GMT-Master from Rolex - what makes them so special?  

Die GMT Master Gold aus dem Jahr 2023

A pilot of a renowned Swiss airline prepares for a flight from Zurich to New York. The plane takes off at 13:00. Shortly after the plane lands in New York, the pilot reads 16.23 on his wristwatch. Although he did not change his watch for the time difference during the flight, he can read the time in New York without any problems.  

The secret is that the pilot wears a Rolex GMT-Master II on his wrist, which displays two different time zones.

This particular complication is extremely useful for travel enthusiasts and cosmopolitans. The epitome of a pilot's watch, the Rolex GMT-Master is an integral part of Rolex's iconic Oyster series. 

The Rolex GMT-Master was developed in the 1960s for the benefit of the emerging aviation industry. This has a 24h hand that can indicate any time zone on the rotating bezel. The GMT-Master was originally made for pilots and was improved in 1983 with the GMT-Master II. Among the most famous and popular versions of the GMT-Master are the Pepsi with blue-red bezel and the Batman with black-blue bezel. 



Pepsi or Batman? - the pop culture of GMT Master

The most well-known GMT-Master variants are probably the Pepsi and the Batman. But what are the backgrounds and history of these iconic watches?

Die erste GMT Master Pepsi
Source: Rolex

The genesis of this very famous wristwatch has its roots in the then rapidly advancing aviation. Flying was made accessible to the masses in the sixties. Suddenly it was possible for everyone to travel to distant countries by plane.  

Pan American World Airways was the largest airline in the USA at that time. It commissioned Rolex to design a watch that could display more than one time zone at a time to equip its pilots with.

Rolex GMT Master II gewählt zur Uhr des Jahres 1950
Source: Rolex

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The GMT-Master was born. Rolex deliberately chose the design with a red-blue bezel, so that pilots could better distinguish between day and night time. The blue half represented night time, and the red half represented day time.

die zweifarbige Lünette der GMT master
Source: Rolex

Due to the blue-red bezel, the watch quickly got the name Pepsi among enthusiasts. This is because the beverage company had the same colors in its logo.

The pilot's watch grew increasingly popular in the following years. Rolex simultaneously staged the GMT with fantastic marketing. For example, the pilots wore a Rolex GMT-Master Pepsi during the first Concorde flight. This was a groundbreaking event, both in the history of aviation and in that of Rolex.

Fliegen-Propaganda mit Rolex Uhren
Source: Rolex

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GMT-Master Batman

The GMT-Master Batman has a less glorious history, but is part of a technical innovation.

In 2013, Rolex released the GMT with a blue-black bezel. The special thing about this was that the bezel was made entirely of ceramic. Until then, Rolex had not been able to produce two-tone ceramic bezels. The luxury watch manufacturer from Geneva had already released GMT models with ceramic bezels, but they were all single-colored.

Rolex made a breakthrough, so to speak, with the GMT-Master Batman. 

The blue-black bezel earned the nickname Batman because the signature colors of the famous comic hero Batman are also black and blue. Among the long-standing GMT fans, however, the Batman initially met with criticism. They were disappointed that a new, unfamiliar color combination would become the flagship of the GMT with a ceramic bezel, rather than the iconic red-blue Pepsi.

However, a white gold version of the Pepsi with a ceramic bezel quickly followed, and in 2018 the stainless steel version finally arrived. Thus, even the die-hard Pepsi fans were satisfied and over time, the Batman also enjoyed increasing popularity.   

After all, both color combinations are now extremely popular. However, the Pepsi probably has the edge in terms of cult status due to its unusual genesis.


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GMT Master or GMT Master II what is the difference?

Basically, the GMT-Master II is an upgrade of the GMT-Master. The GMT-Master is the basic framework, so to speak, and the GMT-Master II is the evolution.   

After the GMT-Master was a great success for Rolex, they decided to develop and launch a new, even better version of the pilot watch. 

Die Rolex GMT ist eine klassische Rolex Uhr mit eine Rot-Blauen Lünette
Source: Rolex

In 1983, the time had come and the GMT-Master II was released. It was a bit bigger and got sapphire crystal, which is why it was christened the "Fat Lady" in the watch scene.  

