It was easily one of the two most talked about new watches at Baselworld 2018. Finally, there is once again a Pepsi-bezel Rolex GMT-Master replica watch in steel. Here it was at long last: the Pepsi GMT in its purest form, in steel, as God and Hans Wilsdorf intended. The degree to which the watch evoked emotion among Rolex enthusiasts is understandable – the distinctive red and blue bezel has been the signature element of the GMT-Master ever since the release of the very first model, reference 6542, in 1955, although it’s not clear who was the first to call it a “Pepsi” bezel. It’s entirely possible, though, that someone made the connection in 1955; the Pepsi logo has gone through many changes since the soda was introduced as “Brad’s Drink” in 1893 but it’s incorporated red, white, and blue since 1950.
Now, there is nothing wrong with white gold, but of course a lot of folks feel that precious metal Rolex watches are a bit of a sideshow to Rolex watches as durable, accurate, and reliable technical watches, and a steel Pepsi GMT-Master II has been sorely missed. The new model is everything everyone’s been wishing for in a Pepsi GMT-Master, but of course, with some updates from the last aluminum-bezel version – some obvious, and some less immediately obvious.
We looked at the major differences between the last steel Pepsi and the new white gold model back in 2015, but it’s worth reviewing one more time in the context of the new steel model, especially as there are technical updates to the new steel Pepsi over the white gold version. First of all, of course the new model has the Cerachrom Pepsi bezel that debuted on the white gold model in 2014, which offers quite a bit technically vs. the aluminum bezel – it’s for all intents and purposes scratchproof, and the colors won’t fade over time.
It’s wider than the old bezel and doesn’t have its mid-20th century anachronistic charm – the anodized aluminum bezel, after all, has been around since 1959 – but as with most of the changes Rolex makes to existing models, it’s unquestionably a better choice from a technical materials standpoint.
However, even bigger news is that the new steel Pepsi uses the latest version of the GMT movement: caliber 3285, which replaces the cal. 3186 used in the last aluminum bezel version. The caliber 3285 uses the combination of the Chronergy escapement and Parachrom balance spring which was first rolled out in the Day-Date in 2015.
Of course, the other big difference between the new steel GMT-Master II and previous models – and one which will be for owners far more noticeable than the movement – is the Jubilee bracelet..
The Jubilee bracelet on a Pepsi-bezel GMT is the single most divisive element of the watch. Like all modern Rolex bracelets, it’s a beautifully engineered piece of gear, with best-in-class fit and finish. However, it’s also a bit more ornamental than an Oyster bracelet, and it would seem that the relative sobriety of the GMT-Master II ought to call for the more austere look of the Oyster. It’s not really a comfort issue – the Jubilee bracelet should theoretically offer better conformance to the shape of the wrist, thanks to the smaller links but as anyone who’s worn a modern Oyster bracelet will tell you, they take a back seat to no one in terms of ease of adjustment and general wearability. So why offer the steel Pepsi GMT II on a Jubilee bracelet only – and moreover, one that cannot be swapped out for an Oyster bracelet?
Now naturally people buy vintage Rolex for different reasons than modern and there is a certain depth of feeling, to put it mildly, about the scarcity of some modern Rolex watches. There is however a certain depth of feeling, increasingly, about the growing price/value ratio for vintage Rolex watches and if you want something that just works and looks good doing it, you can one-and-done more easily with modern Rolex than with an awful lot of other brands.
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