6542 Rolex GMT-Master Bakelite
More than any other watch, the 6542 embodies the romance of the jet set’s dawn. All the details align to that era. The radium (or not). The understated proportions. The bakelite bezel. This was a watch made to live life the fullest with. However, not all examples age quite this gracefully. The majority of early GMT-Master have deteriorated from heavy use, outright abuse, or worse, less-scrupulous dealers fiddling with things. Only the few ever reach and end state this attractive.
The early 1960s and commercial jet propulsion spelled a new problem for horology: time-zone tracking. Pilot’s standardization to a constant reference Greenwich mean time solved that issue globally. To match, Rolex invented a new travel companion to include a running hour hand with a secondary timezone. That watch was an iteration on the 3346 and later turnograph movement. The result was a tool that became inseparably associated with new wealth and the ability to have breakfast in Paris or Mykonos. The 6542 was intended for pilots, but was largely adopted by late 60s and early 70s playboys. Omega tried to compete in the more technical Flightmaster but their efforts have been largely forgotten outside of watch collectors. Rolex’s simple solution has stood the test of time.
Perhaps even more impressively, the GMT-Master hasn’t wavered from its throne for even a day in its 66 year reign. The watch is a relentless style statement. I don’t know of single model more recognizable to non-watch people, with the possible exception of the submariner, and even then I’m not sure about that. The GMT-Master’s fans include Fidel Castro, Daniel Craig, Roger Federer, Steve Carrell, and Marlon Brando amongst many others. Market demand has been consistently high for good examples. Phillips sold a time-capsule, near NOS 6542 in 2017 at 300K CHF, where a more normal example sold by them in 2019 for 100K CHF. Again in 2021, a great example brought 120 CHF. The early GMT has always been über desirable, whether the market’s roaring or not.
This example has the lot. Its dial is clean of damage, with beautiful gilt tracks and radium. Its bezel is undamaged, a clear Bakelite gloss with minimal wear. The case is remarkably sharp, perhaps even a little too sharp if you know what I mean. But I don’t wish to make assumptions. Its date wheel is beautifully aged by UV to a yellow tone that matches its plots. The whole thing is just gorgeous. It comes from a well-regarded Los Angeles retailer.
Find this 6542 here from Oliver & Clarke for 118500 USD.