Not everyone loves Rolex, but the brand has a storied history and has made numerable important contributions to horology that cannot be refuted. For instance, Rolex is widely credited with creating the first water-resistant watch; it is also responsible for the first watch with an automatically changing date, the Datejust; and the first watch to show two timezones at once, the GMT-Master. Our attention today is on the Rolex GMT-Master, or rather, the Rolex GMT-Master II 116710BLNR – but first, a little history.
The modern Rolex GMT-Master II was introduced in 2005 in the form of the all-gold GMT-Master II Ref. 116718LN. It was to be an anniversary model, and so came with a green dial in Rolex’s signature hue. This new Rolex GMT-Master II’s diameter was unchanged at 40mm, but it possessed what is now sometimes known as the “Super Case” and “Maxi Dial” – Rolex-speak for larger case and dial with fatter markers, respectively – and so it looks and wears larger than its 40mm size would suggest. And for the first time, it came with a ceramic bezel that Rolex claims to be virtually scratch and fade-proof. Other changes include a larger Trip-lock crown, a new bracelet with polished center links and Easylink extension, green 24-hour hand, and a new movement, the calibre 3186. The new 3186 movement has no new functions over the older calibre 3185, but it is equipped with Rolex’s new Parachrom hairspring and the operation of the jumping hour hand is now smoother and more precise.
A year after the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116718LN, Rolex released the half-gold, or two-tone, version known as the Ref. 116713LN; and in 2007, finally released the all-steel Ref. 116710LN. While no one could argue about the technical refinements of the new Rolex GMT-Master II watches, one thing that was conspicuously missing from these new watches was the bi-color bezels that made the older Rolex GMT-Master watches so recognizable. In case you were wondering, the older models had aluminum bezel inserts, which could be quite easily printed. But ceramic is a much harder material to work with, and for a long time, Rolex has said that it was impossible to make a bi-color bezel in ceramic.
So, imagine our surprise then, when in Baselworld 2013 Rolex unveiled a new steel Rolex GMT-Master II with a blue and black ceramic bezel - the Ref. 116710BLNR (BLNR for bleu/noir). It was easily one of the stars at last year’s show, and we noted in our hands-on last year just how well-made the new ceramic bezel is, and how good-looking the watch is in the flesh.
Judging from the fact that Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710BLNR pieces are flying off the shelves – and that the resale value is extremely close to retail prices, even by Rolex standards – it seems that we are not the only ones who think so. In fact, many dealers, at least in my part of the world, are actually charging a premium for this piece. And it was only after much looking around and inquiring that I managed to find a dealer who was happy to sell it at retail price.
For this review, I’m not going to tell you about the features and technical details of this watch, I think the capabilities of the calibre 3186 have been well covered in our earlier review of the steel and gold Ref. 116713. Besides, the Rolex GMT-Master II is such a popular watch that it should be no stranger to most people. But I will say that the case is solidly constructed and well polished, and the bracelet and clasp are also of the highest quality. Additionally, the Easylink extension, which allows the bracelet to be discreetly extended by 5mm, is a lifesaver on warm days. Not everyone is going to be a fan of the polished center-links, but I like it as it distinguishes the GMT-Master II from the Submariner and makes it look a little dressier.
What I’m mostly going to talk about instead is that new blue and black bezel, and whether it is worth paying the price difference over the standard Ref. 116710LN. As it stands, the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710BLNR currently commands a premium of around $600 over the Ref. 116710LN price.
Now, the bi-color ceramic bezel is quite a technical feat and actually starts off as blue, with the black mixed in later using a patented Rolex process. It is known that the second tone is achieved by masking one half of the bezel and exposing the unmasked half to a special chemical treatment. The transition between the two colors is flawless and extremely sharp, with no perceptible bleeding or fuzziness. The engraved numerals are then finished off with thin coating of platinum to give a glossy, three-dimensional look that is both striking and legible.
Admittedly, the combo of blue and black is an unusual choice for Rolex, and has never been done prior this Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710BLNR. Color is of course a highly subjective topic, but blue does make some sense – blue for the daytime hours and black for the nighttime hours. So if blue is not your color, I guess you can stop reading here and just opt for the Ref. 116710LN.
However, if you are neutral towards blue or partial to it, the next thing to note is that the hue of the blue changes depending on the light. In bright environments, under direct sunlight, for example, the blue is strikingly brilliant and is stunning to behold, and at certain angles, it looks almost purplish. In low lighting, the blue somehow disappears, and the bezel looks almost completely black. It wouldn’t be a stretch to say that this bi-color bezel is something of a chameleon of sorts.
I appreciate such a quality in a watch, and I think it adds a lot of visual pizzazz and variety, when compared to the plain black bezel of the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710LN. And, in my personal experience, no amount of pictures can do justice to the way the bezel reacts to the light; I do not speak only for myself, because this is a view shared by many other owners of this watch. Honestly, your thoughts about this watch may change after seeing it in the flesh.
But this quality of the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710BLNR can also work against it, especially if what you want is a more serious and somber timepiece. In my opinion, the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710BLNR is definitely more casual and fun and if that is not your thing, then you might be better off with the Ref. 116710LN's black bezel. The Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710LN is a bona fide modern classic that can do no wrong in my books.
Although the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710BLNR and Ref. 116710LN are essentially identical save for the bezel (and the blue hour hand and white GMT-Master II text on the dial), these two watches don’t cost the same. And some of you might be wondering if the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710BLNR’s around $600 premium is worth it. I personally think so. For one, this is not only Rolex’s, but in fact, the world's first bi-color ceramic bezel ever. Secondly, I like that Rolex has gone for blue and black instead of blue and red or black and red. Blue and black is a first and I think it also makes it very unique. Lastly, I like how the blue of the bezel takes on different hues as it plays with light.
Ultimately, if you are sitting on the fence and having trouble deciding between the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref. 116710BLNR and Ref. 116710LN, I’m going to give you a very cliche but effective advice: go and try both of them on. I keep going back to this, but it is a very important aspect of the Ref. 116710BLNR, and the way the bezel plays with light needs to be experienced first-hand. Finally, to sum both watches up in a sentence, I would say that the Ref. 116710LN is classic and practical, and the Ref. 116710BLNR is a little bit more fun and special. The Rolex GMT-Master II 116710BLNR has a list price of $8950. rolex.com
>Model: GMT-Master II Ref. 116710BLNR
>Size: 40 mm
>Would reviewer personally wear it: Yes
>Friend we’d recommend it to first: Someone who is looking for a GMT watch or a Rolex that looks a little more special.
>Best characteristic of watch: The color-changing blue and black bezel.
>Worst characteristic of watch: The ubiquity of Rolex.