Rolex Side-by-Side: GMT Master II vs. Submariner

Rolex Side-by-Side: GMT Master II vs. Submariner

Rolex has pioneered the development of tool watches since its early years, specifically within the fields of diving and flying. When intercontinental travel became more accessible and widespread, Rolex created the GMT Master for pilots flying through multiple time zones. Rolex engineered the Submariner during the worldwide popularization of sea exploration and diving.

The original GMT Master and Submariner debuted in the early 1950’s. Since then, both of these models have become icons and staples of the Rolex brand, serving both as functional tool watches and fashionable watches for everyday wear. But in the 1980’s, Rolex made a significant update to the original GMT Master, and the GMT Master II was born. Let’s see how this newer edition of the classic pilot watch measures up to its steadfast dive counterpart, the Submariner.

An image of a GMT Master II "Batman" next to a black dial Submariner

The Submariner

The first Submariner models were released in 1953 with the ref. 6204, and soon after, ref 6205. It was a less-sporty dive watch, which quickly set it apart from its other counterparts. It still maintained all the standard dive watch functions, like 100 meters of water resistance, luminous markers, and a unidirectional rotating bezel. However, it was designed with a dressier aesthetic that could more seamlessly transition from sea to land.

An image of a Rolex Submariner with a black dial and sitting on a piece of marble

Part of the charm of the Submariner is in its design, which has been modified only slightly since its inception. In the early 1960’s, the Ref. 5512 was introduced with two key adjustments—an oversized crown and crown guards—both of which are now standard features for the model. And in the late 1960’s, the Ref. 1680 helped to solidify the Submariner as both a dress watch and tool watch with the addition of a date function and cyclops magnifier.

Although the Submariner has remained largely unchanged, there have been some special edition models released along the way. 2003 marked the 50th anniversary of the model, and Rolex celebrated with the debut of the Ref. 16610 LV, a Submariner Date with a unique green bezel and maxi dial.

The GMT Master II

While the original GMT Master was introduced around the same time as the Submariner, the GMT Master II didn’t debut 1983 with the Ref 16760. The GMT Master II includes several key updates. It features a 24-hour hand that allows the wearer to read three different time zones. It also contains a brand new movement with an independent quickset hour hand that adjusts to the local time without disrupting the second hand, minute hand, or 24-hour GMT hand. Finally, the GMT Master II is equipped with an extra thick case and large crown guards for which the model has been affectionately nicknamed the “Fat Lady.”

A Rolex GMT Master II with a red and black dial

Over the years, Rolex has continued to modify the design the design of the GMT Master II. The slimmer Ref. 16710 was introduced just five years after the original model was released. Then, in 2007, the GMT Master II received a complete redesign with the Ref 116710. It features a Triplock crown, an anti-reflective cyclops lens, and a green 24-hour hand. It also has a maxi dial, a ceramic bezel, a new bracelet and movement, and a Rolex engraving on the inner bezel ring.

Comparing and Contrasting the Submariner and GMT Master II

Although the Submariner and GMT Master II have historically been quite different watches, as the Submariner has received a few modern updates and the GMT Master II has evolved, they’ve become more and more similar. For example, two of the latest models, the Submariner Ref. 116610 and the GMT Master II Ref. 116710, share more common features than ever before.

Both models feature a 40mm “super case.” This “super case” has thicker lugs and crown guards. Also, both models have a Triplock winding crown. This is a feature that has been standard on Submariner models for years, but is a new addition to the GMT Master II. Finally, both models are stainless steel with Oyster bracelets and 48-hour power reserves.

Despite the similarities, there are still a couple of key differences between the latest variations of the Submariner and GMT Master II. Each watch has a unique bezel design. The Submariner features a 60-minute scale for use as a dive timer. The GMT Master II features a 24-hour scale for use in conjunction with the GMT hand. The most significant difference between the two models is the movement. The GMT Master II has a fourth GMT hand to display the additional time zone. Therefore, it requires a different movement than a more traditional three-hand watch. The Submariner Ref. 116610 features a caliber 3135 movement, and the GMT Master II Ref. 116710 features a caliber 3186 movement.

A GMT Master II in black and blue

So How to Choose?

Since their inception, the Submariner and GMT Master II have appealed to two distinct groups of wearers. However, the design of the more recent GMT Master II models more closely mirror the longstanding design of the Submariner. Now the two models are more aesthetically similar than ever. If you have to decide between the two, it all comes down to a few functional differences.

Written by

Caitlyn is the founder of Grey Ghost, a New York City-based boutique content marketing agency with a passion for artists, entrepreneurs, small businesses, and startups. She believes in quality over quantity, creative thinking, and, above all, using language as powerful tool to build lasting connections.

Latest comment
  • I’ve had my GMT Master II since my wife gave it to me in 1989. The face of the rotating bezel is scratched and the bend needs help as it is worn. I recently had the watch appraised at $12,000 for new insurance. I was pretty happy with that.

    Goes to show that Rolex really does increase in value..