For Baselworld 2018, Rolex has decided to give the people what they want; or at least, what they have been asking for since 2014 – a new GMT-Master II with blue and red ‘Pepsi’ bezel. QP has hands-on pics and prices.
By Chris Hall
This is the flagship launch of Rolex’s year: a new GMT-Master II that finally answers the prayers of everyone who saw Rolex revive the Pepsi colour scheme at Baselworld 2014, rushed towards it, then realised with a heart-sinking feeling that it was only available in white gold.
Now you can buy the iconic GMT-Master II in steel with the original red and blue bezel combination. But there’s more to this story than that. This watch is only being produced with a “jubilee” bracelet, for one thing.
That lends it a distinguished, sophisticated feel – and also seems lighter on the wrist than the equivalant Oyster bracelet (although Rolex couldn’t confirm that there is a serious weight difference). This is the only Oyster Professional to have a Jubilee bracelet, but it’s not the first GMT to do so – that happened back in 1957, two years after the model debuted.
Should you need a reminder, the GMT-Master dates back to 1955, and was produced by Rolex to meet the growing demands of commercial airline pilots (becoming particularly associated with Pan-Am). It is capable of keeping time in three timezones if you’re clever – one as normal, one with the second hour hand and one with the bezel, although it’s designed to work best with two zones. It’s known as a “proper” GMT for the ability to set the hour hand independently of running time, backwards or forwards – most GMT’s can’t do this.
Here, a lot has changed. Even the steel itself is also different – in a way. Rolex has re-branded its 904L alloy as “Oystersteel”, and henceforth all Rolex steel watches will be so known. Nothing has changed about the precise chemical makeup of the steel, although Rolex claims that measures have been taken in the production process to improve its ability to take a fine polish.
Inside, the GMT-Master II has a new movement: in-house calibre 3285. It’s still a superlative chronometer, good for +/-2 seconds per day; now it’s fully amagnetic and has a power reserve boosted to 70 hours (one could hardly have younger sibling Tudor outdoing Rolex on the stamina, after all).
The bezel insert is the same two-tone ceramic that we saw in 2014 on the white gold GMT-Master. This is in fact a disc of red ceramic which undergoes a chemical treatment to the upper side of one half that turns it blue. Red ceramic (something I think we’re going to be hearing a lot about this year) is challenging to produce if you want to satisfactorily blend richness of colour and durability, and Rolex makes a point of the amount of testing that went into getting it just right. On the wrist, there’s a softness to it, almost a pastel nature. That’s not to say the colour isn’t vivid, but it’s a world apart from the strident colour of the aluminium insert you see at Tudor.
Perhaps conscious that, apart from the Jubilee bracelet (which is actually the fancier option, so seems a little bit unusual in the steel rather than the gold watch), this GMT-Master is at-a-glance very similar to the 2014 model, Rolex has announced that the white gold GMT-Master II will now only be available with a blue dial, leaving black for the steel reference.
The Rolex GMT-Master II reference 126710BLRO will retail at CHF 8,800 – we’ll add UK prices as soon as we have them. That compares to CHF 8,500 for the BLNR “Batman” from a couple of years ago, so expect the BLRO to command a similar premium in the UK.