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A brief history of Rolex's GMT-Master

Left: The original Pepsi Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master, 1955. Right: Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II, 2005.

The Coke in steel Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II, 1982.

A Rolex advertising booklet from the 1950s.

AIRLINE pilots were among the first to wear the Rolex GMT-Master, launched in 1955 when intercontinental travel was expanding rapidly. The two-time-zone watch with the striking red and blue bezel - also the colours of the Pepsi-Cola logo - was designed for the pilots.

Pan American World Airways, better known as Pan Am and the most prominent American intercontinental airline then, even adopted the GMT-Master as its official watch. The partnership was marked in 1959 by the first non-stop Pan Am Jet Clipper flight from New York to Moscow.

Helping to navigate the flight was a GMT-Master, which sat on the wrist of the plane's captain.

The colours of the GMT-Master's bezel have not been confined to red and blue. It has also appeared in red and black (the "Coke"), all black, all green, blue and black as well as black and brown in later models. And while the first GMT-Master was fitted on an Oyster bracelet, some subsequent variants of it and the GMT-Master II also feature the five-link "Jubilee" bracelet introduced in 1945.

Key to the GMT-Master - and later GMT-Master II - is the bidirectional rotatable bezel and 24-hour graduated two-colour or single-colour insert. On the original 1955 model, the insert was split into halves - one red for daylight hours and one blue for night-time hours. The bezel's 24-hour graduated insert in the first model was made from Plexiglas, with the colours, numerals and graduations painted on the reverse.

Aluminium replaced the Plexiglas in 1959 and the colours and inscriptions were created using anodisation - an electromechanical process that also increased the metal's scratch resistance.

The conventional hour hand, the minute hand and the 24-hour hand were synchronised in the first GMT-Master. A new movement was installed in 1982 which allowed the hour hand to be set independently of the other hands. This made it easier and intuitive to use and set the watch.

Subsequent models powered by this movement were called the GMT-Master II.

The ceramic insert was introduced in 2005, replacing the aluminium one. The switch was the product of Rolex's pioneering work in creating and designing ceramic components. Two years later, Rolex registered the name "Cerachrom" for the ceramic bezel and insert.

The numerals and graduations are moulded into the ceramic bezel and then coated with a thin layer of gold or platinum via PVD (Physical Vapour Deposition). These exclusive components are virtually scratch-proof and unaffected by the sun's ultraviolet rays.

From the start, the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master has come with the highly shock-resistant and water-proofed Oyster case. The Oyster case is one of the defining features of a Rolex watch.

Another feature of the GMT-Master is the cyclops lens which provides easy reading of the date. From 1959 on, the crown guard is also stamped as an integral part of the middle case to protect the winding crown.