Then & Now: The Rolex ‘Pepsi’ GMT-Master

I still remember the discussion I had with my wife about the prospect of buying a vintage Rolex GMT-Master reference 1675. It was a big purchase. Nearly $5,000. “I’ll only do it if I can sell a few other pieces” I promised. “…are you sure this is a good idea?” The year was 2012, and things were different in the world of watch collecting. Instagram was less than 2 years old, great watches sat in display cases, some available at a discount, and classic vintage Rolex references, like the 1675, could be had for less than $5,000. 

A few watches lighter in the collection, and I was ready to pull the trigger. The 1675 was mine. 

The author’s 1675

The Rolex GMT-Master enjoys a certain lore today that’s steadily accumulated over the course of a few generations thanks to its association with the jet-set era, Pan-Am, astronauts, movie appearances, and, these days, celebrities. All this pinned to the instantly recognizable Pepsi colored bezel, blue on top, rouge on bottom (BLRO). As much as the watch has changed since it was first introduced to the world in 1954 in the reference 6542, the GMT-Master II of today follows the same basic formula. Still, the space between them is vast, and each has an appeal that seems to cater to different sensibilities.

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Shortly after taking possession of the 1675 back in 2012, it found its way onto the wrist of my father for his role in helping me out of pickle after some expensive photo equipment was stolen. He would go on to wear the watch for years.  

As is the case with many vintage objects, age makes itself known in unique ways, and watches are no exception. Sometimes it’s beautiful, sometimes not so much. The dial can brown, the lumed hour plots go yellow (or orange, or eggshell…), and of course, the bezel fades in all manner of ways, from ghost to fuschia. Vintage Rolex collectors and enthusiasts love these details, and something like a subtle hue shift of the dial from black to brown can mean a hefty premium on its value (to some collectors, at least). 

It’s easy to fall in love with the stories told by these old watches, and it’s not just Rolex. Poke around any brand with some heritage under its belt and you’re likely to uncover a trove of romantic stories about their accomplishments, their historical importance, their ‘iconic’ bona fides, or the personalities that wore them. While many of those stories are responsible for pulling me (and likely, some of you) into this hobby, what’s kept me here are the stories created, worn, and owned. A concept I discuss in this article about future vintage watches.

When I finally took back possession of the 1675 from my father, I experienced a swell of imposter syndrome. Popularity of vintage Rolex, and this reference in particular, were on the rise. Its profile increasing by the day, this was the watch that, for me personally, took this world from being a slightly nerdy hobby, to the realm of fashionable and hip culture. How the rest of the world started talking about watches like the 1675 changed, and I didn’t exactly recognize myself as fashionable, let alone hip. That’s not why I liked the watch in the first place, afterall. 

Letting go of that 1675 remains one of my biggest regrets when it comes to watches. I’m comfortable with the watches I like these days, for my own reasons, and I genuinely like the 1675. What’s more, this particular watch had bonded my father and I in a way I didn’t fully appreciate at the time. The experience of this watch over the course of years is largely responsible for informing the watches I wear today: modern watches. Not because I prefer them to their vintage counterparts (I don’t), but because the element of wear over time, ownership, and experiences are what, in large part, motivate my enthusiasm around watches. 

So, just how does that wear experience hold up with the latest iteration of the GMT, the 126710BLRO? A watch that, for all intents and purposes, is the very face of inflated resale prices, horological hype culture, and AD waitlist purgatory? Underneath all that, surprisingly well. Sure, sacrifices have been made, but the plot has not been lost.

Where the 1675 enjoys a lightness on the wrist, with an air of informality thanks to the fully brushed bracelet and matte dial, the 126170 feels, well, serious. With a steel case that measures 40mm in diameter, 12mm thick, and under 48mm from lug tip to lug tip, it’s still very easy to wear. Those same numbers for the 1675, btw, are: 39mm, 12.9mm, and 47mm respectively. Not much separates these two by the numbers, but visually, it’s another story. Some mass has clearly been cultivated around the lugs, and height of the case wall. The 1675 is hands down the more comfortable watch on wrist, but there’s a quality that’s a bit tricker to pin down. 

