The good news from Rolex at Baselworld 2014 was that there was a Pepsi bezel for the 2014 GMT-Master II. The bad news was that Rolex decided to use it on a 18 carat white gold version first, rendering it slighlty difficultly priced for those who wanted it most.
Since the fist Rolex GMT-Master appeared in 1955, it has become one of their most recognisable and enduringly popular models, with varying sizes, calibres and detail changes in that inimitably Rolex way. One of the most distinctive sports watches in the world, the original red and blue bezel is affectionately referred to as the ‘Pepsi bezel’, in a non product placement reference to the soft drink. Ever the brand of incremental changes, they are also the band of unexpected choices, as recently evidenced by the use of Syloxi initially in a woman’s watch and of putting this new watch in a white gold case.
Developed in cooperation with Pan Am pilots, the GMT-Master became the airline’s official timepiece, allowing pilots to read the time in two time zones, and with the contrasting red and blue key for legibility.
The first GMT-Master bezel inserts were made of transparent Plexiglas painted half red and half blue on the underside. In 1959 the Plexiglas insert was replaced by one in anodised aluminium. Various other combinations have made appearances but for the majority of purists, the Pepsi bezel has always been the only one worth thinking about.
The Ref. 116719, as this new model is called, is 40mm and contains the Rolex in-house Calibre 3186 movement that was also in last year’s blue/ black Cerachrom-bezelled GMT-Master II. The GMT/ second time zone function of the name is operated via the usual independent hand.
The patented red and blue Cerachrom’s manufacturing process involves a red ceramic bezel inlay being made and then modifying half of the insert to a blue colour by a process of changing the chemical composition of the red grains. At 1600°C the ceramic reaches both its hardness and blue/ red colouring. The 24 hour scale is engraved in the ceramic and then coated with platinum via a PVD process. The platinum is then diamond-polished until only the platinum inside the numerals and graduations remains.
For those unfamiliar with Cerachrom, let’s go back a bit.
Patented and developed in-house to be used for bezels, it was unveiled in 2005 via the black insert of the Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II. The portmanteau name is a combination of ‘ceramic’ and ‘chrom’ from the Greek for ‘colour’, but the range of colours is restricted by the manufacturing process. The colours are created by adding mineral pigments that can withstand high temperatures before it is fired.
Making a Cerachrom bezel begins by mixing basic ceramic powders made of very fine zirconium dioxide or aluminium oxide powder which are mixed with pigments and a binding agent. The resultant paste is shaped into a bezel blank by high-pressure moulding. A first stage heat treatment eliminates the binding agent. Next, the substrate is impregnated with a metalised chemical solution. The insert is then heated, as mentioned above, to 1600°C to create a solid single insert piece. As the ceramic is so hard, both inner and outer circumferences of the insert must be precision-machined using diamond tools, after which the numerals and graduations are engraved into the ceramic.
In 2013 Rolex unveiled the first two-colour Cerachrom insert bezel, in blue and black, but the red and blue of 2014 is more important to collectors and enthusiasts. So what is it like ‘in the metal’? Well first things first – this is, remember, a white gold case, so there was a feeling of caution when handling it, something that would not be an issue if it were stainless steel.
The red and blue colours are strong and vibrant and it looks and feels like what it is – an expensive sports watch. For those who are familiar with last year’s model, as referred to earlier, it will all look pretty similar. As with all Rolex Cerachrom bezel inserts, it is exceptionally resistant to scratches and corrosion, and Rolex states that the colours are unaffected by ultraviolet rays and therefore, won’t fade. Whether this is a pro or a con will depend on to what degree you enjoy, perhaps, the variations in Pepsi bezel colour that time has brought to the old models.
My thanks to The Hour Glass Sydney for access to the Rolex GMT-MASTER II and Rolex Baselworld 2014 releases.