Buying, Selling, & Collecting | The Rolex Batman: To Sell Or Not To Sell?
I bought my GMT-Master II to wear it. Then it skyrocketed in value, and set off an existential debate.
Before I was a writer for HODINKEE, I was a reader of HODINKEE. The site accounted for most of my time online – ask my wife, or my internet service provider, and they’ll confirm. As many readers surely remember, in September of 2013 the first episode of Talking Watches hit the ‘net, with John Mayer as its debut guest. He and Ben Clymer, throwing down watches on the bar at a French bistro – what more could I ask for?
As a watch enthusiast, what struck me was their laissez-faire attitude about the hobby – and I mean that as a positive. These were Mayer’s watches, and he wore all of them for very particular occasions. Out of everything in his collection, one watch stood out to me: The Rolex GMT-Master II 116710BLNR (or as Mayer called it, the “Blue Black”).
The year 2013 was a simpler time – a time before watch flipping became a cottage industry, and a time before modern Rolex nicknames had entered the horological zeitgeist. The nuances of modern watch collecting hadn’t fully caught on yet, as evidenced by this amazing description of Mayer’s GMT in the Talking Watch article: “A simple modern watch with travel time functionality that he can easily wear on stage.” Imagine a modern Rolex being described that way today! But that’s all that needed to be said back then, and it was enough to hook me.
I took a trip to Paris the following year and made sure to hit all the marquee watch shops. The goal? To see one of these blue-black GMT’s in the metal. It was a fairly new piece at the time, and so finding it wasn’t easy, but it also wasn’t the impossibility it is today. I went from store to store, with no luck, until the final day of the trip when one glassy boutique had an example in stock. I remember holding it in my hand, and thinking such profound thoughts as: “Wow, this is really heavy and really shiny.”
I loved it and decided to make it mine. And so I began to save.
Over the next two years, I put aside a couple hundred dollars per month from my un-lucrative job helping students secure media internships – a sum then accelerated by a timely bonus. I also used the time to stew about this massive purchase. To make sure that I was sure.
I don’t buy watches to sell them later. These are literal lifetime decisions – my version of tattoos. I remember having a spell of indecision until I walked into a local AD just outside of Washington D.C. that happened to have just gotten one in the store. The sales representative pulled it from the safe, and said to me “This is The Batman.” That was the first I’d heard of the nickname, but this particular sales rep had an imposing presence and an arresting voice. I might as well have been buying a watch from Christian Bale.
I didn’t buy the watch that day (it was already spoken for), but I’d made up my mind. Now I just had to find my own.
I have family in Pittsburgh and knew of a local AD in town. I called in advance to ask about the watch “Do you have it in stock?” I asked. “Oh, The Bruiser?” replied the store owner. (How many nicknames did this thing have?) He told me he didn’t have one in stock, but he could get one within two days. This was 2016, just before the market exploded.
I took a little road trip with my father to pick up the watch. We each bought one that day, which made both purchases extra special. His was a blue dial Datejust 41 – similar to what we now call “The Biden.” When we arrived at the store, The Bruiser was waiting on the counter for me with a price tag around $8,000. After we left, I remember looking at my wrist and feeling a sense of finality – as if this would be the only watch I’d ever need for the rest of my life.
Naive? Yeah, probably. But for almost two years, I wore that watch and that watch only. I actually stopped reading about watches for a while. My thirst had been slaked.
I did, however, become aware of the Rolex market at large. I began to hear stories of customers unable to track down a single steel sports watch. I heard legends of empty counters in watch shops. It was all bizarre to me. I also began to see the rising prices on the secondary market, but still managed to block that stuff out of my mind.
Then something happened. In 2019, Rolex announced a new version of my watch. It looked pretty much the same only now it was fitted to a Jubilee bracelet. Inside ticked a new movement which was sign-posted by a Rolex coronet on the dial between SWISS and MADE. Allegedly, the case design was tweaked (just a hair) to accommodate the new bracelet and to keep clients from swapping out the Jubilee for an Oyster bracelet or vice versa.
