The Rolex Submariner vs. GMT-Master II: A Comparison of Two Classics

The Rolex Submariner vs. GMT-Master II: A Comparison of Two Classics

With such an eclectic array of collections to choose from, comparing the many different options of Rolex watches can be daunting and even overwhelming. Many points of consideration go into choosing your perfect timepiece, especially if looking for a watch that best fits the needs of a certain sport or activity in mind. We have taken the liberty of comparing two of the most popular sport watches of the Rolex watch collection - the Submariner and the GMT-Master. Both are highly coveted choices among watch enthusiasts for special reasons of their own, as they are both so unique to their particular genres and usages. As such, comparing the two is a little like comparing apples to oranges. Nonetheless, this article will provide a detailed breakdown of these two popular collections, comparing their history and origin, characteristic functions, aesthetic design, and other unique features that set each watch apart from the rest. 

Origin & History of the Submariner and GMT-Master II 

As suggestive of its name, the Submariner was originally created and specifically geared for the purpose of underwater diving and exploring. Unique features such as its waterproof ability, durability, and overall performance have continued to evolve since it first emerged in 1953. The launching of the Submariner represented a significant turning point in watchmaking, as it set an exciting new standard for divers’ watches and paved the way for other Rolex watches of this genre such as the Sea-Dweller and the Rolex Deepsea. The Submariner has since diversified to fit more versatile water activities like swimming and snorkeling, as well as a wide range of non-water sports and hobbies - thus increasing its versatility and popularity. 

Just as the Submariner was tailored to the avid divers’ experience, the Rolex GMT-Master collection was created with the needs of avid world travelers in mind - particularly the needs of international airline pilots. The GMT-Master was originally launched in 1955, at a time when intercontinental travel was rapidly evolving. It has since gained great status as the preferred watch for long-haul pilots, extremely practical for crossing the globe with its characteristic ability to display multiple time zones at once. It even became the official watch of Pan American World Airways (Pan Am), the most renowned American intercontinental airlines at the time. The collection further solidified Rolex’s credibility and status in the 1960's, when both British and French test pilots for Concorde, the first supersonic passenger aircraft, performed its final test flights while each wearing GMT-Master watches.

Functionality of the Rolex Submariner 

The evolving design of the Submariner collection has been “entirely dictated by the practical needs of divers”, only enhancing in its functionality with time. With the introduction of exciting new functions and enhanced style features over the years, the Submariner grew in appeal for mvintore than just the diving community, becoming a popular choice for divers and water enthusiasts alike. With a durable Oystersteel case, the Submariner’s waterproof capabilities have improved to now reach depths of up to 300 meters (1,000 feet) - making it the first diver’s watch that could safely submerge to such impressive depths. Its Triplock winding crown further solidifies the watch with a triple waterproof system. In addition to its waterproof ability, its robust case also ensures optimal protection from dust, pressure, and shocks while still allowing high-precision movement. Another key component of the watch is the rotatable bezel with its engraved 60-minute graduation that allows divers to keep track of diving time with ease and accuracy. In 1966, a notable new feature was introduced with the launching of the new and improved Submariner Date model - the first watch of the collection to include a date window (hence its name). This was a significant new development for the collection that increased its popularity even more.

Functionality of the Rolex GMT-Master II

Similarly, the GMT-Master collection features unique functions specially geared towards the needs of world travelers. Perhaps the most iconic feature of the GMT-Master collection is its ability to display multiple time zones, making it a highly practical tool for airline pilots, international business people, and travel enthusiasts alike. Distinguishing components of the watch include a second hour hand making a full rotation once a day, along with a bidirectional 24-hour bezel that, together, enable this unique and useful function. This revolutionized time telling while traveling, as wearers could now read their local time, as well as the time back home or elsewhere. As the first wristwatch with this capability, the GMT-Master quickly grew in popularity for its unique and practical usage while abroad. Almost three decades after the launch of the original model, the new and improved GMT-Master II further enhanced this characteristic function with the ability to read a third time zone simultaneously, making it an even bigger hit and “must have” for globetrotters from all walks of life. Also introduced with this newer model was the calibre 3285, a function that made it even easier for travelers to adjust their local time via the watch’s winding crown, without having to stop the watch or affect the other timezone display. 

Rolex GMT-Master II "Batman" and "Pepsi"

Aesthetics and design of the Submariner and GMT- Master II 

Aside from each collection’s unique functionality features, both the Submariner and GMT-Master possess characteristic looks that distinguish them from each other, as well as from other Rolex watches. Both collections come in different designs and color variations, giving wearers several options of personal styles to choose from. 

