The Rolex GMT Master II is a great looking and very functional high-end Swiss timepiece. It’s a beautiful watch which is sophisticated in both appearance and operation, yet it somehow manages to present itself as understated and modest. The Rolex GMT Master II has a long and interesting history, and is certainly one of the most popular Rolex Professional models.
The big feature of the Rolex GMT Master II is the additional 24-hour hand which tracks hours against the bi-directional rotating bezel in “military time” as opposed to standard 12-hour time. It was originally created for Pan Am pilots back in the early days of transatlantic flights. Pan Am pilots used GMT time, so they wanted a watch that would allow them to monitor both GMT and local time simultaneously. The watch’s movement became more sophisticated over the years, and now allows the standard hour hand and the date to be set independently of the other hands which makes moving from one time zone to the next very smooth and simple.
Features of the Rolex GMT Master II include:
- Automatic movement (caliber 3185) with about a 50-hour power reserve.
- 24-hour hand (more on the GMT feature below).
- Water-resistant to 100 meters, or about 330 feet.
- Screw-down crown (the Rolex GMT Master II has the Twinlock crown as opposed to the Triplock crown of the diver sport models).
- Bi-direction rotating bezel. By rotating the bezel in either direction, you can quickly and easily track a third time zone without having to reset the hour hand.
- Date “cyclops” to magnify the otherwise tiny date window.
- Scratch-resistant sapphire crystal.
- White gold hands and hour markers.
- Sold stainless steel case and bracelet (the bracelet uses actual screws to fasten the links together rather than friction pins).
- Luminescent hands and hour markers.
- Flip-lock clasp.
The GMT feature of the Rolex GMT Master II is typically used in one of two ways. The first way is the technique the Pan Am pilots used, which is to keep track of both GMT and local time simultaneously. The second technique, which is more commonly used by travelers as opposed to pilots, is to set the 24-hour hand and the 12 hour hand to the same hour while in your “home” time zone, then to adjust the hour hand and date either ahead as you travel east, or back as you travel west. The movement in the GMT Master II is very unique in that it allows you adjust the hour and date backwards just as easily as forwards.
Although the GMT Master II isn’t difficult to use, it does require some explanation. First of all, the crown has four separate positions. The zero position is all the way in and screwed down. To get to the first position, simply unscrew the crown and let it pop out away from the threads. You can’t set the watch while the crown is in the first position, but you can wind it manually (about 30 partial rotations away from you, or clockwise, will sufficiently wind the spring). You typically then want to move the crown out to the third and last position which allows you to set the minute hand and the 24-hour hand. At this point, don’t worry about the date and the hour hand. Once the minute hand and the 24-hour hand are in position, push the crown all the way back in to get the watch started again (don’t screw the crown down just yet), then pull the crown back out to the second position, or one in from the last. This is where you set the hour hand and the date. Turn the crown in either direction until the date and the hour hand are accurate (make sure to monitor whether you are post or ante meridiem), then you’re done. Push the crown all the way back in, and screw it down. When you travel, unscrew the crown, pull it out to the second position, and move the hour hand either forward or backward depending on which direction you are traveling in. Keep the hour hand and the date synchronized with local time, and use the 24-hour hand to monitor the time back home.
- When you set the hour hand and the date, you can turn the crown in either direction, allowing you to set the watch forward and backward. Most watches are designed to only run in one direction and can be damaged by setting them backwards.
- While setting the hour and date, the watch keeps running which allows you to adjust to new time zones without losing time on your watch. When setting the second hand and the 24-hour hand, however, the watch does stop which allows you set it right down to the second. Very nice.
- When setting the hour hand and the date, the date changes at precisely midnight rather than gradually changing over the course of hours.
When I first got my GMT Master II, I found that it was running about 7 seconds fast per day. Automatic watches will never be as accurate as quartz watches, but seven seconds per day is a little extreme for me. I sent the watch to Rolex (through an authorized dealer) to have it adjusted, and when it came back, it was running at exactly one second fast per day. A year later, still just one second fast per day. Even when it was running seven seconds fast per day, although I wasn’t impressed with its accuracy, I was impressed with its consistency, and now that it’s been adjusted, I’m very impressed with both. Rolex makes their own movements (most watch manufacturers purchase them from another company) which means the inside of a Rolex is as well crafted as the outside.
The only complaint I have about the Rolex GMT Master II is the clasp. The watch overall has an amazingly solid feel that exudes quality and craftsmanship — until you get to the clasp. The first thing I don’t like is how Rolex tries to make it invisible by stamping a pattern into it that makes it blend in with the bracelet. Clasps are an important part of a watch, and in my opinion, should be emphasized and celebrated, not hidden. And the second thing I don’t like is the fact that it’s too thin and cheap looking. Admittedly I haven’t had any problems with it, and the Oysterlock bracelet is generally very well respected, but I maintain that the clasp looks cheap and a little silly. If I’ve come to realize anything about watches over the years, however, it’s that you will never find a single watch that you love every last thing about and has every last feature you want, so in the overall scheme of things, I can overlook the clasp issue — as long as it stays fastened.
Overall, I love the GMT Master II. It fits my wrist perfectly, it’s beautiful without being overdone, and it’s very functional. The solid stainless steel feels like satin in your hands, and the movement feels tight (in a good way) and precise as you adjust the hands. The bezel is easy to rotate but firm, the sapphire crystal is perfectly polished, and I love everything about the bracelet except the clasp. If you’re looking for a very handsome, very high quality, low-key watch to accompany you on trips across time zones, the GMT Master II will not disappoint.
The Rolex GMT Master II is available with a black or brown (ugh!) dial, and with three different bezel styles: all back, red and black, and the classic blue and red (also knows as the Pepsi bezel). The Rolex GMT Master II currently sells for $4,525 and is almost never discounted. As always, if you decide to go Rolex shopping, make sure you are buying from an authorized dealer or a reputable personal seller. Don’t expect discounts on stainless steel sports models, make sure all the paperwork is in order, and if the price looks too good to be true, it is.
By Christian Cantrell