But the GMT-Master II impressed, especially with its technical progress. Its new caliber allowed it to display a third time zone simultaneously. In addition to the normal time display and the 24-hour hand display, the second hand could be set so that it would show a third time zone in hourly increments using the bezel. This was a genuinely useful function, particularly for pilots who often found themselves in more than two different time zones during a flight.

But the amazing thing is that the GMT-Master continued to be produced by the GMT-Master II for many years after its introduction, even though the successor model was already on the market. 


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Rolex GMT complication - how the rotating bezel works

The GMT-Master watches bear a name that actually hails from another time. GMT stands for "Greenwich Mean Time," which was once the global time standard to which all time zones were oriented.

Today, the time standard is the coordinated universal time UTC. But the name of the GMT has nevertheless remained unchanged.  

So much for the name of the GMT-Master. But also technically, the timepiece, which measures several time zones, differs from an ordinary wristwatch.  

Bei einer GMT dreht sich nämlich gleichzeitig zum gewöhnlichen Stundenzeiger ein 24h-Zeiger halb so schnell wie der Gewöhnliche um die eigene Achse. Der 24h-Zeiger kann dann unabhängig vom Stundenzeiger eine weitere Uhrzeit anzeigen.  

Die 24-Stunden-Ringkomponente wird von einem separaten Rädersatz angetrieben und ermöglicht es dem 24h-Zeiger, sich unabhängig vom Stundenzeiger zu bewegen. Der 24h-Zeiger ist normalerweise dünner als der Stunden- und Minutenzeiger und ist in der Regel mit einem Kreis versehen, damit er sich leichter von den anderen Zeigern zu unterscheiden ist. 

The additional switch spring in a GMT movement allows the 24h hand to jump to a different time zone position without affecting the time or minute indication. When the 24h hand is rotated, the switching spring moves to the desired position and keeps the hand in the correct position until it is moved again. 

The rotating bezel is another essential component of the GMT-Master II. After the Submariner, Rolex quickly recognized the potential of the rotating bezel when it came to displaying more than one time zone with a wristwatch. Unlike the Submariner, it is possible to rotate the bezel in both directions.

This makes using the GMT much easier, since if you want to have a different time zone displayed, you don't have to adjust the 24h hand separately. You can simply turn the bezel with the 24h scale to the desired time, and the 24h hand will then show a different time zone.  


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Performance of the GMT-Master collection

The Rolex GMT-Master models have also benefited from the massive luxury watch hype in recent years. However, following the peak in mid-2022, the prices of the GMT have also dropped. Depending on the version and model, the watches have lost about twenty to thirty-five percent of their value on the secondary market.

Dennoch heißt dies nicht unbedingt, dass GMT-Master Modelle keine Aussicht auf eine gute Wertentwicklung haben. Die Luxusuhrenpreise erholen sich derzeit generell wieder vom Absturz und so tut es auch der Kurs von der GMT-Master II.  

If you want to buy now, you could take a look at the GMT-Master II Pepsi in white gold, because it is rarer than the stainless steel version and also the prices of the white gold Pepsi didn't even crash that much last year.  

In addition, the yellow gold GMT-Master II, which was only introduced in March, could still be extremely interesting. After all, there has never been a yellow-gold GMT before. Accordingly, the rush for this version will also be great. If you have the opportunity to get the yellow gold GMT from a concessionaire, you should definitely strike. Because prices on the secondary market will most likely rise sharply.

die neue Goldene GMT Master II
Source: Rolex

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Conclusion

The GMT-Master series by Rolex is very special. With its iconic beginnings, the Pepsi has shaped the history of aviation, Rolex, and perhaps even the entire watch world.

The GMT-Master is unique because it allows for the display of two or even three different time zones simultaneously. The bi-directional rotating bezel and the 24-hour hand are the trademarks of the GMT and contribute to the unmistakable charm of the timepiece.

Ultimately, the watch is the epitome of a pilot watch. Cosmopolitans and globetrotters also still enjoy the time indicator, which brings multiple time zones with it. Even though you can now display half a dozen different time zones simultaneously on your smartphone, the GMT-Master simply has that certain something. It brings a flair with it that a smartphone can never offer.  

Scource cover image: Rolex


About the author

Autor bei Gentleman-watches

Alexander Weinberger

For me, the most fascinating thing about watches is the interplay between precise craftsmanship and artistic development. In a watch movement, hundreds of small parts have to be put together precisely so that they form a large whole.


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