Rolex GMT Master Ref. 6542

Rolex GMT Master Bakelite

Year 1959

Confidential negotiation

Case Steel
Size 38 mm
Bracelet Steel
Closing Oysterlock
Movement Automatic
Status Used
Box No
Warranty No
Seller Warranty Yes

In the varied and centuries-old world of Rolex production, the story of the birth of the Rolex GMT Master 6542 takes on a relevant role. A watch that marked an era both for the undoubted quality and proverbial solidity of every Rolex artifact and for its use, connected to the fascinations of those who love to travel or perhaps must do so for work.

Yes, travel. Evoking the verses by Giulio Rapetti, aka Mogol and converted into music by Lucio Battisti in March 1977, the mind races to the human being's lifelong innate desire to thrill in rationalizing the incessant passage of time. And in traveling, especially if aboard any aircraft, time flows by faster, almost without weight. But if in doing so and losing oneself in the intoxication of this emotional state one crosses perhaps even a single time zone or an entire continent by airplane, then the poetry vanishes to turn into prose: what time is it where we landed, while in the clouds they dreamed? Trivial, isn't it? Is it convenient then to have with you, on your wrist perhaps, an instrument that relieves you of the hassle of always knowing the right time wherever you are? And perhaps without moving the hands from time to time, thus losing the ideal contact with the starting zone? Sixty or fifty years ago, how was this practical problem solved in the analog era, when not even remotely could one imagine a smartphone or tablet automatically synchronized in real time to the rpimary server in Greenwich?

Bonanno Jewelers is pleased to bring to your attention a depiction of the birth of this timepiece which, in turn, has a prominent place in the history of watches as yet another example of the tool watch generated by the prestigious Swiss manufacturer.

The birth of history.

Because of the increasing flight distance flown by American airline pilots in the 1940s also for wartime purposes, but especially in the post-World War II 1950s, when euphoria and economic growth pushed aircraft onto routes that until yesterday were little traveled or nonexistent (think, for example, the Los Angeles-Tokyo route until '47 that was almost nonexistent), the need for aircrew to correctly calculate the exact time of travel and arrival in several areas of the planet had grown in importance, not only in the United States itself but also on other continents. Civilian but especially commercial routes were increasing year by year, and with them the occurrence of this practical problem to be solved without appropriate specific instrumentation.

So it was that, shortly before the mid-1950s, the top management of Pan American Airlines, at that time the leader in American and world air transport, invited Rolex to study first and then to produce a wristwatch model that would be suitable for pilots and flight personnel for the problems outlined above, but also to alleviate the effects of jat-lag on international and domestic long-haul routes, providing them with an instrument that could indicate a second time zone on the dial. Out of this joint study was thus born the GMT Master, the Swiss watchmaker 's first watch that succeeded in achieving its ambitious goal, renamed by some "The Pilot's Watch."

Technology and ingenuity applied to the solution of a seemingly trivial problem then becomes the Rolex GMT Master 6542 (GMT Master, an acronym indicating precisely the mean time of the Greenwich Observatory and the calculation of the different time zones on the planet), an epoch-making timepiece that spans the decades, still to this day in Rolex listings and automatically becoming a cult object, according to some intransigent collectors even surpassing in diffusion and popularity the fantastic Submariner!?!? We leave the final judgment to you!

A watch that Bonanno Jewelers could not fail to present to your attention as this Rolex GMT Master 6542 bakelite.

After all, going back in time and trying to immerse ourselves in that cultural and historical context, the 1950s in the States are special years. The end of the war in Europe established American supremacy in the world, and they are years of prosperity, of double-digit economic growth in GDP. And when economic prosperity grows, there is also more attention paid to fashion and costume, understood as voluptuary goods and not as basic necessities as in wartime, as has long been the case on the old continent. Americans, contaminated by the customs and habits of old Europe, returning home draw the natural consequences. 

Airplane captains and stewardesses become trendy personalities of a strong and powerful country in the world, so on their wrists of these positive figures there must be something challenging but at the same time compact, aesthetically beautiful and above all functional as is the Rolex GMT Master 6542, synonymous with reliability, lightness but also success and wearability, characteristics that the role itself demands: the perfect tool watch!

The great beauty.

But what is winning in this Rolex GMT Master 6542 besides what was illustrated earlier? Well, first of all that of fulfilling the dual time zone requirement with the inclusion of a red 24-hour hand and a rotating bakelite bezel in the dial. Not to mention the 25-jewel movement!!!? 

So a double novelty on closer inspection: the red 24-hour hand, linked to the regular 12-hour hand, which allows the user to set the watch to the main time zone by adjusting (and thus we come to the second novelty), the rotating bezel so as to display the secondary time zone. The first production run of the Rolex GMT Master 6542 is entirely in steel, but a rare 18kt yellow gold version is also made, featuring a specific "leaf" ball game. 

