One of the most popular pieces in the Rolex lineup is the GMT-Master II. When you see an old guy wearing the only watch he’s ever owned, chances are it’s a Pepsi or Coke GMT-Master – named for the red/blue or red/black bi-colored bezel inserts in those watches.
Now, the GMT-Master and GMT-Master II were also available with all-black bezels (and occasionally in other colors too) marked in 24 hour increments to go along with the 24 hour hand the watches feature.
But a single color can’t really represent day-night the way two colors can. So Rolex also equipped the GMTs with the bi-color bezels – one color representing day and another representing night. Those were the Pepsi and Coke bezels. The lesser known but still popular ‘Root Beer’ bezel in (gold and brown) joined the Coke and Pepsi and the three laid the groundwork for the more modern bezels we see today.
(A side note – the Root Beer is a favorite of Isaac Wingold, my co-writer here at Everest. It’s also favored by a guy named Clint Eastwood. He wore his personal Root Beer GMT-Master in several movies.)
Now it’s important to understand, all these bi-color bezels were printed. In other words, the color is applied. A glance at a vintage piece shows this. The ink/paint has often worn to the point of the color disappearing. Collectors love this, by the way – part of the patina of a vintage piece.
Now, I’m guessing here, because I really don’t know what was in Rolex’s head when they decided to make ceramic bezels, but I think it was to prevent said wear and keep those bezels shiny. Rolex’s proprietary ceramic, Cerachrom, first showed up on the redesigned GMT-Master II in 2007. That was the all-black version.
The bi-color blue-black “Batman” came along in 2013. By that time, collectors were clambering for a new Pepsi version. Rolex relented and showed one at Baselworld a year later, albeit only in white gold. (Can a Coke or Root Beer be far behind? Dare we ask for steel?)
And it’s this bi-color ceramic – more to the point, how it’s manufactured – that’s so interesting.
I won’t pretend to understand or explain the process of creating ceramic – and Rolex’s Cerachrom is proprietary anyway. But in the beginning of the bezel creation process, the Pepsi bezel is a soft fragile green ring. Yes, green. Said ring gets baked a bit and turns red in the process.
After baking – and turning red – the half of the bezel destined to be blue is chemically treated. The bezel is then sintered (heated under pressure), with the red half staying red and the treated half turning blue. And the line between the two is sharp and crisp and accurate.
And hard! No scratching or wear marks here.
Patina lovers will be disappointed but really, we’d expect nothing less from Rolex, would we?