Watches from the ‘70s have a ‘jangly’ nature about them that is best illustrated by the sound the bracelet makes when putting the watch on and taking it off, or with any serious wrist movement. You can hear it, and you can feel it. You might think of it like a well worn-in pair of jeans. Hollow end links, a stamped clasp, and a few decades make themselves known here. By comparison, the 126710 feels precision engineered, not only in build quality, but also in the way it disperses the heft of the watch across the wrist. It’s clinical. It’s the PDK to the 1675s stick.

My biggest gripe (other than the PCLs of course) is the change in case profile. The 1675 has a slim case wall that gives way to a belly of a caseback, and a protruding acrylic crystal. Its total thickness nets out nearly a full mm north of the 126710, but you’d swear it was thinner, and it all comes down to the case wall. The newer watch has less variance from the thickness of the case wall, making it visually thicker. Still, 12mm is perfectly manageable, but had they retained that case structure, not just here but in many of their modern references, some of that magic would live on. Not to belabor the point, but some quick math reveals the case wall height to total thickness of the watch to be: 36.05% for the 1675, and 47.92% for the 126710.

GMT references from L to R: 16710; 1675; 126710

The 126710 makes use of the new(ish) Rolex caliber 3285, with all the modern bells & whistles we’ve come to expect from them in recent years. Paraflex this, Chronergy that, a load of power reserve (70 hours), and superlative chronometer accuracy (+/- 2 seconds). It’s an impressive movement to be sure, and does exactly what you want it to do without making a show of it (which is Rolex at their best, if you ask me). On a daily basis, the newer GMT is easier to read, easier to use (could the crown of the 1675 be any smaller?), and will be reliably more accurate for a longer period of time. It’s a clearly superior watch in technical terms, no surprises there, but that’s not what we judge vintage watches on, is it. 

We don’t often think about vintage watches in those terms. They are held to a different standard in examining their condition, the lives they’ve lived, the stories they tell, and the impact they had on subsequent generations. This is a context in which modern watches should be considered more often. Be they basic, or otherwise

The GMT tells a story in my own life, and it’s a watch that motivates me to think long term about the watches I own and wear, to be cautious of buying to collect rather than use, and that trends in fashion and culture are fleeting (or ever evolving, at least). Truth be told, I enjoy the modern rendition of this watch. What it lacks in interesting quirkiness it makes up for in being a sturdy grab and go workhorse with a rugged handsomeness that gets better with a few dings and scratches.

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In a decade or two (or five) my guess is that age will find a way to make itself known in this and other modern watches, and some of that charm we assign exclusively to vintage watches today will have crept in. With any luck, future generations of the GMT will be readily available to purchase directly from Rolex. 

The GMT-Master is a watch that’s come a long way in the past 60 years. It’s given us unforgettable references like the 1675, and continues to build on the concept with the 126710. For as far as the watch has come, the connective tissue feels stronger than ever. Is it enough to pull the vintage die-hards over the line? Probably not. It’s a smidge bigger and flashier, no doubt, but it’s not nearly as garish as some would have you believe. This is a cohesive design, whether taken on its own or in the context of its lineage. 

The 1675 may have gotten away from me, but I’m not all that sentimental when it comes down to it. It’s the more appealing watch here in many ways, but the modern BLRO is a through line that preserves those experiences and offers a great platform to build on. Regardless of what these two watches say about the state of Rolex today in the tool vs jewel argument, to me they underscore the idea of watches being what we make of them. And in that light, the 126710 is as much a tool as we’re willing to make it. Polished center links be damned.

A note of thanks to Bob’s Watches for the reference 1675 seen in this post. You can find this watch and many others at bobswatches.com.

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Blake is a Wisconsin native who’s spent the past decade covering the people, products, and brands that make the watch world a little more interesting. Blake enjoys the practical elements that watches bring to everyday life, from modern Seikos to vintage Rolex. He is an avid writer and photographer with a penchant for classic cars, non-fiction literature, and home-built mechanical keyboards.
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