Significant watches through time #6 The Rolex 16760 GMT Master II ‘Sofia Loren’

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Sometimes in the process of developing a new model of watch, Rolex have been unable or unwilling to change everything at once.

A great example of this is the 1989 168000 Submariner which was produced as a kind of experimental model using 904L stainless steel for the first time – the watch is exactly the same as its predecessor the 16800, it’s just made from slightly different metal.

One of the best known and most loved ‘transitional models’ among Rolex enthusiasts and collectors is the first model of GMT Master II – the 16760.

First produced in 1983 this watch was originally designed to run alongside the more basic 16750 GMT Master and was the first Rolex watch to feature three simultaneous time zones through the use of an independently adjustable GMT hand AND a rotating bezel.

Of course all of this extra complication takes up extra room and the movement of the new watch was deeper than the movement of the old and wouldn’t fit in the existing GMT case.

Rolex were pretty sure that they could make the new movement fit into a standard case before too long so rather than creating a new case for the watch, they used the existing case for the 1655 Sea Dweller.  This creates a watch that was the same diameter as a GMT Master but was 2mm deeper creating a more curvy and voluptuous profile that soon attracted one of the Rolex fans famous nicknames – actually in this case, two nicknames.

The nickname ‘Fat Lady’ always seems a little unkind to me and I’ve always preferred the more sensual – “Sofia Loren”.

The 16760 also had extra large crown guards and was only available in the brand new colour scheme of ‘RONR’ – Red and Black, soon to become known as the ‘Coke’ bezel.  It was also the first GMT Master to feature a sapphire crystal as opposed to plexiglass AND the first with white gold surrounds to the hour markers.  This watch was something of a departure from the norm.

A transitional model in a curvy case that was only produced for six years would have been enough in itself to get collectors hearts racing but there was a twist…

For some reason, most batches of 16760 dials had some kind of inherent fault which caused them to degrade in varying degrees from ‘mottling’ (so called ‘Starburst’ dials) through to full on crazing (‘Spider’ dials).

While 30 years later, many sellers seek to make a feature of these basically faulty components, Rolex didn’t tolerate them so somewhere around 50% of all of these dials have subsequently been replaced by Rolex at service.  About another 25 – 30% of the remaining original dials are displaying varying degrees of their inherent faults (see the photos in the gallery above)

What this means for the true collector is that anyone with an original tritium dialled Sofia Loren that hasn’t mottled badly or crazed has got something very rare and a bit special – this rarity is reflected in the prices that such watches are commanding.

All in all a beautiful, unusual and rare piece, ladies and gentlemen I give you the Rolex 16760 GMT Master II Sofia Loren

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