The 1675 Rolex GMT-Master was first produced in 1959 and is my favourite watch of all the watches I have owned. I was obsessed with it and loved it so much that it became like a romance. My first one was from 1960 but the version I was in love with was from the second half of the 1960s – at a time when Percy Sledge sang “When a man loves a woman, Can’t keep his mind on nothin’ else, He’d change the world for the good thing he’s found”. That song expresses exactly how I felt about the tug of war I endured when it came to putting it on my wrist. The Rolex GMT-Master is a 20th-century design classic that makes me smile, like chrome wire car wheels or the Coke bottle designed by Lowey. The GMT-Master 1675 is a product that is so brand-connected that people who are not interested in watches always seem to know that it is a Rolex, especially in this Pepsi version.
The Rolex GMT-Master 1675 was the first model to feature the pointed guards on the side of the case to protect the crown. Compared to modern models, it has neither a quick set date nor is the red GMT hand independently set. To be honest with you, and now we are talking retrospectively, having to wind the hands forward for a full 24-hour period to change the date by one day is not ideal and puts a huge amount of added stress on the crown and stem. The crown is also quite small and can be tricky to unscrew – especially if it is an original that has become polished through wear. Compared to a friend’s modern GMT-Master II, that benefitted from these early incarnations by adding extra practical functions to a standard watch, it can seem a little old fashioned.
“If she is bad, he can’t see it, She can do no wrong, Turn his back on his best friend if he put her down.” Percy Sledge
When this watch came back to me, after a visit to my watchmaker, it had a new-old-stock dial, handset bezel insert and came on the appropriate Rolex Oyster bracelet, so it had a modern look. I love vintage Rolex sport watches but they need to be practical as daily wearers for me with lume on the hands, for example. Luckily, I still had all of the original parts if I ever wanted to put the watch back to its original state.
Did I hear a collective gasp from the Rolex purists? But that is a Tropical Spider dial, they may say. Yes, I know, but I can’t tell the time in the evening because the dial does not glow.
As you can see, the new-old-stock, later-execution tritium dial is matte black, the hands are polished silver and the GMT hand is red with a much larger triangle pointer – as opposed to the original hand. The original GMT has a small pointer and, according to the books, the hour and minute hands should be gold coloured, matching the gilt dial. Still, I have hardly ever seen a watch of this era with gold hands. They usually look like they do in these pictures with the silver coating flaked down to the bare metal. I honestly think that during service, these hands were simply replaced at a local watchmaker with the originals, which had been sitting in little tins for 30 years.
“Spend his very last dime, Trying to hold on to what he needs. He’d give up all his comfort. Sleep out in the rain, If she said that’s the way it ought to be.” Percy Sledge
I also treated myself to a period-correct Rolex Jubilee bracelet, very comfortable on the wrist with its multiple links. Combined with the lightness of the GMT-Master 1675, this made the watch wear more like a piece of jewellery, a more organic combination than the classic and clunky Oyster bracelet. I really liked the idea that I was wearing a watch from 1960, but looked like it was made in 2010. It was practical and modern, yet slightly vintage at the same time.
I became obsessed with the look of the watch. As I owned all of the different parts, I could have the modern look or the full original vintage look if I wanted. But as it turned out, I started on a road of decisions and counter-decisions that many collectors have endured with a watch.
“When a man loves a woman, Down deep in his soul, She can bring him such misery.” Percy Sledge
For example, above is a combination of new-old-stock late-execution dial and bezel insert, together with the original 3 hands, and the modern GMT pointer – as I was trying to create my perfect GMT Master. Crazy, right? I must have asked my watchmaker to swap the parts 5 times and to try every combination available to me. I think this is a symptom of seeing images of these watches online. They stop being watches and start becoming glossy paper art pieces when actually they are 3-dimensional, wearable little machines that will never look like they do in the pictures.
“If she is playing him for a fool, He’s the last one to know. Loving eyes can never see.” Percy Sledge
Fortunately, the machine part of this experimental GMT-Master 1675, the Rolex Calibre 1565, ran perfectly. Just as well, since the cosmetic part of the watch was driving me to distraction.
Original dial? New dial? Old handset and new bezel? Maybe both? I began questioning myself, again and again. Do I really prefer the Jubilee bracelet? With its smaller clasp and tiny links keeping this beauty on my wrist, is it secure enough? Well, it feels great, but is that really enough when you have a perfectly robust Oyster bracelet on your desk…
“Yes, When a man loves a woman I know exactly how he feels, ‘Cause baby, baby, you’re my world.” Percy Sledge
Mine is a sad tale of too many choices, unlike Percy Sledge who made his choice. It’s like the digital age applied to a bygone era, when change for change’s sake was seen as a waste of time. You saw a watch, you put it on your wrist and wore it every day of your life. You didn’t think of watches as custom toys, but as a tool worn on the wrist. I have watched sale adverts for these watches go from informative paragraphs to whole obituaries containing references like Rail dial, PCG guilt, OCC chapter, Pepsi, Fat Font, Mini tritium and so on…
At the end of this quest for perfection, the watch was returned to its original state and found its way to France and into the appreciative hands of an “originalist”. A curator of sorts, someone who could appreciate this lovely watch for what it had become since it left the factory, not what I could turn it into for the sake of my own visual vanity. Rolex GMT-Master 1675 watches are no longer cheap but I can assure you, they are a lovely thing to own. Find one, have it serviced and just wear it… do not do what I did.
Alistair Gibbons – Vintage Editor for MONOCHROME – Vintage watch book ‘Chasing Time’ is available from Amazon #chasingtimebook – www.atgvintagewatches.com