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Review: The year of the Pepsi: hands-on with the Rolex GMT-Master-II Ref. 126710 BLRO

by Peter Chong on April 19, 2018

This year seems to be the year of the Pepsi. The distinctive two toned, blue and red bezel is the market nickname for one version of the Rolex GMT-Master, and Baselworld 2018 saw both Rolex companies introducing watches with this bezel colour combination. Here we take a close look at the Rolex GMT-Master-II Ref. 126710 BLRO.

The new GMT-Master-II’s reference carries the moniker BLRO which stands for Bleu Rouge, blue and red in French, and identifies it as the
“Pepsi”.

 

The new Rolex GMT-Master II is certainly a handsome-looking piece.

 

The “Pepsi” generation & tales of PanAm and Boeing 707

The original Rolex GMT-Master-II Ref. 6542 was designed by Rolex at the request of the Pan American airways in 1954. The airline then wanted a watch to display a second timezone for the use of its pilots on board the then new Boeing 707 plying transatlantic flights crossing several timezones.

Sidebar: The Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) was the world time standard. This was before UTC (Universal Time Coordinated) was adopted in 1960. As a sideline, GMT and UTC are different, though the term is usually used interchangeably. UTC is the time standard which the referenced as 0° Longitude (also known as Prime Meridian), an imaginary line drawn through the Greenwich Observatory in London. And GMT is the timezone whose time is the same as UTC. Neither GMT nor UTC is subject to daylight savings time changes. Though the reference is taken through London for historical reasons and as a tribute to the Greenwich Observatory, UK standard time is not UTC nor GMT as it is subject to daylight savings in winter months.

The solution Rolex designed was to provide a fourth hand whose pointer makes one full revolution every 24 hours, and shows the second timezone on a rotating bezel. Rolex used its experience in the Ref. 6202 Turn-O-Graph introduced in 1953 for the rotating bezel. On it as fixed a bakelite insert which had a blue upper part and a red lower part, with luminous 24 hour numerals within. One such early example will be auctioned in the Phillips Spring Auction on May 12, 2018, shown below.

 

A Rolex GMT-Master with the “Pepsi” bezel insert in bakelite, circa 1954.

 

Collectors quickly nicknamed the distinctive blue and red bezel as “Pepsi”, although the Pepsi-Cola company colours then had a red upper and blue lower with a white band between, as seen in this bottle cap from 1954.

 

 

Pepsi Cola bottle cap from 1954. In 1961, the company changed its name to just Pepsi. The Pepsi logo is actually red on top and blue below, while the Rolex BLRO had a blue upper and red lower bezel insert. Nonetheless the name stuck, and collectors world wide call the GMT-Master BLRO as “Pepsi”.

 

Nevertheless the name stuck, Pepsi was the name of any Rolex GMT-Master with the blue and red bezel insert. Collectors further nicknamed the black and red insert GMT-Master as the Coke (though Coca-Cola corporate colours were white and black), and the two tone “Rolesor” with brown dials and brown/silver inserts as the Root Beer.

 

The Rolex GMT-Master-II Ref. 126710 BLRO

 

Historical perspectives

The latest Rolex GMT-Master-II is an interesting proposition as it picks up from the earlier similarly blue and red bezel theme. As mentioned, the first was the  original GMT Master Ref. 6542 in 1954, on PanAm’s request. This had the signature red and blue bezel in bakelite until 1956 when the insert was made in aluminum. Bakelite is a rather brittle material and tend to crack. A Ref. 6542 in good condition, with the bakelite intact, such as the one shown in the photograph above, can expect to see very high resale values. The Ref. 6542 is also nicknamed “Pussy Galore” after the James Bond character of the same name (played by actress Honor Blackman) who wore it in the movie  Goldfinger in 1964. Later versions of the Ref. 6542 were fitted with aluminium inserts. The “feature” of these aluminium inserts is that the colours often fade over time, and create near unique bezels, some looking rather attractive. Collectors soon honed in on this, and the faded aluminium bezels became collectible and demand high prices.

