In 1954, Pan Am Airlines approached Rolex with a request. The advent of commercial jet travel meant that their new transatlantic routes were taking pilots further than ever before, crossing up to six time zones in a single flight. These pilots needed a utilitarian wristwatch that could track two time zones at once. Rolex responded with what would become an icon — the GMT-Master. Its case had the burly lines and water resistance of Rolex’s Oyster Perpetual sports watches but added a second hour hand to the dial, one that only swept once around every 24 hours instead of twice like a conventional one. This hand moved at half the speed of the primary hour hand. The hour of the day it pointed to was not shown on the dial but on the rotating outer bezel, which separated day from night hours using a bicolor insert — blue for night, red for day. This “Pepsi” GMT-Master, so called for that blue and red color scheme, became one of the most recognizable wristwatches of the next half century. Then Rolex stopped making it.
In 2004, Rolex reinvented the GMT-Master II. The watch had already seen some updates — the so-called “GMT hand” was able to move independently, and the crystal was sapphire — but for its fiftieth anniversary, the new watch ushered in a new era for Rolex. The case grew wider lugs, the well-known rattly steel bracelet was scrapped in favor of solid steel links and a new clasp, and the movement was the first to feature Rolex’s innovative Parachrom hairspring, which defied the effects of magnetism. But the most noticeable change was the bezel. Now carved out of scratchproof ceramic with engraved numerals, it was a huge upgrade over the fade- and scratch-prone aluminum inserts of yore. The watch was superior in every way. But something was missing. The familiar Pepsi bezel was gone, in favor of more sober black livery. Purists acknowledged the obvious improvements to the new GMT-Master II but bemoaned the lack of a Pepsi bezel option. In typical Rolex fashion, the company line stated that they hadn’t found a way to produce a bi-color ceramic bezel to their high standards and they wouldn’t settle for anything less.
Then in 2013, a GMT-Master II was released with a bezel that featured a bi-color bezel once more. Known in enthusiast circles as the “Bruiser” or the “Black and Blue” GMT-Master II, its bezel had an azure arc for the hours between 6:00 a.m. and 6:00 p.m. and black for the night-time swath. It was a lovely watch but purists held their breath, sensing something was coming.
At last, at BaselWorld 2014, came the triumphant return of the Pepsi GMT-Master II. There it was in all its bi-color soda-bottle-label glory. Rolex had cracked the riddle of the bi-color ceramic bezel, and this was perfect, the best of both worlds — the old school favorite of Che Guevara, Hunter S. Thompson and Magnum P.I., featuring the latest watchmaking technology that only Rolex could produce.
This “Pepsi” GMT-Master, so called for that blue and red color scheme, became one of the most recognizable wristwatches of the next half century. Then Rolex stopped making it.
Unfortunately, the new GMT-Master II “Pepsi”, like many of Rolex’s special releases, is only available with a white gold case and a hefty $38,000 price tag, hardly within reach of Communist revolutionaries, gonzo journalists, or cash-strapped private eyes. We’re hoping the Pepsi bezel will trickle down through the lineup and be available with a steel case one of these years. But until then, the GMT-Master II “Pepsi” is solidly in the fight for the best watch money can buy.
Movement: Rolex 3186
Power Reserve: approx. 48 hours
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; independent 24-hour hand for tracking second time zone
Case Material: 18-karat white gold
Diameter: 40 millimeters
Water Resistance: 10 ATM (100 meters)
Strap/Bracelet: white gold bracelet with Oysterlock clasp and EasyLink adjustment