Vintage Rolex GMT Ads

When I think of an old GMT Master, the timeless “Pepsi” Ref. 1675 comes to mind first. The days of flying Pam Am, jet-setting on the Concorde, using your watch to combat jet lag or aid navigation, may be over, but vintage GMT advertisements can still inspire travel and adventure.


Vintage Rolex GMT-Master Advertisements

One of my personal favorite Rolex models, the Rolex GMT-Master, has become the archetype of the GMT complication. From the original reference 6542 to the classic Ref. 1675 to the modern “Batman” and “Batgirl” (Ref. 126710BLNR), the model stays true to its origins as a tool developed during the golden age of long-distance air travel when pilots and world travelers needed a reliable way of tracking multiple time zones. The GMT Master is dynamic and vibrant, qualities that also imbue the myriad of ads that showcase the legendary model. Naturally, you’ll find many aviation and exploration motifs in the creatives, from North Pole expeditions to more expected ads showing the iconic Concorde and Pan Am airlines. While vintage GMT ads evoke a sense of nostalgia and inspiration, the neo-vintage and modern ads show the piece’s evolution and popularity, such as the “Coke” version and the more hefty, flashy solid gold models. All Rolex GMT ads capture the versatility of the watch itself, but also the aspirational lifestyle that it triggers, whether that be to experience more of the world in economy - or in first class.

For more great information on the history of the Rolex GMT-Master, check out Hodinkee’s Reference Points video and comprehensive article. Also, I highly-recommend as an invaluable resource for collecting vintage GMT-Master models.

Rolex GMT-Master 6542

Original reference 6542 Rolex GMT-Masters are among the most breathtaking, sought-after and collectible vintage watches in the world. Finding one in original, good condition is often difficult because parts were typically changed, especially the famous bakelite bezel, which was prone to cracking. Like the actual watch, late 1950s advertisements showing the GMT-Master are steeped in horological and aviation history. After seeing and reading the copy of a Ref. 6542 advertisement describing the revolutionary model’s “revolving rim”, you can’t help but acknowledge something magical before you. The first GMT represents not only the dawn of a new era of global air travel, but also the birth of perhaps one of the most useful watch complications - the ability to track another time zone. These Rolex ads, typically from 1958 and 1959, take us back in time and remind us of the original intended market of airline captains, international businesspeople and members of the armed forces, and help us truly understand the significance of this first evolution of a legendary Rolex model.

Rolex GMT-Master 1675 Gloss Dial

Arguably one of the most-classic references of the GMT-Master is the 1675. It has one of the longest production runs in Rolex’s history and has a number of different variations from the stainless steel versions to the bolder two-tone and all gold. When the updated Ref. 1675 was introduced around 1960, Rolex designed an all-new bezel and added crown guards to the case - two significant changes to the model. A few years later in 1967, Rolex ads got a big update of their own, when the famous “If you were…” campaign rolled out and became the dominant advertising style through the early 1970s.

Prior to this well-known layout with black background and white headline in bold Helvetica font, the look of Rolex ads varied tremendously. One of the best Rolex ads of all time, and perhaps the greatest GMT-Master ad, is a prime example. From 1965, it not only shows a large, sprawling image of Pan Am pilot Bernard Lorenz, who appears in other Rolex ads, but it also includes an extra large Pan Am logo. This unique “double-signed” ad also interestingly shows two different GMT-Masters: a Ref. 1675 featured front-and-center and an early Ref. 6542 on navigator Lorenz’s wrist. Although I feel this is the best GMT-Master ad, for its visual elements and copy about the relationship between Rolex and Pan Am, perhaps the most well-known and popular GMT-Master ad is the 1969 “If you were flying the Concorde…” ad. There are actually two versions of this ad with the main difference being the plane in flight versus on the tarmac. It’s important to note these are not the earliest ads to show the Concorde and GMT-Master together. The first ad to pair the two icons was published in 1968 and showcased the 18kt solid gold version - and was in color.

Only two traditional print advertisements have been found showing the Ref. 1675 “Pepsi” GMT in steel - in color. Those ads are from 1970-71 even though by then the matte dial was well into production, yet another example of watch imagery not coinciding with the year of publishing. During this era of vintage Rolex GMT ads, whether it featured the varied styles pre-1967 or black-and-white creative, “If you were…” motif, the themes almost always relate to flight and travel.

Looking at vintage GMT-Master ads aligned perfectly within the border of a frame, is like looking through a window into the past - seeing the history of Rolex, aviation and commercial travel before you.

Rolex GMT-Master Matte Dial

After the glossy dial GMTs were discontinued around 1967, Rolex released several iterations that featured a matte dial across two references, beginning with the highly-collectible Mark 1, “Long E” dial Ref. 1675 through the early Ref. 16750 models with a quickset date. While the Refs. 1675 and 16750 could be purchased with a black insert, I’ve never found an ad showing a GMT-Master with a black insert, perhaps due to its similarity to the Submariner and a decision by Rolex to make the blue/red “Pepsi” GMT the primary representation of the model.

In these ads showing the matte dial era GMTs, you also start seeing a shift from the ads exclusively highlighting air travel to also including accounts of other ways to see the world, where a watch with another timezone would certainly come in handy. From crossing the Sahara desert, the frozen tundras of Greenland, as well as epic sea voyages, these ads, typically from the 1970s through early 1980s, detail brave accounts from Rolex’s brand ambassadors, a key component to Rolex’s effective marketing.

This era marks a turning point for the GMT Master’s evolution from its travel-specific roots to a tool watch built for anyone needing a reliable way to track multiple times. The outlier ads from this era are the three controversial ads showing a hunter posing with a cape buffalo and rhino. They not only fall outside the typical Rolex advertising fare, but also fall outside the typical 1967-1970 timeframe of these “If you were…” style ads.

Rolex GMT-Master Gold

Gold versions of the GMT Master have been around as long as its stainless steel counterpart. The most famous of the gold GMT lineage is the solid 18kt gold  “Concorde” GMT Master, distinguished by its straight hour and thin minute hand, somewhat similar to the handset on a Datejust or Day-Date. Its glorious nickname is clearly tied to the advertisements that feature the supersonic airliner that was a symbol of luxury travel. Not only is this particular watch extra-special, but also one specific ad is extra-special. The beautifully colored “If you were flying the Concorde…” ad from 1968, showing the airliner surrounded by a crowd, is the earliest Rolex ad to pair the GMT-Master and Concorde together. The other “gold” GMT-Master is of course the two-tone version, including the popular “Root Beer” GMT. To date, only three ads have been found showing this particular offering, possibly because Rolex deliberately chose to single out and feature the more expensive, all gold rendition.