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.
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)
The current model features a raft of updates from the previous generation, including:
"Maxi" case and dial (bigger case lugs, bigger dial indicies)
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
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.
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