In its most contemporary reference, the Rolex GMT-Master II 126710 is one of the most sought-after luxury wristwatches in the world. Likewise, vintage GMT-Master watches are some of the most coveted timepieces a collector can hope to own.

And yet, the GMT-Master II is neither the oldest, nor the most complicated, nor the most luxurious, nor the largest, wristwatch present in Rolex’s catalog.

So, what makes the Rolex GMT-Master, in any of its iterations, such a memorable timepiece to own?

By reviewing its history on this page, we aim to answer just that.

Omega Seamaster 300 Watch Front View

GMT-Master “Root Beer” 16753. Image:



Rolex GMT-Master History (Models)

The history of the Rolex GMT-Master, while not as complex as some other Rolex model families, can be quite extensive. For the sake of brevity, we’ve segmented it into the following sections:

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Pan-Am’s Problem

While the name Pan American Airways is not one that resonates often in airport terminals today, in the second half of the 20th century Pan Am was arguably the face of luxurious intercontinental travel. Constantly pushing the boundaries of flight throughout its existence, Pan Am and its pilots encountered an issue in the early 1950s.

With all the continent-hopping they were doing, Pan Am pilots needed a way of keeping track of two time zones simultaneously on their wristwatches. This was due to the fact that air travel is based on GMT (now UTC) time, which is essentially the time in London. Therefore, transcontinental pilots needed to have both the local time as well as GMT indicated on their timepieces.

The famed airline approached Rolex with their issue and the Swiss watchmaker promptly went to work. So began the history of the Rolex GMT-Master watch.

The Original Rolex GMT-Master Ref 6542

Rolex responded to Pan Am’s concerns in 1955 with a watch that, whether they realized it at the time or not, would go down in history – the GMT-Master.

Rolex GMT-Master 6542 Vintage Ad


In 1954, Rolex introduced the first GMT-Master ever as the reference number 6542. The ref. 6542 featured a 38mm stainless steel Oyster case, a bidirectional Bakelite bezel (more on this below), four center hands, a date with cyclops, and a riveted Oyster bracelet. It also lacked crowned guards, though this was standard in Rolex sports models at the time.

The 6542’s bezel was crafted in Bakelite, literally plastic, as it allowed the 24-hour scale to be luminous with the help of radioactive radium. Unfortunately, Bakelite proved a poor material choice as bezels would constantly crack.

Subsequently, GMT-Masters with Bakelite bezels would be produced until 1956 when they were replaced with metal, though non-luminous, counterparts. As we’ll see later, this style of bezel would not change until 2005 when Cerachrom was introduced.

Rolex Vintage GMT-Master 6542 Bakelite Bezel

GMT-Master 6542 w/ Bakelite bezel. Image:

It’s worth noting that the rotating bezel on a Rolex watch was not a new concept; in fact, just two years before the GMT, Rolex had debuted the Turn-O-Graph and, soon after, the Submariner. Both had bidirectional bezels with metal GMT-scale inserts. To this day, many collectors argue that the Turn-O-Graph was a direct prelude to both the Rolex Submariner and the GMT at hand.

The 6542’s bezel was different in that it had two colors, red (day) and blue (night), as well as a 24-hour scale. The bezel was to be used in conjunction with the red GMT hand, yet another novelty in a Rolex watch, to track the second time zone as originally requested.

Imparting the first GMT-Master watch’s novel dual-time function was a Rolex Calibre 1036, essentially a modified Datejust movement, which would itself be replaced by a Calibre 1065 and then a 1066 movement within the 6542’s 5-year lifetime. (1954-1959)

If you’re interested in learning how to use a GMT watch and how the GMT-Master II is able to track three time zones, make sure to check out our guide at the previous link.

Vintage Rolex GMT-Master Pussy Galore 6542 Yellow Gold

GMT-Master 6542 “Pussy Galore”. Image:

The Pussy Galore Rolex GMT-Master

The GMT-Master ref. 6542, aside from having earned the title of official watch of Pan American Airways, can also boast about its 15 minutes of fame on the big screen.