On that day, my watch met the fate that everyone’s does at some point: It was discontinued. But why should that have mattered to me? I owned the watch.
Well, it mattered because those secondary market numbers became un-ignorable. When I bought the watch, I actually traded in a Chopard Mille Miglia, which brought my out-pocket-cost to $6,500. In the meantime, the value of my new Rolex had increased to more than double that. These were bonkers numbers.
The watch that once seemed like a lifelong companion now looked ever so slightly fungible. I kept thinking about how much better my bank account would look if the value of the watch was made liquid. Or I devised two- to three-watch collections I could purchase using this watch as a trade chip. What about vintage pieces? Those that seemed unattainable to me at one point now felt within reach.
I began consuming watch content again, reading HODINKEE, and dreaming of my next acquisition. I wore the Batman less. It felt strange walking around wearing something so expensive. But every time I thought about selling it, I would look at it and remember the experience of buying it with my dad. There was that, and the fact that I still just loved it – pretty much every aspect of it.
The blue-black color scheme is what drew me to the watch in the first place. I have a passion for the Rolex Submariner, and this watch represented an evolution in my taste. It was familiar, but also a bit more of a statement. I’ve always loved the Pepsi GMT from afar, but the red and blue just felt a bit too loud for me.
I also really appreciated what the modern GMT-Master II represented in the contemporary Rolex lineup. It was something of a test-case of a watch, the first Rolex to get the maxi-case treatment, and the first to feature a ceramic bezel. In the process, it went from timeless mainstay, to one of the most – if not the most – modern watches in the Rolex stable.
With the blue and black bezel, Rolex had effectively created a brand-new watch. Rumor had it that the colors were more a product of experimentation than they were a purposeful choice. It’s become a common trope in watches to hear how difficult it is to make ceramic in different colors. In this case, the red color was proving impossible to create, and a bicolor red and blue was even harder. Rolex just couldn’t do it – at least not yet.
The result was the 116710BLNR blue-black, a color scheme which actually makes more sense than the Pepsi configuration. The blue half of the bezel represents the daylight hours (blue sky) and the black represents the nighttime (black sky). I like things that make sense.
All of these factors – including the oh-so-comfortable Oyster bracelet (even the polished center links have grown on me over the years) – reminded me why I couldn’t let this watch go despite the dollar signs in my eyes.
On July 4th, 2019 – shortly after the announcement of the new Batman (no, not Ben Affleck), my wife and I celebrated our wedding in Poland with family that couldn’t attend our ceremony stateside. On my wrist for that night (and the entire trip) was my GMT-Master II. I was defiant in my resolution to keep this watch, even if it somehow managed to rise to a value of a million dollars (though I am sure my wife would have something to say about that). I was building real memories with the watch.
Soon it was time for me to start my new job – my new career – with HODINKEE. I arrived in March of 2020, during the week that New York (and the world) shut down. But during my brief time in the office, I sat down at my desk and began writing my first story with the Batman on my wrist. I remember Cole Pennington asking to try it on and giving me the seal of approval after seeing all the scratches I put on the case and bracelet. “You really wear this thing” he said. “That’s why I bought it,” I responded. And it was true.
The whole story kind of came full circle this past April when Rolex announced its slate of novelties – anchored by a two-tone Rolex Explorer. Among them, to little fanfare, was an update to the GMT-Master II line. The Oyster bracelet had returned. It basically looked like my watch in every way. Resurrecting a dead watch was a very un-Rolex move, but it happened. I remember wondering if the value of my watch would decline as a result.
That idea hung in my head for a few days. I had gotten used to its appreciation over the years. I had gotten used to owning a watch that would never be produced again. On the other hand, a decrease in value would give me what I always wanted: A watch without guilt – without second guessing.
As of today, the 116710BLNR value is still going strong. Crown & Caliber has multiple models listed at more than $18,000, and frankly, I still don’t know how to feel about it. I do know that my Batman/Bruiser/Blue-Black GMT Master II on its scratched-up Oyster bracelet is a watch that reminds me of my family, and of starting a dream job. It’s a watch I’ll never sell. You can hold me to it.
Photography: Kasia Milton