Rolex GMT Master II Review
By: John B. Holbrook, II
September 8th, 2004
The GMT Master II is my first pilots watch. That's right - even though the Master II is cosmetically similar to many Rolex dive style watches (like the Submariner and Sea-Dweller) the original GMT Master was conceived as a tool for airline pilots. You see, back in the 1950's innovations in aviation technology made transatlantic travel a more appealing option than ever before. The airline PAN AM quickly emerged as a leader in transatlantic travel by jet plane. Not surprisingly it was PAN AM pilots that were first afflicted with the phenomenon which became known as "jet lag." Jet lag affects those who make frequent transitions between time zones - the "internal clock" of the human body has a difficult time playing "catch up." PAN AM theorized that if pilots had tool for not only tracking the time in their current time zone, but also the time in their "home" time zone, then it would help lessen the effects of jet lag. PAN AM approached Rolex on this idea, and the two companies worked together to create the GMT Master.
Now, I'll be the first to admit that the GMT Master II - especially the "Pepsi bezel" Master II (so named because the red and blue bezel resembles the Pepsi cola logo) isn't for everyone. The casual Rolex fan would be better served by the more versatile 16610 Submariner, or even the all black bezel version of the Master II. But most Rolex purists prefer the red and blue bezel version which more closely resembles the design and look of the original GMT Master. It also has a look which is very distinctively associated with Rolex. But for most, the bold colors of the red and blue bezel evoke a strong, polar response - either you love it or hate.
Cosmetic appeal aside, the GMT Master II is a very functional tool for those who travel between time zones - here's how it works: Simply set the red arrow "GMT" hand to track the time of your home time zone, but matching it to the corresponding hour on the 24 hr. graduated markings on the bi-directionally rotating bezel. Next, set the "standard" hour hand (the one with the Mercedes symbol) to the time of whatever time zone you're in currently. As you move between time zones, you can move the "standard" hour hand up or back in hour increments - without actually stopping the movement to do it. The beauty of the GMT Master II functionality is the ability to adjust the time without having to stop the second hand. It is this functionality that separates watches like the Rolex GMT Master II, and the Omega Seamaster GMT from other, lesser functioning watches.
The functionality of the GMT Master II is made possible by the Rolex caliber 3185. In service since 1988, the 3185 is a variation of what many consider to be one of the best, most robust movements of the 20th Century - the Rolex caliber 3135 (used in among other models, the Submariner). It is a 31 jewel movement, with a bi-directional winding rotor, and a balance wheel that oscillates at 28,800 bph. The power reserve of the automatic winding mechanism is approximately 50 hrs. It also boasts some impressively "high-horology" features like an adjustable inertia balance (also called a "free sprung" balance) and a Breguet overcoil hairspring. In addition to extensive testing and adjustment by Rolex, each caliber 3185 is sent away for testing and certification by COSC. As of this writing, my Y Series GMT Master II is still under the 2 year Rolex warranty, so I have not opened the watch to take pictures of the movement. However, some EXCELLENT photographs exist in a review of the Explorer II by Rolex photo guru "Jocke" - CLICK HERE FOR JOCKE'S REVIEW.
One of the design features which are a point of criticism for the GMT Master II is the crown size. The Rolex "Twinlock" crown used on the GMT Master II is smaller, and less water resistant than the Triplock crown used on the Submariner and Sea-Dweller. The GMT Master II has a water resistance rating of 100 meters, or about 330 feet. From a functional standpoint, I do not find the smaller Twinlock crown difficult to use, and given that it's designed to be a pilot's watch and not a dive watch, the water resistance rating is appropriate. However, the more sizable Triplock crown is such a joy to use, and is more aesthetically pleasing, so it's understandable that many would like to see it incorporated into the Master II.
Like all stainless steel Rolex sport watches, the GMT Master II comes with the standard Rolex Oyster bracelet, complete with adjustable links held in place by actual screws. Since 2000, Rolex has fitted the Oyster bracelet on the GMT Master II with solid end links (SELs) which are a great improvement. The flip lock clasp is a variation of the same clasp used on the Submariner and Sea-Dweller, but it's slightly shorter and doesn't have the dive suite extension link found on the Sub/Dweller. I do hope that Rolex will soon add the same upgraded clasp currently used on the Daytona on the rest of the Rolex sport line. The current clasp looks good closed, but looks flimsy and feels cheap when opened.
While the "Pepsi" bezel GMT Master II may not be for everyone, I've grown quite fond of the watch. The GMT complication makes it a great travel companion for work or play. Some may consider the bright red and blue bezel to garish for "dress up" but the white gold markers and classic Rolex black dial give the watch just enough class to go well with the right power tie.