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Two steel GMTs, two iconic bezels, two new movements – the new Rolex GMT-Master II and Tudor Black Bay GMT made a lasting impression at this year’s Baselworld, setting the tone for each brand. For Rolex, it marked a long-awaited return to steel for one of its most cherished ‘tool’ watches, while for Tudor it heralded the addition of a new complication to the iconic Black Bay model. At first viewing both models appear very similar, and indeed the two have a lot in common, but they also offer choice and options to would be GMT buyers. Let’s take a look at what makes each wristwatch great.
Greenwich Mean Time is the local time at the Royal Observatory, Greenwich in London, England (located on a prime meridian), and globally agreed upon as Universal Time (UT). A GMT complication (originally developed for pilots) allows for dual time-zones to be displayed simultaneously. These are typically referred to as ‘home’ time and ‘local’ time.
There are different ways to achieve this outcome but the classic GMT complication - pioneered by the original 1954 Rolex GMT-Master - features an extra hour hand coaxially located at the centre of the dial. This supplementary hand rotates on a 24-hour scale (denoted on the bezel), allowing one to keep track of the selected timezone. Newer GMTs, starting with the Rolex GMT-Master II, allow for the individual hour hands to be independently set and a third time-zone can then be read, by rotating the 24-hour bezel.
Pepsi to the max
After 60-plus years of making GMT watches, you can rest assured that Rolex has well and truly honed this craft, and the newest GMT-Master II “Pepsi” is simply stunning. Its fluted bezel, in blue and red ceramic (which is where the ‘Pepsi’ moniker is derived from), glistens with exceptional lustre - the surface having been diamond-polished (Cerachrom monobloc bezels are virtually impervious to scratches, and unaffected by ultraviolet light).
The bezel can be bi-directionally rotated to read timezones off of the GMT hand - the red hand with broad arrow - the two colours on the bezel distinguishing between day and night (very handy if you’re travelling or making phone calls between timezones).
Not to be outdone, Tudor has taken inspiration from its big brother and released its own Pepsi-style bezel to commemorate its first modern GMT in the Black Bay collection. The new addition from Tudor came as somewhat of surprise at this year’s Baselworld but a welcome one.
Whilst somewhat similar aesthetically, each GMT captures its brand’s respective character - the latter is very much a Black Bay with its coin-edge bezel, big crown (with large rose logo), and Tudor-unique snowflake hands (likewise the GMT-Master II uses the Rolex-unique Mercedes hands and features the signature Cyclops lens over the date window). The 24-hour bidirectional rotatable bezel (with 48 notches) of the Tudor Black Bay GMT is crafted from an anodised aluminium disc in blue and matt burgundy and will no doubt appeal to those appreciative of the Black Bay nuances.
Steel (is back)
While both wristwatches come in steel, this is a very big deal in the case of Rolex (no pun intended). The very first GMT-Master was developed in 1954 specifically to meet the requirements of Pan-Am Airlines. The company had requested a wristwatch that could display more than one time zone (for transatlantic flights). From its launch in 1955, the Rolex GMT-Master stood out with its rotatable 24-hour graduated blue and red bezel (strongly contrasting colours for the human eye). The additional hand that circled the dial once every 24 hours made the GMT-Master extremely useful to pilots on intercontinental flights.
In addition to its functionality, the watch also happened to look really good, pairing well with just about anything. This versatility made the tool watch extremely popular, especially among the military, as it was equally acceptable in coveralls as it was in a tuxedo. In 1959 the second (and one of the most popular) Rolex GMT-Master was introduced, featuring a Jubilee bracelet. From there the GMT-Master and subsequent GMT-Master II has enjoyed over 60 years of success. Since 2014, however, the Pepsi Rolex has been exclusively available in 18k white gold – a noble metal but one that made this icon less accessible to the majority of watch enthusiasts.
The return to steel - in response to collectors’ wishes - takes the Rolex GMT-Master II back to its utilitarian roots. The new Pepsi also features a new five-link, polished and brushed, Jubilee bracelet fitted with the Easylink rapid extension system, and an Oysterclasp. The polished and brushed Oystersteel case, with redesigned sides and lugs, is 40mm in diameter, and water resistant to 100m (10 bar, 330ft).
Obviously, as a true dive watch, the Tudor Black Bay GMT gets a little more serious in the water with a water resistance of 200m (20 bar, 660ft). The Black Bay case is also fashioned from steel, measuring 41mm in diameter, complete with large (unprotected) crown. The Tudor Black Bay GMT is complimented by a riveted steel bracelet inspired by historical models of the 1950s and 1960s, with leather or fabric strap options also available. As with the Rolex, the Pepsi bezel/ steel combination makes for a very versatile wristwatch but the main talking point for the Baselworld debuting Black Bay is the new in-house calibre that introduces the GMT function to the Tudor movement portfolio.
Movements with the times
Tudor really impresses with its new COSC certified automatic calibre MT 5652, that incorporates the additional hour hand to rotate once every 24 hours (a date complication is also present). Running at 28,800 vibrations/ hours, the calibre MT 5652 offers a healthy 70-hour power reserve. The variable inertia balance wheel (with non-magnetic silicon balance spring) is held under a full cock. The stop-seconds is present, allowing for precise time setting.
The Black Bay characteristic aesthetics play well into a GMT complication modelled on the Rolex original that started the genre. Tudor renowned for quality of construction - the Black Bay GMT provides a functional tool watch that will stand up to wear and is very competitively priced.
The new steel Rolex GMT-Master II, meanwhile, also features a brand new, self-winding mechanical movement, calibre 3285. Also capable of storing up to 70 hours of reserve power, it features a Parachrom hairspring and improved escapement, and is certified as a Superlative Chronometer.
Keep Calm and wear Pepsi
Between them, Rolex and Tudor now have a commanding presence in the GMT category across a range of price tiers. The Rolex GMT-Master II in steel will arguably appeal to more established collectors/ enthusiasts, while the new Tudor Black Bay GMT is a great entry-level piece that offers excellent value for money.
Post Baselworld 2019
The first GMT offering is not a total move away from the sought after 2018 "Pepsi", however making minor tweaks to existing classics is what Rolex are known to do best and the latest GMT Master II (Ref. 126719) is not an exception. Meteorite dials are nothing new to Rolex, but this is the first time they have been used on a GMT model. Whilst it may be seen as an usual choice the luxury feel it brings to the model is undeniably brilliant. This combined with the choice of 18ct White Gold with an Oyster bracelet is reminiscent of the 2018 model in many ways, yet this model has a special feel thanks to the choice of dial and metal.
Next up, is Rolex's second GMT offering at Baselworld 2019 which provided the perfect model for those GMT fans who were previously struggling between the 'Batman' or the 'Pepsi. The GMT Master II (Ref. 126710) has been coined by many as the revamped 'Batman', and whilst some may miss being able to get a GMT on an Oyster bracelet, the payoff for the upgrades made to this well loved model are a good trade off. The GMT Master II (Ref. 126710) features the new Rolex calibre 3285 movement as well as the new Jubilee bracelet complete with Oysterlock clasp.
Following this blog post, our in-store Rolex Salon has received major renovations to provide our customers with a more spacious and bespoke area to view our Rolex collection and speak with our Rolex ambassadors. Visit us in-store to view our full Rolex collection. Alternatively, call us on 01603 620638 or click here to book an appointment.