Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 126710 BLNR
Long ago, the Rolex GMT-Master was originally designed for professional use to aid airline pilots. However, its combination of peerless functionality and instantly recognizable aesthetics has attracted a wider audience today. The original GMT-Master II Ref. 116710 BLNR “Batman” was first introduced in 2013, much to the delight of the brand’s enthusiasts. This year, the popular timepiece is getting an update in the same way that last year’s GMT-Master II Ref. 126710 BLRO “Pepsi” was: a new Jubilee bracelet, and a brand new movement.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
For those familiar with last year’s “Pepsi”, the new 2019 “Batman” is essentially the same watch with a different coloured bezel. Yes, unless you are new to the watchmaking scene, this is just another day at the office for Rolex; the Crown makes mild cosmetic tweaks to pre-existing watches and presents them at Baselworld. Once in a while, you get movement upgrades. Given the insatiable demand for these watches fueled by its mega-fans, speculators and the grey market, why would the brand divert its resources to developing new products? The last time Rolex released a true novelty was in 2017, with the introduction of the Rolex Cellini Moonphase. Needless to say, being a gold dress watch with a leather strap secured its fate as an unpopular product, something only a hardcore connoisseur could love. But we digress.
The most prominent change to the appearance of the new Ref.126710 BLNR is the bracelet. Introduced in 1945 to celebrate the company’s 40th anniversary, the “Jubilee” bracelet, now engineered to be five-links across, replaces the Oyster bracelet. This, of course, is a polarising move given that the Jubilee is “fancier” and vintage – hence more suitable for a dressier watch like the Datejust – while the Oyster is purely austere and arguably more suited to a sporty tool watch like the GMT-Master II. Whether one likes the new bracelet or not is completely down to preference. What’s less subjective about the Jubilee bracelet is the comfort and ergonomics it offers, where its uncanny ability to conform to the wearer’s wrist makes it superior to any bracelet in the market.
All else about the Ref. 126710 BLNR – from the case to the dial and to the hands – remains unchanged except for one small detail: the tiny inscription at 6 o’clock. In the current version of the watch, there is a coronet between “SWISS” and “MADE” where there is none in the older version.
Driving the Ref. 126710 BLNR is the new 31-jewel Calibre 3285 – the same movement beating inside last year’s “Pepsi”. It has a power reserve of 70 hours (great for an automatic movement) and operates at a modern 4 Hz beat rate. With over 10 patents filed over the course of its development, the Calibre 3285 is truly at the forefront of innovation. These innovations – according to Rolex – offer fundamental gains in terms of precision, power reserve, shock resistance, anti-magnetism, and reliability. For instance, the Calibre 3285 is equipped with the proprietary Chronergy escapement for energy efficiency, and the Parachrom balance spring for shock and temperature resistance, as well as anti-magnetism. From a functionality standpoint, nothing has changed. The movement drives the hour, minute, and second hand, as well as the GMT hand, centrally; a date disc is used to display the date via an aperture at 3 o’clock on the dial.
As is the case for all Rolex timepieces, the Calibre 3285 is COSC-certified, and is accurate to within two seconds per day. The finishing applied onto the movement serves more of an engineering purpose than an aesthetic one. Rolex knows their movements are not lookers so their timepieces come with a solid case back for a clean look.
The Competitive Landscape
The new Ref. 126710 BLNR is priced at CHF8,800 or SGD12,430. Actually purchasing the watch is a whole other story which likely involves smug smirks from authorised dealers, waitlists, the grey market, and ending up paying more than retail anyway. If you simply like the GMT-Master design, the gold or two-tone options may be worth considering. They are infinitely easier to procure (in fact they are always left languishing in boutiques) and will save you from having to deal with this ugly side of watch collecting.
GMT timepieces are as common as trees in a forest, and there is always one to suit your budget. A solid alternative to the Rolex GMT-Master II is the Tudor Black Bay GMT from 2018. With its blue-red bezel, the watch is essentially the “I can’t believe it’s not butter!” version of the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 126710 BLRO. The watch was divisive when it was first introduced, with critics saying that Tudor crawled right back into Rolex’s shadow with the release. Proponents of the watch however were delighted because its design is faultless and its quality, assured. From a pricing standpoint, the Black Bay GMT is highly competitive at USD3,900 (or SGD5,315 at time of writing) – less than half the price of its Rolex counterpart.
Stepping away from the Rolex-verse, another watch that comes to mind is the Bell & Ross BR V2-93 GMT. Functionally, it is similar to the GMT-Master II. Where it differs is in design and “quality”. The design of the BR V2-93 GMT is obviously aviation inspired, with a dial that looks like it’s from an old cockpit instrument and a seconds counterweight that vaguely resembles the shape of a plane. While the watch is built to strict standards, it is no match compared to its Rolex and Tudor equivalents. Rolex sports watches are just too far ahead in the engineering and innovation game. That said, the BR V2-93 GMT on a steel bracelet is fairly priced at USD3,500 – slightly less than the Black Bay GMT. It is a decent choice for aviation fans or simply, fans of the watch’s rather charming design.
The GMT-Master II Ref. 126710 BLNR isn’t exactly the most novel thing to have come out of Rolex’s manufactory, but at the end of the day, novelty never was the brand’s goal. The GMT-Master II, like many of Rolex’s sports watches, is obviously an important ingredient in Rolex’s recipe for success – financial or otherwise. As they say: “you shouldn’t change a winning formula”. Rolex, as one of the most successful businesses in the world, absolutely knows this.