Certainly what strikes and amazes the entire watchmaking world in this Rolex GMT Master 6542 is first of all the ingenuity of the new 24-hour hand. Based on the 1030 movement of the Turnograph model, it was completely modified precisely by adding this fourth hand with a triangular tip. Then there is the bakelite bezel, of two-tone red-blue (red for daytime hours, blue for nighttime hours), for the steel version and instead entirely brown for the 18kt gold version.

But its delicacy, subject therefore to easy breakage, led Rolex to equip the last produced examples of the Rolex GMT Master 6542 with a sturdier metal bezel, and then switch to a more functional ceramic one, which was lightweight and very durable. 

Do you understand now why it is rare to have a specimen like the one Bonanno Jewelers is offering today?

And it is precisely this that characterizes the Rolex GMT Master 6542 in the diverse and multifaceted world of vintage. Enthusiasts of this reference deeply love the optical-visual impact of the colors in both the dial and the bezel, as well as appreciating the technical functionality of the watch. In the previous article we recounted, still in the vintage sphere, the Rolex Submariner 5513 Tropical in which the patina, the dial's color change that brings with it the determinant and the value for collectors, that shade of brown so particular that drives them crazy and certifies its past. 

A watch so attractive that at the time the Pam Am executives themselves requisitioned them for themselves, denying them to the flight crew! But once the then CEO of the company became aware of this unfortunate situation, on the one hand he himself ordered the immediate delivery of the Rolex GMT Master 6542s to the flight crew defrauded of the useful instrument, and on the other hand, in order to avoid displeasing the executives too much, he ordered Rolex to produce a hundred new GMT Master 6542s but with a white dial! As you can therefore well understand, we have no doubt in stating that in the vintage sphere there are few watches that have more attractive colors than our Rolex GMT Master 6542, even with its fragile but beautiful bakelite insert, because according to some it is aesthetically even unattainable!!!

But the bakelite bezel, though aesthetically striking, generated several upsets within Rolex itself. First, because, as mentioned earlier, the material turned out to be prone to a certain brittleness that made it easy to chip, if not outright break. But another, far more delicate problem soon came to light. The bezel numbers were in fact impregnated with a luminescent substance containing tritium to make them visible in the dark. Tritium was obtained as a by-product of nuclear weapons production. After some time it began to be suspected that some of these ferrules were also contaminated with strontium-90, another byproduct of fossil material production, but far more dangerous than tritium.

The effect was that Rolex began distributing official notices requesting owners of the Rolex GMT Master 6542 to return them for inspection. Meanwhile, the bakelite bezels were already being replaced by stamped metal bezels. Not infrequently, GMTs under review returned with precisely a metal bezel, brand new in place of the offending bakelite bezel. The initial production of the bakelite bezels thus lasted for a short time, after which they were permanently replaced by metal ones. These new ferrules remained in production for longer, after which they were in turn replaced by plastic ones, this time Geyger counter proof. 

As if that were not enough, rumors of possible radioactive contamination of the bakelite bezels posed a considerable problem for Rolex, so much so that several Rolex GMT Master 6542s were marketed together with a laboratory certificate in which the bezel was officially declared as harmless. Therefore, nowadays there are not very many Rolex GMT Master 6542s with surviving bakelite bezels, and of those that remain, very few have remained in good condition due to the fragility of the material. Beware also of the large quantity of non-original plastic bezels that have flooded the market lately. The colors must appeal and they are that detail as a whole that strikes the buyer and the enthusiast.

As a result, attention automatically slips to the dial. Like the peacock unfurling its unparalleled tail to attract the female, the Rolex GMT Master 6542 has a set of almost unique chromatic peculiarities in the composition of the dials, from the beginning of production until the 1970s, that have truly thrilled collectors and devotees of this reference.  

Rolex GMT Master 6542s therefore have this great selling point, the dial with the inscriptions gilt. To achieve this, the manufacturing system was very elaborate. The base was immersed in a galvanic bath to achieve solid gold plating (a chemical process that coats metal objects, stably, with another metal more valuable than the starting metal). Pad dies were then applied where the lettering and indices were to remain. Then another galvanic bath was applied to give the black, then removing the pads: this is why the lettering and all the gilt details on the gilt dials all look sunken in. Finally, as a last procedure, treatment with gloss varnish took place to apply the luminescent material to the markers.  

To the eye, the final result is extremely pleasing, as well as of a depth and effect that difficultly even today's dials can achieve. The total brilliance of the "zapon" (the glossy finish varnish), juxtaposed with the detachment of the almost etched gilded lettering and the relief of the hour markers treated with copious doses of tritium, at certain angles of light, creates like a magical and extremely raffined effect, which especially when juxtaposed with the patina that time has created on the surface, gives the collector, and not only him, a unique thrill of great impact!