In 1959, it was replaced by GMT-Master Ref.1675 with an aluminium insert in the Pepsi colours. Rolex replaced the Ref 1675 in 1980 with the GMT-Master Ref. 16750, and with the Ref. 16700 in 1988. The Ref. 16700 remained in production until 1999.

The GMT-Master-II was introduced in 1983 as Ref. 16760, and co-existed with the Ref. 16750 until the latter was discontinued in 1988. The only difference is the movement is now equipped with an independently adjustable quickset hour hand which can be adjusted to local time without stopping the minute hand, the seconds or the 24 hour GMT hand. As the hour hand is independent of the GMT hand, three timezones can be tracked with the use of the bezel. This version is also nicknamed “Fat Lady” as it was thicker than the GMT-Master.

In 1989, the GMT-Master-II Ref. 16760 became Ref. 16710 and remained in production till 2007. Rolex stopped the Pepsi bezels in 2007 with the Ref. 116710. The Ref. 116710 had a single coloured bezel in ceramic. This was when Rolex introduced Cerachrom as a bezel insert to ensure that the colour would remain unchanged for eternity. However, in the early years, the technology to be able to do the insert ring in b-colour ceramic was not mature enough. And Rolex did not want two semi-circular inserts joined together. Why ceramic? Well it is a material which will retain the brilliant colours indefinitely. As as aside, the collector favourites of faded dials will be a thing of the past.

A gemset Ref. 116759 SARU was offered as the GMT-Master-II white gold in 2007, but we don’t count it as a Pepsi variant, as the bezel is gemset with diamonds rubies and sapphires.

Rolex only returned to the bi-colour bezel with the Ref. 116710 with a black-blue bezel at Baselworld 2013: as BLNR (Bleu/Noir or blue black), which is not in red-blue, but blue and black, and nicknamed Batman. The return to Pepsi only re-appeared in Ref. 116719 BLRO, which had a white gold case and bracelet in 2016.

Until Baselworld 2018. The Ref. 126710 BLRO, now with Pepsi bezel in bi-colour ceramic and stainless steel case, the subject of our review.

 

 

The case, dial and hands

As mentioned, the case is 40mm in diameter and made in in Oystersteel, which is Rolex-speak for the 904L stainless steel used by them exclusively for watches. The lugs and the Oyster case are redesigned and the watch fitted with a five-link Jubilee bracelet. The case is satin finished with polished sides.

Other than the steel version, the GMT-Master-II is also offered in 18k Everose for the first time as Ref. 126715 CHNR. And also in a two tone (what Rolex calls Rolesor) steel and rose gold as Ref. 126711 CHNR . Both these versions come with a two-colour Cerachrom bezel insert in black and brown, in what is known informally by collectors as the Root Beer.

 

The Rolex GMT-Master-II in Rolesor and Everose. on the left: Ref. 126711 CHNR and on the right Ref. 126715 CHNR. Both will be supplied with the new C. 3285 movement.

 

The earlier WG Pepsi in white gold  REf. 116719 BLRO is discontinued and replaced with the Ref. 116719 BLRO-0002 with the Pepsi bezel, but in a dark blue dial in place of the black. The BLRO-002 will defer from the Ref. 126710 BLRO in that the former will retain the C.3186, while the latter will get a new movement.

The bezel remains bi-directional rotational with the capability of 24 distinct clicks per revolution. The case is rated to 100m of water proofness. Rolex remains the only manufacturer to use the phrase water proofness, all others prefer to use water resistance.

 

The dial is quintessential Rolex, and is in a black laquer. Designed for clear legibility over all situations, the markers and hands are large, and well marked with Chromalight. A small crown logo appears at 6 o’clock between “SWISS” and “MADE” and this is a mark that the watch carries the new movement. We first spotted this, and suspected this, published the suspicion in our Instagram @Deployant, and was later confirmed by Rolex.

 

What is also new with the new Pepsi is the bracelet. All earlier versions were delivered in the 3 link Oyster bracelet, but the new watch will come with a new 5 link Jubilee bracelet in Oystersteel. The outer links are brushed finished, and the inner 3 are polished. This gives a contrasting textural finish to the bracelet, and breaks the monotony of an all brushed bracelet. As indicated elsewhere, the Oyster bracelet will not fit the new GME-Master-II.

