After World War II, Rolex began developing tool watches for various professions. In 1954, the company released the Submariner and GMT-Master, both of which featured rotating bezels. The GMT-Master was the result of a joint venture between with Pan American World Airways, which had requested a watch to help pilots keep track of both local and GMT time. They supposed that a pilot could sleep on their regular schedule and avoid jet lag regardless of where they were.
The GMT-Master is based on the Rolex Datejust Turn-O-Graph, launched a year earlier, which had a rotating bezel for timing. The bezel on the Turn-O-Graph, marked in 60 increments with numerals every 10 marks, was designed to be lined up with the minutes hand. In this way, one could count elapsed minutes.
The 1955 GMT-Master Ref. 6542 was quite different. Rolex added an additional central hour hand to the movement, geared 1/2 the normal one, so it rotated once every 24 hours. The Plexiglas bezel was marked with 12 increments, alternating dots and numerals. It could then be rotated forward or back and read with the 24 hour hand to show GMT time on the bezel, while the smaller 12-hour hand would show local time using the dial. This system was quite easy to read, though not quite as user-friendly as modern GMT watches with an independent hour hand. The Ref. 6542 strongly resembled the contemporary Submariner Ref. 6200, with no numerals on the dial. This first GMT-Master used Cal. 1036, Cal. 1065, or Cal. 1066.
Rolex updated the GMT-Master and Submariner in 1959 with crown guards and an aluminum anodized bezel. The GMT-Master Ref. 1675 is regarded today as the quintessential example of the model, though it also did not have a true independent hour hand. This updated GMT-Master used the 18,000 A/h Cal. 1565 until 1965 when it was updated with the 19,600 A/h Cal. 1575. This lasted in production until 1980, when it was updated to become the Ref. 16750. Cal. 3075 in the GMT-Master Ref. 16750 was the first GMT-Master to offer a quickset date function, and it also operated at 28,800 A/h. It is considered a transitional model today, being only produced until 1988.
In 1983, Rolex introduced the GMT-Master II, Ref. 16760, which was the first to offer an hour hand that could be set independently. The case is extra-thick to accommodate this larger Cal. 3085 movement, giving rise to the nickname "Fat Lady" today. Like the contemporary Ref. 16750, this model was only produced until 1988.
Rolex updated both the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II in 1988 with a sapphire crystal and new case. The lower-end model, Ref. 16700 with Cal. 3175, still lacked an independently-adjustable hour hand and was labeled "GMT-Master". The Ref. 16710 GMT-Master II had the independently-adjustable hour hand, thanks to Cal. 3185. The simple GMT-Master Ref. 16700 was phased out in 1999. while the GMT-Master II continued through 2007.
Rolex introduced an updated GMT-Master II in 2005, now with larger lugs and crown guards (giving the impression of a larger case overall), Triplock crown, a green 24 hour hand, ceramic bezel, new movement, and Cal. 3186. The first to be released was the yellow gold 16718LN and an anniversary model with a green bezel. The two-tone (steel and yellow gold) Ref. 116713LN was introduced at Basel Fair 2006, followed a year later by the all-steel Ref. 116710LN. The famous "Pepsi" bezel was retired in 2007 because Rolex could not produce a ceramic bezel insert in the correct shade of red. This was rectified in 2014 with the introduction of a white gold Pepsi model.
In 2018, Rolex introduced an updated GMT-Master II, Ref. 126710, with Cal. 3286. This new movement boasts 70 hours power reserve, while the look of the watch is updated with a Cerachrom bezel. A "Pepsi" model is once again available in steel, but the former models remained in production as well.
- 1954-1959 - Ref. 6542 "Pussy Galore" - Cal. 1036 (1954-1959), Cal. 1065 (1957-1959), Cal. 1066 (1957-1959)
- 1959-1980 - Ref. 1675 - Cal. 1565 (1959-1964), Cal. 1575 (1965-1980)
- Ref. 1675/8 - Yellow gold case
- Ref. 1675/3 - Two-tone (Steel/Gold) case
- 1981-1988 - Ref. 16750 - Cal. 3075
- Ref. 16753 - Two-tone (Steel/Gold) case
- Ref. 16758 - Yellow gold case
- 1988-1999 - Ref. 16700 - Cal. 3175
- 1983-1988 - Ref. 16760 "Fat Lady" or "Sophia Loren" - Cal. 3085
- 1989-2007 - Ref. 16710 - Cal. 3185
- Ref. 16713 - Two-tone (Steel/Gold) case
- Ref. 16718 - Yellow gold case
- 2007-2018 - Ref. 116710 - Cal. 3186
- Ref. 116713 - Two-tone (Steel/Gold) case
- Ref. 116718 - Yellow gold case
- Ref. 116758 - Yellow gold case with diamonds
- Ref. 116759 - White gold case with diamonds
- Ref. 116769 "Ice Watch" - White gold case, pave diamonds
- 2018-present - Ref. 126710 - Cal. 3286
- Ref. 116710LN (2007-) - Steel case, black dial and bezel, green GMT hand
- Ref. 116710BLNR "Batman" (2013-) - Steel case, black dial, black and blue bezel, blue GMT hand
- Ref. 116719BLRO "Pepsi" (2014-) - White gold case, black dial, red and blue bezel, red GMT hand
- Ref. 116713LN (2006-) - Steel and yellow gold case, black dial and bezel, green GMT hand
- Ref. 116718LN (2005-) - Yellow gold case, black dial and bezel, green GMT hand
- Ref. 116758SA - Yellow gold case, diamond bezel and case
- Ref. 116759SA - White gold case, diamond bezel and case
- Ref. 116769TBR "Ice Watch" - White gold case, white diamond pave dial, bezel, bracelet, and case
- Ref. 126710 (2018-present) - Cal. 3286