The story of the iconic GMT-Master collection started in 1955 with the debut of the first-ever pilot watch (Reference 6542) for Pan Am Airlines. However, Rolex concluded the chapter of the GMT-Master lineup with the Reference 16700 after over four decades.
Well, the folk tale of the pilot Rolex watches continues with the GMT-Master II collection to date. So the fact is that the very last reference of the original Rolex GMT-Master lineup is the Reference 16700.
Before you dig out more about this particular GMT-Master model, take a quick look at the history of the GMT-Master watches.
The inception of the Rolex GMT-Master Collection
Rolex unveiled the GMT-Master in 1955, designed exclusively for Pam Am pilots for tracking two time zones simultaneously. Thus, this purpose-built Rolex watch featured a rotating 24-hour bezel and an added hour hand. Pilots had to align the correct numeral with the 24-hour hand rotating the bezel to exhibit the second time-zone.
However, the Reference 6542 was the first watch in the Rolex GMT-Master collection. It sported a stainless steel case and bracelet. And a blue-and-red Bakelite rotatable bezel with a 24-hour scale engraving frames the 38mm case.
Furthermore, the dual-tone bezel helped in differentiating between day and night hours in the second time-zone. Interestingly, the blue-and-red colour combination became a signature trait of the famous GMT-Master.
Officially, the blue-and-red bezel is called as the ‘BLRO’, but it is more popularly known by its nickname ‘Pepsi’.
Later, the GMT-Master Reference 1675 replaced the inaugural reference 1675. The new watch flaunted a bigger 40mm case and an aluminium bezel. However, Rolex made many upgraded to the Reference 1675 during its more than two decades of production time.
Rolex also introduced the GMT-Master 16750 offering an advanced movement with quickset date functionality and doubling the water-resistant ability. And finally, in 1988, the GMT-Master Reference 16700 made its debut with vast numbers of improvements.
The Last Rolex GMT-Master Reference 16700
Rolex unleashed the last model in the GMT-Master collection as the Reference 16700, offering applied white gold index dial, a new movement and sapphire crystal.
However, you would be interested to know that the watchmaker released the GMT-Master II lineup already five years ago the launch of the Reference 16700.
In fact, the Rolex GMT-Master 16700 had a look almost similar to the GMT-Master II Reference 16710. But the former was available at a lower price, and the significant difference between the two models is in the way they operate.
Nevertheless, Rolex discontinued the production of the GMT-Master 16700 in 1999, ending the era of the GMT-Master and paving the way for the GMT-Master II that became the brand’s signature pilot watches.
The Rolex GMT-Master 16700: Features & Functionalities
Rolex offered the GMT-Master Reference 16700 in one metal version and two choices of bezel colour. Thus, the watch features a stainless steel body, including a 40mm steel case. It was water-resistant to 100m.
However, this reference is significant because it was the first-ever GMT-Master to feature a sapphire crystal on the case instead of acrylic. The GMT-Master 16700 is also available in two bracelet choices – a dressier Jubilee bracelet and a sporty Oyster bracelet.
The brand upgraded the three-link Oyster bracelet in 1989 by adding a more secure Oysterlock clasp that would prevent accidental opening. Another significant feature of the Reference 16700 that appeals to vintage Rolex lovers is the lug holes.
However, the GMT-Master 16700 flaunts the familiar Mercedes-style luminescent hands and a mixture of triangular, circular and rectangular luminous indexes on the dial. But what makes the GMT-Master’s dial layout different from other Rolex sports timepieces?
It is the presence of a red 24-hour arrow-tipped hand. Rolex also equips the GMT-Master versions with a date window at the 3 O’clock side and a Cyclops lens on it for magnification.
However, the brand offered date wheel of the Reference 16700 vintage-style ‘open 6’ numerals until 1992, replacing it with closed ones. During its production period between 1988 and 1999, Rolex even modified the luminescent element employed on the dials.
The brand initially used tritium for the luminescence, but later, it shifted to modern LumiNova around 1988. Now:
The 24-hour engraved bezel plays a significant role not only in the appearance but also in the watch’s functionality. Following the norm of the era, Rolex equipped the GMT-Master 16700 with an aluminium bezel.
Most of the examples flaunted the iconic blue-and-red ‘Pepsi’ bezel. However, the GMT-Master 16700 is also available in a monochromatic black bezel. Moreover, a few examples of the Reference 16700 now feature red-and-black bezel, aka, COKE.
The Rolex GMT-Master Reference 16700 housed the Calibre 3175 movement. This upgraded movement offered similar core functionality as its previous Calibre 3075. With the quickset date feature, users can change the date independently from the time-tracking hands instantly.
What’s more significant is that the Calibre 3175 movement yet retained synchronised 24-hour and 12-hour hands. And while the 24-hour hand and central hour hand are linked on the GMT-Master, the watch can display not more than two time-zones.