Great Rolex Experiment With The GMT Master II Or How I Learned To Stop Worrying And Love The Crown
The last time I wrote here on Quill & Pad about my relationship with the world’s greatest mass luxury brand was last year when I explained Why I’ve Never Owned a Rolex – And Why I Might Yet.
Well, to know me is to know that if I say I “might yet” buy something it’s likely only a matter of time before I’ve talked myself into its absolute necessity as part of my collection.
So, too, with Rolex: in this case one of the watches that I mentioned last year as being on my short list, the GMT Master II BLNR “Batman” with black-and-blue bezel.
How it fits
In the “Terry Taxonomy” that our group of collectors applies to our holdings, for me the GMT Master is a “fun” watch: one that scratches an itch at a particular point in time and that is affordable enough that it doesn’t cause sleepless nights once purchased.
In last year’s article I even suggested that buying one could be viewed as a (relatively) “low-cost experiment.”
At the same time, it seems pretty clear that this could be an “investment” piece for me: a watch that sustains a fairly predictable value and that, more importantly, can act as a core piece within a collection.
Potential experiment result: success
So what suggests that this could be a keeper for me?
It took me a while to come up with the right term, but for some reason what came to mind was “highly evolved,” which is a friend’s description of the form-fitting, perspiration-wicking bicycle clothes we wear on our rides.
While they are pretty clearly poorly suited to many uses (and in my wife’s view, “flatter no one”) they are darned good for covering miles on the bike.
The GMT Master II is more versatile than that, but at the same time seems to me to be the product of many years’ work to achieve a small number of goals at a desired price level with excellence. These include an attractive appearance on the wrist, robustness, and reliable timekeeping.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]The Rolex GMT Master II is the product of many years’ work to achieve a small number of goals at a desired price level with excellence, including an attractive appearance, robustness, and reliable timekeeping.[/pullquote]
On the first point: if you search online for images using the prompt “Rolex GMT Master II” as I did, what you’ll see is that exactly one of the first 200 images popping up shows the back side of the watch.
While it’s not too surprising that for any watch that there are more shots of the front than the back, by comparison nine of the first 100 image search results for “Patek Philippe Nautilus” show the reverse side.
My own experience is that the time that I spend considering the view of the back of the Batman is pretty much zero. And that’s just fine because Rolex has incorporated so many features that make the on-wrist view appealing, from the sharp edges of the crown to the platinum-plated recessed numerals in the bezel and the matching blue colors of the striking Cerachrom bezel and home-time hand.
When you pull up your sleeve to see the time, this watch looks good! The blue/black color motif works, the time is clearly legible, the central sweep seconds hand gives a pleasant sense of the orderly passage of time, and the anti-reflective coating does its job with distinction.
The concept of purposeful evolution extends to the mechanics as well. The mid-2000s Caliber 3186 movement builds on the Caliber 3185 introduced twenty years earlier by adding a more temperature- and magnetism-insensitive Parachrom hairspring. And it more effectively isolates the adjustable local time hour hand from the fixed home time indicator.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]When you pull up your sleeve to see the time, this watch looks good![/pullquote]
Huge changes? Perhaps not. But they are evidence of the spirit of ongoing improvement, as is the Easylink feature of the upgraded buckle that allows the bracelet to be lengthened or shortened by five millimeters in a few seconds
I think that most of the functional design choices made by Rolex make great sense. For instance, the movement hacks when you set the main time indications so that you can synchronize these to a reference, but does not hack when you adjust the hour indication of local time, the better to maintain that synchronization.
And in terms of being presentable, a steel Rolex is hard to beat. Many of my business clients wear similar pieces; and when visiting my longstanding global energy industry client, the “Texas Timex” is almost a part of the executive uniform.
Potential experiment result: failure
While I think of myself as a buy-and-hold collector, I do sell from time to time. Over the past several years, I’ve worked pretty diligently to curate my collection by selling pieces I don’t absolutely love, converting the sale of several small pieces into the purchase of a smaller number of more important ones and eliminating overlaps.
If my GMT Master II ultimately goes to a new home, it’s most likely that it will be during a cycle of selling-to-buy in which I find something new that I just must have and in the interests of fiscal sanity decide I need to consolidate some other pieces to raise funds.
Short of that, there are a few things that may cool my ardor.
The Goldilocks Syndrome: Put simply, as a Rolex this watch may be too conspicuous for its level of distinction and not special enough to justify the attention it draws. To fly below the radar and still smile each time I slide my watch out from under my sleeve, I may be better off wearing my Vacheron Constantin Overseas, which is a more sophisticated, more expensive watch that draws less notice from the envious and larcenous.
Industrial excellence: I really do deeply admire how fine a watch Rolex is able to make with what is clearly a highly automated, industrial production model. But over time, I may find that the implications of that model, such as the slab-sided, sharp-edged, flat-backed case design, start to wear on me.
Fortress mentality: It’s no secret – Rolexes are desirable enough that there are many people in the world looking to cash in by counterfeiting the Rolex look. Rolex fights this in many ways, including randomizing serial numbers; engraving both the serial number and “Rolex” notations on the flange; hiding secret signatures elsewhere; and I’m sure in other ways that are not clearly evident to the observer.
That’s all great, but will it start to bug me that many of the visual elements I see when I look at my watch are there for the purpose of fraud prevention?
At the end of the day, I suspect that this “experiment” will end with the GMT Master II as part of my regular wearing rotation – and perhaps as a long-term go-to piece.
One of my top criteria for a watch is coherence: does everything about the watch make sense in the context of the unified whole? And is the total package consistent with the brand’s personality and promise?
In this case my conclusion is yes. Part of the brilliance of this watch is that it omits all that it does not explicitly include, and what it includes it does so without apology.
Don’t like the raised “Cyclops” lens on the crystal, prominent hour markers, or stamped hands? Buy something else.
[pullquote align=”full” cite=”” link=”” color=”” class=”” size=””]Part of the brilliance of this watch is that it omits all that it does not explicitly include, and what it includes it does so without apology.[/pullquote]
Yes, I have some quibbles. I find it hard to believe that in this day and age there is such a thing as a calendar watch without a dedicated quickset date mechanism – the GMT Master requires the user to spin the travel time hand forward or backward through entire days to change the date.
While I’m at it, I should note that finding the right crown positions for winding, setting home time, and adjusting travel time is more challenging than it should be for a travel watch.
And on my example at least, the timekeeping is consistent across positions but not within Rolex’s advertised plus-minus-two-seconds-per-day benchmark, at least according to my timing app.
Bottom line: am I becoming a Rolex guy?
In terms of pursuing additional Rolex watches for my collection or seeing Rolex as an aspirational brand, I’m not. But, at least for now, when it comes to the GMT Master II I’m feeling the love.
For more information, please visit www.rolex.com/gmt-master-ii.
Case: 904L stainless steel; 40 x 12.4 mm
Movement: automatic Caliber 3186 with 48-hour power reserve
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; instantaneous date, 24-hour display, second time zone with independent rapid setting of the hour hand, stop-seconds for precise time-setting
Price: current retail price $8,950
Production years: 2013 onward (introduced at Baselworld 2013)