Tropical Service Dial 6542 Rolex GMT-Master
I must admit to slightly enjoying antagonizing purists here; a closed mind is boring. This is a service dial, and that’s always less desirable, right? Well, not quite. The 6542 GMT-Master was created with radium dials and was famously recalled for its radioactivity. If one came in for service over the next decade, Rolex would either scrape off the substance by hand or replace the dial, which is what you see here. It’s a service dial, but still gilt-gloss construction with tritium. The bakelite bezels, too, were luminous and replaced by latter metal inserts. Because 6542 are serious money these days, a little more than the 240 USD they cost in period, many have been put back to spec in the last decade to achieve maximal market value. But in truth many 6542s likely looked just like this for the majority of their life, except perhaps not as lovely a tropical dial.
This whole situation brings me back to a thought experiment I contemplate frequently in watches: the Ship of Theseus. The crux is this: if a Greek warship were to live a long and successful life, over time its hull will be patched. Sections will be swapped. Perhaps a mast will be fell in a storm, only to be rebuilt months later. This cycle may be perpetuated ad infinitum, until no one component may be said to have been borne with the ship’s christened name. When does one ship become another? Plato was never able to solve the ship’s paradox. So how the hell are we supposed to in horology? A dial is the soul of watch, you’ll hear that everywhere. So is this a 6542 in spirit? Yeah, I’d argue it still is. Because the radium recall is a very important act in GMT-Master history and it applies to the 6542. I don’t think the ship is a different one here. Not as valuable as bakelite with radium, sure. But every bit as much the daddy GMT-Master.
Early 1675s with gilt gloss dials are prized anyway, relative to matte; it’s still a very classic Rolex look. Plus, lo and behold, many go chocolate. But is a tropical service dial more or less desirable than an original black dial with radium that will make your teeth fall out? That question alone and the fact that it’s worth pondering does prove just how absurd our hobby is. But I don’t think there’s a defined answer. The market will say radium. Others will say it’s not worth any health risk. Would you pay more for brakes on a vintage car that had never been serviced because they’re original? Quite. But we can all agree here that it’s radium or metal bezel over ceramic. Shots fired.
The case is full and has strong bevels too. The bezel is not quite as patinated as the dial, would suspect the bezel hasn’t been worn to the same extent the dial has, but it still looks mega. The watch is not original (but entirely correct still), that’s kind of the point. The tritium is characterful, a dark tone almost more tan than cream. There’s a ton of attractive here, just not in the way that you normally expect in a 6542. It comes from a well-regarded California retailer.