In 1964’s Goldfinger James Bond movie, 007’s ‘friend’ Pussy Galore can be spotted wearing one throughout, except hers was not steel but full yellow gold with a black face, gold printing, alpha hands, and a black, luminous Bakelite bezel insert. As a result, gold and even steel 6542 GMT master watches earned the moniker “Pussy Galore”.

In spite of their original tone, most dials and bezels on surviving gold 6542 have turned (patinated) to various degrees of brown over time.

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The 1959 GMT-Master Reference 1675

The first series of the Rolex GMT-Master proved rather successful and, not ones to sit on their hands without constantly tinkering to improve their watches, Rolex forged ahead.

Rolex GMT-Master 1675 Tiffany Dial Pepsi Bezel

Tiffany dial GMT-Master 1675 “Pepsi”. Image:

In 1959, Rolex discontinued the “OG” reference 6542 GMT-Masters and replaced them with the reference 1675. The longest-running GMT-Master model to date, the ref. 1675 would see many subtle changes to its design until it was finally retired in 1980.

The earliest ref. 1675 GMT-Masters possessed a larger 40mm case, matte dials with gilt (gold) elements, tritium (not radium) hour indices and hands, pointed crown guards, Oyster or Jubilee bracelet, and a new Rolex Calibre 1565 movement.

The improved movement made for a much more accurate watch, leading Rolex to update the text on the dial to “Superlative Chronometer Officially Certified”; this text remains visible even on GMT-Master IIs manufactured today.

Throughout its lifespan, the 1675 would undergo various modifications which including

Vintage GMT-Master Two-Tone 1675 Gilt Nipple Dial

GMT-Master 1675 two-tone. Image:

  • Change in shape of its crown guards, from pointed to flat (mid-1960s)
  • Transition from gilt print, matte black dial to white print, glossy black dial (mid-1960s)
  • Relacement of the small arrow on the GMT hand to a larger variant (late-1960s)

The movement was again upgraded in 1965 to Rolex’s latest, the Calibre 1575, which featured hacking seconds that allowed for precise synchronization of the watch.

Towards the end of its life, in the 1970s, Rolex let on a bit as to its vision of variations for the GMT-Master.

The stainless steel GMT model line, which originally offered only the “Pepsi” version, was expanded to include a black bezel option along with a two-tone variant. And so began the custom of having different variations of the GMT-Master being available concurrently, essentially in competition with each other within the brand’s catalog.

The 1981 GMT-Master Reference 16750

One year after the 1675 exited the main stage, its successor would appear in ’81 as the reference 16750.

The 16750 was almost exactly like the 1675 except that its movement, the newest Rolex Calibre 3075 of the time, featured a quick-set date. A simple yet incredibly convenient improvement, the quick-set function undoubtedly played a part in the shift of the GMT-Master from the professional realm into the world of the everyday commuter.

Vintage Root Beer GMT-Master Jubilee 16753

GMT-Master “Root Beer” 16753. Image:

The 16750 also served to introduce another distinct feature of modern Rolex watches: the applied hour index. Previous to this time, steel GMT-Masters (and many other model families) employed ‘painted’ hour indices. That is, the luminous material was placed directly on the dials which were matte black.

With the transition to a glossy black dial also came applied hour indices, indeed ones quite similar to those used in Rolex sports models of the modern-day. Applied indices had been encountered previously in the gold versions of the GMT in the “nipple” style, but never in the steel model.

A more premium dial construction, the applied hour indices did for the steel GMT-Masters what they had previously done for the gold GMTs – added a simple yet noticeable bit of elegance to the watch’s face.

Before being replaced in 1988 by the 16700, the 16750 series saw the introduction of the first Root Beer GMT-Master in the reference 16753. Renowned (and later imitated) for its gold-and-brown bezel insert, the Root Beer GMT-Master 16753 was available in a full gold or steel case and a two-tone Jubilee bracelet.