In addition, the Rolex GMT Master 6542 production '55-'59 is characterized by having been produced with 3 dials with red lettering, with very few examples around, perhaps two or three with double red letter ing indicating depth and eight, perhaps ten always with a single red lettering. Among other things, a dispute has been going on for some time among various connoisseurs and/or collectors, that is, whether in these dials the "GMT Master" inscription, which today appears pink on some rare examples, was pink ab origine or a mere color effect due to the usual external agents that have turned or discolored the originally red inscription with time. 

It is difficult to determine who is right between the two sides, but at least one fact is as certain as ever and we will never stop reminding ourselves of it: the value of the watch increases if the specimen in question turns out to have particular characteristics, different from the standard production of the parent company, whether they are deliberately produced by the manufacturer itself or induced by external agents or factors!

For the very first test production in '55, 4 standard dials were thus produced without red lettering but with the lettering standing out thanks to the machining gilt, for watches that would later be used on a large production scale from '56 to '59. 

La maggior parte dei Rolex GMT Master 6542 hanno poi ad ore 6 del quadrante la scritta “swiss”. Esistono però anche esemplari (la versione ad esempio mk2), con la scritta “swiss-T<25” proprio per certificarne la quantità di trizio accettata per legge in quel periodo. Infine, e come per tutte le referenze dal pedigree nobile, ci sono poi diverse deviazioni e particolarità che rendono il Rolex GMT Master 6542 fortemente attrattivo.  

As always, we are now going to take a detailed look at this fantastic Rolex GMT Master 6542 bakelite that Gioielleria Bonanno wants to present to its audience, another decidedly fine specimen, with obvious but not disfiguring levels of fading on the bezel testifying to the fact that this watch has its own experience behind it and therefore a high value!

The Fund.

Being produced in '56, the Rolex GMT Master 6542 bakelite case is made of steel whose diameter is 39mm. It consists of three Oyster-type bodies, thus water-resistant to a depth of 50m-165ft, equipped with a rotating bakelite bezel (or bezel) which we will discuss later and thus also characterizes its header. Finally, the case does not have protective shoulders at the crown, a factor that will be introduced by Rolex in future examples.

The Quadrant.

The dial of this Rolex GMT Master 6542 bakelite is a showy glossy black(glossy) with matte tritium luminous indices that enhance the color contrast. The minute markers are joined to form a continuous minute ring, and while on the very first examples, as remarked earlier, the depth is displayed at 6 o'clock in red above the model name, on this Rolex GMT Master 6542 bakelite example it is displayed in lettering gilt, complete with anOfficially Certified Chronometr (OCC) certificate. The date window is classically located at 3 o'clock, and the date disc is magnified not by the standard glass, but by the Cyclope lens that magnifies the day indicated en red number (in early versions of this watch the Cyclope lens was offered as an option, then became standard). The hands are made of steel and tritium to be visible in the dark and are a classic Rolex, a Mercedes ball game, while the additional hand is red, equipped at the end with a small luminous triangle. The 24-hour hand makes a full revolution thanks to the very movement indicated earlier, designed and made for the purpose. 

The Lunette (or Ferrule).

In this Rolex GMT Master 6542 bakelite we have one of the great new features of the product, and that is a nickel-plated brass bezel (or bezel) with an original Rolex blue-red pepsi bakelite insert of the time calibrated with the 24-hour markers. The 24-hour markers themselves are engraved on the underside and filled with luminous material. The bezel made of bakelite (a very fragile plastic resin), although aesthetically pleasing, will be replaced in the future with a more durable aluminum insert after the various breakages of the same, and then turned into ceramic. Its fading, as anticipated earlier, is confirmation, however, of its ageing status and, more importantly, its ability to stand the test of time.

The Bottom.

The Caseback of this Rolex GMT Master 6542 bakelite is steel and screw-down, and on it are engraved the classic Rolex captions, with the addition of the words "Stainless steel" and, just below, precisely the number 6542 as well as the year of production "IV 56," thus indicating the period of April '56 as the date of production of this specimen.

The Crown.

The loading crown is in this Rolex GMT Master 6542 bakelite with the Rolex brand imprinted on the outer base, clearly visible and knurling at the edges for easier gripping of the crown.

The Movement (or Caliber).

It is one of the aspects that, along with the 24-hour hand and the bakelite bezel characterizes this splendid example of the Rolex GMT Master 6542. Here is that the automatic movement, named 1030, consists of mechanisms that have as many as 25 jewels in them.

The Bracelet.

The bracelet of this Rolex GMT Master 6542 bakelite is a stainless steel riveted expandable Rolex Oyster, with finials of the same stamped 65, maximum length 205 mm. The clasp or buckle is a stainless steel deployant stamped 2.59.

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