Rolex 16710 GMT Master II ¶
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When it comes to Rolex sport watches, the GMT-Master is one of the top choices among collectors and watch lovers the world over. More elegant and functional than the Submariner, and more popular than the Explorer, the GMT-Master is a modern classic that has been a brand favourite for over 50 years. The example we have here is the last of the traditional GMT-Masters, the 16710 with “Coke” bezel.
The GMT began with ref 6542, a watch designed in collaboration with Pan-Am airlines that could display multiple timezones and allow for rapid changes between zones for pilots. The solution was relatively simple – an extra hour hand would rotate at half speed (meaning it does one rotation of the dial every 24 hours) to indicate GMT time, while a graduated bezel on the outside of the dial would be marked with a 24 hour scale that could be rotated to add or subtract hours from the GMT time (allowing for an instant readout of any timezone without having to reset the watch). This formula would become the standard for GMT watches, and would continue through the ref 1675, 16750, 16760, 16700, 16710, and the current 116710. The 6542 featured a bakelite acrylic bezel with blue and red halves to indicated day and night on the 24 hour scale; this “Pepsi” colour scheme would become a signature of the line, and was later supplanted by an all-black insert, then a black-red “Coke” bezel.
The GMT-Master has always had an association with aviation throughout its history. There was the original Pan-Am commission (models were made for pilots and for ground crews) and many military pilots wore the GMT-Master as their watch of choice. Chuck Yeager wore one, as did several American astronauts – Jack Swigert on Apollo 13, and Ed Mitchell during the Apollo 14 moon landing as a backup to his NASA-issued Omega Speedmaster. Alan Shepard also had a personal GMT that he wore quite often in public. The Omega was official equipment for the missions, but astronauts often had personal watches that they wore “unofficially” as a backup or a reference to GMT time. Outside of the realm of aviation and space exploration, Tom Selleck has a signature Pepsi bezel GMT (which he wore as Magnum P.I.) and gonzo author Hunter S. Thompson wore two GMTs on one wrist (according to him, one showed the time in Havana, the other in Moscow). Che Guevera wore a Pepsi through the Cuban revolution, up until his assassination (legend has it that it was stolen off his wrist after he was killed). Check out Jake Ehrlich's Rolex blog for details on more famous Rolex owners.
Many GMT variations were made over the years. Initially all steel and all 18k gold models were available, and later a 14k gold and steel two-tone model was introduced. Later two-tones were 18k and steel. The most popular and sought after versions are the stainless steel models, which reflects a similar demand in the market for Submariners. Movements have always been automatic winding Rolex workhorse calibres, always certified chronometers, modified slightly to add the GMT function. In the case of the 16710, it’s a tried-and-true 3185 calibre with COSC certification.
The first GMTs, called simply GMT-Master, had a 24-hour hand tied directly to the main hour hand. It always indicated the time of the main hand, different timezones were read off the bezel. The introduction of the GMT-Master II allowed the extra hand to be set independently of the main hours. This allows the wearer to read two different timezones on the dial, and an additional change can be made via the bezel. It also makes the date much easier to set; you pull the crown out to the first position, which allows you to move the hour hand in one-hour increments (without disturbing the minutes, seconds or the GMT hand). You cycle through 24 hours to change the date, which is easy with the quick set hour hand. The original GMT Master had no quickset at all - the date could only be changed by advancing the time 24 hours, and the GMT hand was always directly linked to the hour hand. Later GMT "ones" (the 16750 and 16700) had a quickset date, but didn't have the ability to change the GMT hand relative to the hour hand.
For most of its production, the GMT-Master has always been a more elegant alternative to the Submariner and Sea Dweller. Until the current generation (the 116710 with ceramic bezel) the GMT always had a slender case with a sleeker profile than the diving models. Diameter is 40mm, same as the Sub, but the proportions are different. The choice of colours for the bezel always made the GMT pop on the wrist a bit more; my favourite has always been the classic blue-red Pepsi bezel, but the black-red Coke and all-black inserts are available if you want something more understated. Otherwise the watch is classic sport Rolex – date with Cyclops magnifier, simple dial with luminescent plots and hands, and water-resistant case with screwed-on back and screw-down crown. The “stock” bracelet is normally the Oyster with a fliplock (and the clasp is always smaller than the Sub, as it doesn’t have a diver’s extension link) but you can occasionally find them with optional jubilee bracelets.
Like any Rolex the GMT-Master is a no-nonsense tool watch. It’s simple, easy to read, reliable, and accurate. It makes for a rather boring review, because there isn’t much to say about the design other than “it works”. That is why I love the GMT Master, it’s a classic watch that goes about its business without fuss or flash (much like the Explorer I reviewed a few weeks back). It’s not as collectible as the Submariner, but it has a cult following, and I believe the model has a lot of potential for growth on the used market. Since the 16710 was discontinued in favour of the new ceramic-bezel models (which share the same case as the Submariner), demand has been rising for older GMTs with their slimmer cases and colourful bezels. The older GMT-Masters have always been one of my personal grail watches as well. I’ll take a 1675 with Pepsi bezel and riveted Oyster bracelet, please.