The Submariner has preserved its classic yet modern look over the years, maintaining a similar design with only subtle additions. One notable feature is its dial - with a Chromalight display of luminescent hour and minute hands and prominent hour markers -  which improves the visibility of the watch in the dark, making it essential for deep sea diving. Additionally, its hands and index markers are dusted with platinum gold, making the dial that much more luminous and eye-catching. The newer Submarine Date models include a date window paired with the Rolex-patented “Cyclops” feature, which magnifies the date window making it more visible and clear for the wearer. As required for all modern diving watches, the Submariner features a unidirectional rotating bezel made of Cerachrom ceramic, a durable scratch-resistant material that also protects its color from potential damage caused by sea water, chlorinated water, and ultraviolet rays. Additionally, its subtly redesigned Oyster case and bracelet add to both the aesthetics and the robustness of the watch. The Submariner collection features a variety of combinations of different color dials, bezel inserts, and hour and minute markers. Likewise, the Submariner comes with different bracelet options like stainless steel, 18ct gold, and the popular “bi-metal” bracelet containing both stainless steel and 18ct gold.

Rolex Two-Tone Submariner

Aesthetically, the GMT-Master II has a few notable similarities to the Submariner, as well as many distinctive differences. Unlike the Submariner, the GMT-Master’s evolution has included many improved functions and design aspects over the years. For instance, the newer GMT-Master II design includes an emblematic two-color Cerachrom ceramic bezel insert, making it instantly recognizable from other Rolex watches. The two-color bidirectional bezel is divided into two halves to easily decipher between daytime and nighttime hours. On the original 1955 model, the two halves were colored red (daylight) and blue (nighttime), landing it the nickname of the “Pepsi”. Since then, the bezel insert has become available in other color variations. One of the most popular models of the GMT-Master II collection is the Rolex GMT-Master II “Batman”, the black and blue bezel has grown to be iconic, a huge fan favorite of many, and even has a wait list going for it that goes on for years. The Rolex GMT-Master II “Coke” in black and red  and the all-black version, among several other options. While the bezel is available in different color options, the dial has remained consistently black with only a few variations. The GMT-Master II collection comes with two bracelet options - the 3-piece link Oyster and the 5-piece link Jubilee - both equipped with the Oysterlock safety clasp, compared to the Submariner that is only available with the Oyster bracelet. Its Cerachrom bezel insert contains the same scratch-proof and protective components as that of the Submariner, except it can be rotated two ways instead of just one.

Rolex GMT-Master II Batgirl

A comparison of the unique features, popularity, and exclusivity between the Submariner and GMT-Master II

The Submariner, which was created and tailored to the needs of diving and underwater exploration, over time it has become a versatile all-around watch of choice, proving to be equally at home out of the water. Even so, it still remains one of the most sought-after diving watches and was appropriately coined by Rolex as “the reference among divers’ watches”, as it truly set the standard for others of its genre. With its many unique functions tailored to usage in and around water, particularly its waterproof capabilities, the Submariner is definitely a better choice for those who are naturally drawn to the water. As with most vintage Rolex sports watches, older Submariner models are especially rare and highly coveted with very few pieces available on the market.

Accompanying airline pilots on their trips around the world for over 60 years, the GMT-Master has become an emblematic icon of world travel and has a truly historic and nostalgic allure, dating back to a time when world travel was evolving and growing in demand. Created originally as a navigation tool for pilots and other professionals crossing the globe, its most distinctive feature is its ability to tell time in multiple time zones simultaneously - two time zones with the original GMT-Master, and three time zones with the GMT-Master II. Its popularity has only increased over the years to globetrotters of all kinds, making it an ideal watch of choice for frequent travelers. Watches from this collection are a safe investment for collectors, as many of its models are very likely to appreciate in value with time. While the GMT-Master II still remains in production, the original GMT-Master was discontinued by Rolex in 1999, making it a rare and highly sought-after watch in the pre-owned market. Many would even go as far as finding ways to sell their watch to rally up enough cash to purchase these pricey models. 

As detailed above, both the Submariner and GMT-Master collections are special to their own particular genres and are both within a class of their own. Each has its own unique history, specific usages, and aesthetic appeal and, while seemingly incomparable, both have their own particular allure and are among Rolex’s most coveted watches for reasons of their own. While both watches originated with specific needs and functions in mind, they have each evolved to diversify their usage and popularity among watch collectors and enthusiasts from all walks of life.