Review: Rolex GMT-Master II CHNR
At Baselworld earlier this year, Rolex finally put us out of our misery by releasing a stainless steel version of the ceramic red and blue GMT-Master II, a colour combination previously only available on the white gold 116719BLRO for a rather expensive £25,600. But now that flagship model has been watered down into a stainless steel watch for the masses, how will Rolex differentiate the most expensive GMT-Masters from the rest?
Okay, so it’s not all over for the white gold BLRO; Rolex has seen fit to furnish it with a dark blue-purple dial—the same colour as the blue section of the bezel—to make it stand apart from its lesser stainless steel sibling—but is that really enough? Apparently not, because Rolex didn’t stop there.
You may remember Baselworld 2015, when Rolex took the previously unloved Yacht-Master and gave it a fresh new look in rose gold, ceramic and rubber. Sounds like a terrible combination, smart and dressy mixed with sporty and casual, but lo-and-behold, it actually worked. The Yacht-Master 116655 was a hit, especially for a higher-priced gold watch, a complete turnaround on before.
Where earlier Yacht-Masters leaned more heavily towards smart and shiny, the 116655 added enough sportiness to get the blend just right. But it’s not the first time Rolex has pulled this trick, and its back to the GMT-Master we go to find out more; way back, in fact, back to the 1950s, to the precious metal variant of the 1675 known as the ‘root beer’.
This was the first generation of GMT-Master with the anodised aluminium bezel, a utilitarian watch built for precision and reliability more than luxury. But that didn’t stop Rolex having a go at dressing it up as such, adding a splash of gold and a whole new brown colour scheme to stand it apart.
Even the dial got a dressing up, the printed markers given gold surrounds and the hands fashioned from gold as well. Some later variants even received a golden-brown sunburst dial to complete the look. It made for an unusual yet striking appearance, one that has earned something of a cult following—and now we’re seeing it again, here, with the new 126715CHNR.
Given the technical difficulties Rolex has faced getting a single piece ceramic blue and red bezel—the blue, which has a hint of red, is applied over the red, which has a hint of blue—the original ‘root beer’ colours of brown and gold probably aren’t possible, so here instead we’ve got a combination of brown and black. CHNR, chocolate and noir. Sounds like a Milk Tray advert.
The watch itself is available, like the original, in gold or steel and gold, and is priced at £26,950 and £10,350 respectively. Where the cheaper model gets flourishes of gold in the centre links, crown, bezel, hands and dial, the more expensive 126715CHNR doesn’t have a drop of steel to be seen, the full rose gold case and bracelet providing a complementary backdrop to the brown and black colouration.
And it’s not just the appearance that’s new; the trusty calibre 3186 has morphed into the 3285, another evolutionary step in this movement’s 60-year history. Rolex claims to have filed 10 new patents in the creation of the 3285, some of which can be attributed to the Chronergy escapement, which uses skeletonised, anti-magnetic nickel-phosphorus components to reduce mass and increase efficiency.
Combined with a larger mainspring barrel, achievable thanks to the movement being larger overall, the power reserve has been upped to a healthy 70 hours—enough, Rolex says, to take the watch off on Friday evening and it still be running come Monday morning. The blue Parachrom hairspring, which first debuted in the Daytona’s calibre 4130 back in 2000, makes an appearance here, the antimagnetic niobium and zirconium alloy assisting the variable inertia balance wheel in achieving an accuracy of two seconds per day.
The overall package, much like the rejuvenated Yacht-Master, balances smart with casual in an almost uncanny way, while still maintaining its crown as the flagship GMT-Master II; it’s guaranteed to fly out of Marbella jewellers’ windows before the dust even has a chance to settle. And so, as pleasing as it is to see the red and blue bezel finally make it into the stainless steel collection, it’s this, this bold, unusual, quirky throwback, that should have really been the star of the show at Baselworld 2018.
This watch heralds an interesting time for Rolex. For a brand that relies so heavily on heritage, for a long while it has rigidly denounced it by ignoring its past and only looking forwards—but this shows a different side of the brand. Perhaps the success of Tudor’s vintage-inspired Heritage line has softened Rolex’s attitude; whatever the cause, it opens up some interesting ideas for the future, even for this: imagine it, chocolate and noir, brown sunburst dial, jubilee bracelet. Rolex, make it happen.
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