In the 1940s and 1950s, international air travel was growing rapidly. This increase in international travel created a need for a new wristwatch, one that could help pilots and air airline crews tell the time in more than one timezone. Rolex saw this need and filled it with the introduction of its GMT-Master wristwatch.
The GMT-Master was specifically designed for Pan Am Airways, so the popular airline could give the watch to their crews for use during long flights. The GMT-Master was the first wristwatch that allowed the wearer to tell time in multiple timezones at once. The watch featured a fourth hand, which would usually be set to GMT time (more commonly called Universal Time today), and outer bezel markings to indicate each of the 24 hours in the day. This original model was made in stainless steel and was designed to be a functional watch for working people.
While the first model was utilitarian, Rolex began making luxury versions of the watch in the 1970s to meet market demands. New versions of the watch became available in gold and mixtures of gold and stainless steel, and variations on the 24 hour bezel became available. The 24 hour bezel, often in a two tone to distinguish day and night hours, also later became available in multiple colors. Notable color combinations gained nicknames, like the red and blue “Pepsi,” the red and black “Coke,” the copper toned “Root Beer,” and the famous blue and black “Batman.”
In the 1980s, Rolex made a major update to the GMT-Master with its GMT-Master II. The Master II looks almost identical to the Master but features an important technical update: a movement with a new quickset adjustment that allows the wearer to adjust the hour hand to local time without disturbing the other three hands.
Rolex ended production of the original GMT-Master in 1999 but the new GMT-Master II is still produced to this day. Rolex gave the Master II a major update in 2007, giving it a green hour hand, a new bracelet, a new movement, a triple lock crown, an anti-reflective cyclops lens, a ceramic bezel, a Rolex engraving on the inner bezel rim, and a maxi dial.
The incredible functionality, durability, and variety of the Rolex GMT-Master II models has made the wristwatch a highly-desired classic.
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