The First Rolex GMT-Master II Watches

If an upgrade to the Calibre 3075 merited a new reference number in the 16750, we can comprehend how significant Rolex believed their next technological innovation to be, given that they decided to create a new model (sort of) just for it.

Rolex GMT-Master Sophia Loren Fat Lady Coke Bezel

GMT-Master 16760 “Sophia Loren”. Image:

The first GMT-Master II was released in 1983 as the reference 16760 and with it came many important changes that remain a staple of the ceramic-bezel GMT-Master family in the modern-day.

First, the 16760 was equipped with a new and improved Rolex Calibre 3085. Why was this movement so monumental? Well, for the first time ever, the GMT hand could be set independently of the hour hand. This allowed for the tracking of three separate time zones: one with the hour hand, a second with the GMT hand, and a third by offsetting the bezel.

The new movement architecture forced the case of the GMT to grow, not in diameter but in depth. Seen as a “fatter” case than that of previous GMTs, the 16760 GMT-Master II earned the nicknames “Fat Lady” and “Sophia Loren”.

The 16760 “Sophia Loren” marked various innovations for the GMT family with its Coke (black/red) bezel, applied white gold indices, and scratch-resistant sapphire crystal.

Possible Rolex Investment GMT-Master 16710 Coke

GMT-Master 16710 “Coke”. Instagram: @arlojiantique

The Rolex Fat Lady was produced for a relatively short period, until 1988, when it was discontinued and replaced by the GMT-Master II reference 16710.

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The Last Of The GMT-Master I

The second-to-last GMT-Master I model, the reference 16750, was offered concurrently with the GMT-Master II 16760 until 1988 when the last GMT-Master reference, the 16700, was released.

Sticking to tradition, the last Rolex GMT-Master I model in history was produced only in steel and only with a black or Pepsi bezel. It possessed few differences from its predecessor and would not make it into the new millennium as it was retired in 1999.

The 1988 Rolex GMT-Master II Reference 16710

The same year that Rolex introduced the GMT-Master I 16700 (to replace the ref. 16750) mentioned previously, they also released the GMT-Master II 16710 as a replacement to the first Rolex GMT-Master II, the ref. 16760.

Rolex GMT-Master 16710 Pepsi Bezel

GMT-Master II 16710. Image:

The new model was once more marked by a new movement, the Rolex Calibre 3185 that imparted the same quick-set and independent GMT hand functions while also implementing the brand’s latest anti-magnetic and shock-resistant technologies.

GMT-Master II 16710 Coke Bezel Super-LumiNova

GMT-Master II w/ Super-LumiNova dial. Image:

Unlike any Rolex GMT-Master (I or II) that came before it, the 16710 was offered with a black, Pepsi, or Coke bezel insert. It also served as the platform for many gradual changes to the GMT-Master line including the use of Super LumiNova instead of tritium, the use of solid end-links on the bracelet, the end of lug holes, and the addition of Rolex’s crown etched into the sapphire crystal (as a counter-counterfeit measure).

The 16710 was the most up-to-date GMT-Master offered by the brand until 2005 when the first ceramic-bezel GMT-Master II was released. To date, the 16710 is also the last GMT-Master to employ a Coke bezel.

Strangely enough, metal-bezel GMT-masters had a bit of overlap with the beginning of the ceramic GMTs, from 2005 until 2007, when the first ceramic-and-steel GMT-Master 116710LN was released.

The Ceramic Bezel GMT-Master II

At Baselworld 2005, Rolex introduced a GMT-Master II that signified a turning point not only for the model family but for the brand as a whole – the age of ceramics, super cases, and maxi dials.

GMT-Master 50th Anniversary Yellow Gold Green Dial Watch

GMT-Master II 116718LN. Image:

While the previous 16710 was still in production, the Rolex GMT-Master II 116718 came on the scene with its newly-designed Oyster case (super case) in 18K yellow gold, a ceramic bezel insert (Cerachrom), and a matching Oyster bracelet with polished center links. Intended to mark the GMT-Master’s 50th anniversary, the watch was offered with either a Rolex-green or more traditional black dial.