 

An Oysterlock folding safety clasp with the Rolex Easylink 5mm extension link is fitted.

 

The movement Rolex C. 3285

As is normal for all Rolex watches, the caseback is sealed, and we did not have the opportunity to open it to inspect the movement. The photograph below of the movement is a stock photograph distributed by Rolex.

 

 

The C. 3285 is a newly developed caliber and protected by 10 patents. It now boasts of a power reserve of 70 hours, instead of the 50 shours of the Caliber 3186 fitted in the now discontinued white gold Pepsi. The new movement is equipped with the Chronergy escapement.

The Chronergy escapement is a modified Swiss lever escapement. The key advantage it has over the traditional Swiss lever is that it is more efficient by a claimed 15%. On a close examination of a movement provided by Rolex, it appears that the escapement parts are thinner and slimmer, the pallet fork is lighter and the pallet stones are smaller. The escape wheel is also skeletonized. And the design of these components tweaked for better performance. All of these serves to reduce the weight of the escapement, allowing it to conserve more energy. Resulting in a longer power reserve.

The usual Rolex fittings are provided for the movement, including the paramagnetic blue Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers. The movement is certified by COSC plus the Rolex Chronometer Certification and is regulated to +2/-2 seconds a day after casing, the highest precision guaranteed by any manufacturer for mass production watches. As with all Rolexes, the GMT-Master-II comes with a five year warranty.

The competitive landscape

The Rolex GMT-Master-II Ref. 126710 BLRO will retail at an official price of S$12,430 with GST or CHF 8,800 inclusive of Swiss tax.

In the competitive landscape of Pepsi coloured bezel sports watches with GMT, there are many, But none can lay legitimate claim to the Pepsi than Rolex. Many others claim “homage” watches with the same look and colour scheme. But we discount all of them.

Priced at CHF 3,700 (approximaely S$5,124), the Tudor Black Bay GMT in SS with SS bracelet offers a lower cost alternative to the Rolex GMT-Master-II. So we salute Jean-Frédéric Dufour, CEO of the Rolex Group who had the foresight to introduce the GMT-Master-II’s only legitimate inhabitant in the competitive landscape: The Tudor Black Bay GMT. We made a comparison article which you can find here.

Jean-Fréd knows well that the sharks have been making so called “homage” Pepsi GMT watches. It is not a market place that Rolex can address, given the lower price point. But with Tudor, he now is able to wield an effective weapon and we now have a real competitor who offers a similar Pepsi aesthetic. The Tudor comes with a manufactured in-house movement, and a legitimate claim to the Ref. 6542 legacy as family.

And quite in line with what Rolex Founder, Hans Wilsdorf, who said, “For some years now I have been considering the idea of making a watch that our agents could sell at a more modest price than our Rolex watches, and yet one that could attain the standards of dependability for which Rolex is famous, I decided to form a separate company, with the object of making and marketing this new watch. It is called the Tudor Watch Company.”

 

 

What we are at odds with is not how handsome an alternative the Tudor offers. It is indeed a beautiful watch, with clear detailing that make it stand out against its Rolex sibling. Details like that the bezel insert is in aluminium, with the blue is the same hue as that found on the Black Bay Blue and the red on the Black Bay Red. But we are somewhat disturbed because of the brilliant success that Tudor have had in the last 5 years in trying to craft a name of its own out of the Rolex shadow. Here with the Tudor Black Bay GMT, it fell right back into the comfortable cost tails of Rolex.

Concluding thoughts

 

The conclusion is simple. The Rolex GMT-Master-II Ref. 126710 BLRO is part of the Chief Editor choice on Top 5 Watches form Baselworld 2018 – yes the ones which may burst your wallet. And it gets it place because of the strong link to the heritage, the beautiful aesthetics, the magnificent and reliable movement. And perhaps, as with the other steel professional Rolex, may be a rarity in the market as well.

 

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