Tuesday, 4 August 2009

The Rolex GMT-Master IIc

I thought it was high time to scribble a few words about the watch that inspired my username: The GMT Master, specifically the current GMT IIc, first launched in 2005. I think this is a truly special watch, and, for me, sums up perfectly what a modern Rolex should be: robust, practical, and at the cutting edge of technology.

The History

For those of you not familiar with the roots of the GMT-Master, it has a really nice story about how it came into being. The original GMT was commissioned by head of Pan-Am Juan Trippe in 1955, due to a need for his air crew to have a time piece that could display two different time zones. Rolex obliged, and came up with a modified version of the original Turn-O-Graph, featuring the iconic blue and red "Pepsi" bezel, and a modified movement with an added 24 hour hand and date wheel. A very simple solution that resulted in a watch that is firmly embedded in the hearts of every Rolex enthusiast. Interestingly, Rolex also made a white-dialled version of the 6542 for Pan-Am management, as the watches intended for crew members had been finding their ways onto the wrists of the office workers. In any case, the GMT-Master has been refined and changed over the years, with the biggest change coming in around 1983 when the GMT-Master II was launched. This introduced an independent hours hand, meaning you can set the watch to display 3 different time zones (standard hour hand to local time, bezel to time zone 1, 24 hour hand to time zone 2). The most recent GMT II, ref. 116710/116713/116718 for the steel, two tone and 18ct models respectively was first introduced at Basel in 2005, with all models becoming available by the third quarter of 2007.

(Information taken from fiftyfathoms.net's excellent article on the 6542)

Model Features

The current model features a raft of updates from the previous generation, including:

"Maxi" case and dial (bigger case lugs, bigger dial indicies)
Fat hands
Cerachrom ceramic bezel with Platinum or 18Ct Gold numerals
New solid centre link bracelet, with polished centre links
Updated Fliplock clasp with Easylink half extension
Cal. 3186 movement, with Parachrom Blue hairspring and Paraflex shock resisters

The Comparison

Compared to the previous generation of GMT IIs (16710/16713/16718), it feels like a much more solid watch. There's a noticeable weight increase (no bad thing, in my opinion), and the watch appears bigger on the wrist, despite remaining at a conservative 40mm case diameter. The bezel looks fantastic, although it is a shame that Rolex haven't released a "pepsi" coloured bezel to date - apparently, it's proving very difficult to produce a ceramic bezel with those two colours in one complete piece, but I'm certain that Rolex are working hard on it. If it can be done, it will. As well as this, the previous 120 click bezel has been replaced by a 24 click one, which makes for a very smooth bezel movement, but lacks some of the fine accuracy that certain people enjoyed on the previous generation.

The Competition

Whilst rival brands such as Omega, Breitling, Panerai and Cartier all do GMT variations of their watches, none of them have the rich history of the GMT-Master. The stylings of the Rolex might not be to everyones' tastes, and I'm certain that some would prefer to have one from another brand: perhaps the bold looks of the PAM 297, or the ruggedness of the Breitling Colt GMT. But me, I'd go for the assured simplicity of the GMT IIc every time - I think this is the best watch Rolex has to offer at the moment in terms of looks, durability and practicality.

My recommendation: for every day practicality, the steel 116710. If you can live the the softness of gold, get the steel and 18Ct 116713 - by far the best two tone watch Rolex produces.

Thanks for reading

The GMT Master

Sunday, 2 August 2009

The Omega Aqua Terra - Omega's return to greatness?

If there's one watch that's really set my heart racing recently, it's the new Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra. Launched earlier this year, it's quality and looks are simply stunning, and in terms of value for money...well, I'll come back to that later.

Firstly a bit of eye candy for you all:

The Aesthetics

The Aqua Terra, in its basic format, comes in steel, steel and 18Ct Gold, and full 18Ct Gold. You have a choice of two dials in the steel model, either silver or dark grey with a tapestry-esque texturing, triangular luminous markers and arabics around the edge of the dial. There's a modern looking date aperture at 3 o'clock, and overall, the design concept is clearly modern with a definite 1950s' influence. Like any good watch, the dial is simple and uncluttered, the hands easy to read, and has a unique look that can't exactly be found on any other significant watch on the market at this time. The bracelet is solid and feels comfortable, and the clasp is a standard Omega double folding affair - not the best clasp I've seen on a watch, but it gets the job done. Inside the mid and full sized models is the truly brilliant cal. 8500.

The Movement

This is quite simply the best finished movement I've ever seen on a watch at this end of the market, and is truly a piece of art. It really is a centrepiece, and is shown off beautifully through the Sapphire display back.

The technical details:

25.2k bph
Co-Axial Escapement
60 hour power reserve
Chronometer rated
Omega's free sprung balance
Rhodium plated
Fully made in-house

In other words, a really nice piece of kit.

The Competition

Taking the mid-sized 38.5mm steel model for our baseline, the big competition comes from the Rolex Datejust 116200. In terms of looks, they are incredibly similar - the cases aren't all that different, the bracelet links are virtually the same, they're around the same size, and they both have chronometer rated self-winding movements. Whilst I'd argue that the Rolex's polished centre links make it look more dressy, I honestly think that the cal. 8500 has the potential to be better than the Datejust's cal. 3135. The cal. 8500 has been designed from the ground up (unlike past attempts to integrate the Co-Axial escapement into their range), so the reliability problems that plagued the previous Aqua Terra should have been solved. I think aesthetically it's a big selling point - it's proudly on show for the world to see, and Omega have every right to show it off. Rolex's movements have never been pretty, with them preferring to concentrate on function over form, so I doubt a factory option of a crystal caseback will be coming to the Oyster range any time soon.

Rolex once again has the edge when it comes to versatility: whilst Omega offers three different sizes (lady's, mid size, full size)in the different metal combinations, so does Rolex, with the added versatility of a huge range of dials, different bezels and different bracelets. This ability to customise your watch has always been the real appeal of the Datejust, and was one of the reasons why I chose mine. With Omega, you get the choice of a light dial, or a dark dial, take it or leave it.

However, the steel Aqua Terra is priced at a very reasonable £2600, whilst the Rolex weighs in at £3300 for its basic 116200 model. £700 is a big, big difference at this level of the market, and I'd reckon that the Omega will have a better scope for discount as well.

The Conclusion

The new Aqua Terra is certainly an excellent choice for someone who wants a simple and practical luxury watch that looks great, and is still good value for money. Whilst it may lack the range of individuality a Datejust can provide, it still is a massive step forward for Omega in their desire to return to greatness. This closes the gap closer still between the two rivals, that cal. 8500 is something that should have Rolex quaking in their boots.

My recommendation: the mid-size steel model /w black dial, reference

Thanks for reading

The GMT Master