Although it could be a mere coincidence, it speaks volumes that Rolex used their GMT-Master II line to debut their most advanced materials technology and design themes, ones that arguably define Rolex in the present day. For instance, the super case is an aesthetic that now spans the Submariner, Datejust, Day-Date, and even Explorer II lines, and it all started with that first gold-and-green GMT.

Two years later, in 2007, the stainless steel GMT-Master received the same upgrades in the reference 116710LN (replacing the 16710), though at first it was only offered with a black ceramic bezel. The two-tone bezels of the past were yet to make their return…

The Two-Tone Bezel GMT-Master II

2013 brought with it the debut of the GMT-Master II “Batman” ref. 116710BLNR (BLeu NoiR) at the annual Baselworld fair. By that time, vintage Rolex Daytona models had already given the watch industry a taste of what a large demand and very limited supply could produce at auction.

Rolex Batman On The Wrist Over Loooking Ice RInk

Yet it was the black-and-blue bezel GMT-Master II, later nicknamed the “Batman”, that is often remembered as the first watch to spark a frenzy for modern steel wristwatches and, in particular, steel Rolex sports models.

Perhaps most surprising about the Batman was the fact that Rolex released it in steel first, whereas they usually debut novel features like a two-tone bezel in a precious metal case and later adapt it to a steel version.

This was exactly the case with the ceramic Pepsi bezel, which was introduced in 2014 in an 18K white gold GMT-Master II. The same Pepsi bezel was not implemented on a stainless steel GMT-Master II until 2018 in the 126710BLRO, which also brought back the Jubilee bracelet.

The Present-Day Rolex GMT-Master II 1267XX

Along with the debut of the Pepsi bezel on a steel GMT-Master II and the return of the Jubilee bracelet (now “Super Jubilee”), Rolex also rolled out their latest generation of GMT movements, the Calibre 3285.

Rolex GMT-Master Pepsi alternative

GMT-Master II ref. 126710BLRO. Image:

This new movement is now the standard in the contemporary GMT-Master II family which has grown to include rose gold (Everose) and meteorite-dial options.

Watches & Wonders 2022: The Left-Handed GMT-Master II 126720VTNR

On April 30th, 2022, during Watches & Wonders Geneva 2022, Rolex released a watch style that had never seen full production before: a left-handed wristwatch.

In the past, Rolex had produced left-handed watches on commission. Indeed, left-handed GMT-Masters, Presidents, and Submariners have been seen at auction before but rather sparingly.

Rolex GMT-Master Left HAnded 126720


Save for the black-and-green ceramic bezel, the Rolex GMT-Master II 126720 is basically a mirror image of the concurrent 126710, though it’s surprising how odd the model looks at first glance.

As of this writing, watch aficionados are still making up their minds on the new lefty GMT-Master, though the controversy is unlikely to make it any easier to purchase one from an AD.

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In Closing…

It’s difficult to pinpoint a single factor as being the sole reason for the GMT-Master fever that has spread throughout the world.

The 1955 GMT-Master aesthetic remains very much alive in the modern catalog even when one takes into account how much it has evolved over 50+ years. Whether Rolex got it right from day one, or whether watch fans have become indoctrinated into seeing Rolex as the authority on what a luxury watch should be, is a discussion for another day.

Rolex Batman Watch With French Cuff Shirt

If nothing else we can all agree that the GMT-Master boasts a timeless style that, coupled with a simple and useful complication, results in the perfect choice for those who are very concerned about what’s on their wrist as well as those who are not.

So, what’s next for the GMT-Master line? It’s difficult to predict. It seems only a matter of time before the Coke bezel makes a return in a modern GMT, but only time will tell if this possibility is just around the corner, or simply wishful thinking by anxious watch collectors.

Therefore, until this question is finally answered, we recommend checking out some of our other popular watch guides below:

History Of The Rolex GMT-Master
Reviewed by Paul F., on .
"In my mind, the GMT-Master is the perfect watch. It has the looks, the elegance, and the quality to prove it... what else do you need?!"
Rating: 5.0★★★★★

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