. The GMT-Master never goes unnoticed by watch enthusiasts because of its details which, from 1955 until today, have been creating magic to be worn on the wrist. The different colours of this model give wearers the pleasant feeling that they are holding the passing of time in their hands. Nothing is left to chance, not even the smallest detail, because whoever decides to own a Rolex will never be content with just experiencing time passively. GMT stands for “Greenwich Mean Time”, so you can immediately understand why this watch was created. Whoever wants a Rolex GMT-Master on their wrist is not just a simple tourist, but a traveller who wants to get to know every corner of the world and hopes to be free wherever they go.

The first Rolex GMT-Master

1955 is the year when the Rolex GMT-Master was created, a watch that helps suffer less from jet lag because it was developed to show the time in two different places simultaneously. It was the first watch to offer this possibility, and the reason why it is still the image of the rebirth that occurred after the World War. Even though the model evolved over time, it keeps its distinctive feature of indicating two different times even today. The story of this “little” wrist jewel began in far-away 1955, from the meeting between a red and a blue bezel, scaled for 24 hours, and rotating from right to left and from left to right. This simple, innovative system allowed its wearer to know the time with extreme precision in two different places, a ground-breaking discovery in the 1950s, even if it would be considered banal today.

The first example of a Rolex GMT-Master (reference 6542) was designed and made without a crown guard; it also had the Mercedes co-axial escapement, and a two-tone bezel to distinguish daytime hours from night-time hours. The crystal was made of plastic, and there was a fourth hand on the dial that indicated the second time.

An extension of the 6542 model was designed in 1957, with, again, rather distinctive characteristics. It had a Jubilee bracelet of 100% stainless steel, the case holding the complex mechanical movement was made of three Oyster type bodies, the back was screw-in for possible maintenance over the years. It also had a resistant Bakelite bezel that slid in both directions, and a black enamel dial. Its markers were gold, the “Mercedes” hand and luminous elements on the dial were tritium. It was automatic, caliber 1036, with a calendar at 3 o’clock. The material used to make the bezel was acrylic, the case and crown were of steel with a Plexiglass/cyclops crystal/lens.

Master GMT Model from 1959

Five years after creating the first Rolex GMT-Master model, the reference 1675 Rolex GMT-Master was produced.

Rolex made some small but essential changes: a 1565 GMT movement was designed, obtained from the caliber 1530. The case was made bigger, crown guards were added to protect the crown better, and the lug ends were more defined. The more marked flutes on the bezel are probably the detail that jump most to the eye in comparison with the older version. This type of reference remained in production until 1960, but the red/blue bezel and the phrase “Officially Certified Chronometer” written on the dial remained unchanged from reference 6542.

In 1964, reference 1675 presented small changes that enthusiasts certainly noticed: the new caliber 1575 GMT was designed, the phrase “Officially Certified Chronometer” was removed from the dial and replaced by “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified”, a demonstration of the success gained over the years.

The pieces created in those years presented a new silver section between the numbers 6 and 12, a detail that was reproduced on only a few watches. The distinct characteristics of the stainless steel models were proposed again in the yellow gold ones, but there were still no crown guards to protect the crown. The brown colour stands out on the dial, the hands in the last pieces are no longer “leaf-shaped” but “Mercedes”, and the brown colour on the bezel highlights the gold of the numbers.

In 1971 Rolex modified its model ref. 1675; the changes included a caliber 1575 GTM with stop-seconds function, more harmonious crown guards, and a bezel with less defined, less angular flutes.

In the 1970s, models with what was called an “eye of the tiger” dial, in shades of brown and gold, were introduced alongside the steel/gold models.

The last important change made to the Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675 occurred in the 1980s when a caliber 3075 was used, with fast calendar movement.

An important detail: the Rolex GMT-Master ref. 1675 is the only example of a sporty watch that was designed with a Jubilée bracelet instead of the usual Oyster bracelet.

Rolex GMT-Master II: the watch for the new millennium 

Enthusiasm for the GMT-Master watch has still not ended, so Rolex decided to design and create four Rolex GMT-Master II models made of four different materials (Oystersteel, 18 karat white gold, Oystersteel and Everose gold, 18 kt Everose gold) and with different bezel colours (brown/black, blue/black, red/blue).

The characteristics that all four models have in common are: the rotating and 24h graded bezel, the caliber 3285 GMT, and the Oyster case, which is either Oystersteel or gold according to the selected model. The crown is screw down with an innovative Triplock system. The crystal is resistant sapphire, and there is a “cyclops” lens over the calendar. The watch is waterproof to a depth of 100 metres.

The GMT Master II model in its variants is the demonstration of how the Rolex brand managed to design a jewel created in the distant 1950s which, after sixty-six years, has become a watch for the new millennium that is perfect for both Him and Her.