Does the new left-handed Rolex GMT-Master II look right to you?

Trust Rolex, in its first year at Geneva's Watches & Wonders, to steal the show with something as simple yet divisive as a crown and date — on the left…

Chances are, as an avid Gentleman’s Journal reader, you’re fluent enough in watch jargon to bluff your way through a pub conversation about chronographs or chronometers (if not, then we clearly need to try harder). But even this correspondent was new to the word ‘destro’ when Rolex released something truly unexpected last week at Geneva’s Watches & Wonders.

Apparently, ‘destro’ means ‘right-handed’. Or, true in horological parlance, ‘right-wristed’. But what immediately got my back up about Rolex’s new release — the southpaw-friendly, green-and-black bezelled GMT-Master II — was everyone talking about how the crown had migrated from 3 to 9 o’clock in aid of left-handed brand enthusiasts. 

Because that’s not the most interesting part. The feature that really stole the show, and should be heralded as the most dramatic evolution of Switzerland’s most iconic travel watch is the date window — obviously. 

By moving the date to the left, along with its ‘Cyclops’ magnifying lens (and yes, yes — the crown), those who wear their Rolex on the right can read the date in spite of longer cuffs. If anything, the crown should remain on the right, as crowns as chunky as those on the GMT-Master II can dig into a vigorously flexed lower hand. It’s only when you remove it from your wrist to set things according to local time that ‘handedness’, rather than ‘wristedness’ comes into it. 

Ever since 1955 — when a boom in zone-hopping commercial jet travel kicked Rolex’s boffins into action — the screw-down crown had to be be unscrewed, then carefully pulled out to one of three positions to adjust the main hour hand in hourly jumps to ‘local’ time (while the fixed ‘GMT’ 24-hours hand points to the time back home, read from the day/night colour-coded bezel), before fine-tuning all three hours and minute hands with a separate crown position, then date if necessary. 

If you’re a lefty, a left-hand crown makes this process far more nimble. And that’s an option 10% of Pan-AM’s pilots would have found tremendously ‘handy’ back in 1956, when the GMT-Master II became standard issue.

But what of this new watch as a whole? Is it deserving of the huge hype — especially when last week’s Watches & Wonders trade fair, after three long years in the wilderness, unleashed so much pent-up brio from every other watchmaking quarter? 

In a word: probably. For a start, it’s the posterboy of Baselworld’s biggest brand, now conspicuously not exhibiting at Baselworld (along with fellow renegades Chopard and Patek Philippe, et al.). Secondly, while the word ‘icon’ is bandied about a little too much, the GMT-Master II really does qualify. 

So such a dramatic redesign, in combination with new colour scheme, requires as much mental rejigging as it does a timezone readjustment. For sheer ‘disconnect’ factor, it floored every long-in-the-tooth watch nerd. Add to that Rolex’s glacially iterative approach to progress — both technical and aesthetic — and what you have amounts to Ferrari announcing that their next supercar will have three wheels. Or cupholders.

Which brings me to my final point: the nickname.

The 1955 original’s blue (night hours) and red (day hours) 24-hour bezel configuration earned the instantly adopted and endlessly fun ‘Pepsi’ denomination. We’ve seen countless ’18:00-06:00/06:00-18:00’ colour combos since — and each has been slapped with its own respective moniker: 1970’s lurid ‘Root Beer’ combo of brown and yellow; 1982’s red-and-black ‘Coca-Cola; the ‘Batman’ of 2013, framed by a seamless monobloc duotone of blue and black ceramic.

As for 2022’s green and black? Some less-than-inspired individuals have already dubbed it the ‘Sprite’ — clinging to that cloying fizzy drink theme. But I’m going for a yuletide metaphor, throwing in a time pun for good measure and christening this revolutionary Rolex the ‘After Eight’. Let’s hope it sticks. 

Want more watches? Breitling celebrates 70 years of its iconic pilot watch with 14 new Navitimers…

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