The Rolex GMT-Master II Ref 126711CHNR Root Beer is a polarising watch. You either love it. Or you don’t. There’s no sitting on the fence here. Its aesthetic is too distinctive. Too striking. Too, well…brown. Not to mention the fact that it’s also two-tone. The good news for the people who love it though? It’s a super cool watch. With a great backstory to match. Can it really be called a Root Beer GMT, though? That’s up to you to decide. Here is everything you need to know about the Rolex Root Beer GMT.
A (Very) Brief History Of The Root Beer GMT
The Rolex GMT-Master made its debut in 1954. Having already conquered the seas with the Submariner. And the mountains with the Explorer. It was only a matter of time before Rolex took over the skies too. After all, Intercontinental travel by commercial airline was starting to take off. (Pardon the pun). There were, as we know, already plenty of pilot watch options. But Pan-Am Airways needed a watch for its pilots that could display more than one time zone.
Rolex devised a simple yet elegant solution. The introduction of a fourth hand to the dial, which pointed to a 24-hour scale shown on a rotating bezel. Distinguishing the watch was its two-tone colour scheme; blue and red. A visual separation of the daytime from nighttime hours.
The first model was Ref 6542. It had no crown guards and featured a bakelite bezel. Although, within a couple of years Rolex changed the bakelite to aluminium. Reason being that the former cracked too easily. Pan-Am issued the GMT-Master to their crews on long-haul flights. And it soon became the official watch of several other airlines too.
Replacing the Ref 6542 in 1959 was the Ref 1675. Without question the best known of the vintage GMT-Masters. That’s due to its long production run, which came to an end in 1980. Included within this series is the solid gold GMT-Master 1675/8. And the two-tone GMT-Master 1675/3, both debuting in the early 1960s.
The 1675/3 is the first GMT-Master offered in yellow rolesor (steel and yellow gold). Two key variations were available. One with a black dial and black bezel. The other with a brown dial and brown bezel. The bezel of the latter would later become bicolour. Split between brown and a tan/cream colour. Which is where the Root Beer nickname comes from.
The soda coloured bezel isn’t the only defining characteristic of the Root Beer GMT though. In fact, this watch is so distinctive it has several nicknames. The deep lustre of the brown dial means it is sometimes referred to as Tiger Eye or Tiger Augen. Likewise, the conical shape of the gold hour markers inspired the name “nipple dial”.
My personal favourite though is “Clint Eastwood”. The GMT Master Ref 16753 (the evolution of the 1675/3) was Eastwood’s favourite Rolex. He was often seen wearing it, including in at least three of his movies. Firefox in 1982. Tightrope in 1984. And, In The Line of Fire in 1993. This hasn’t had the same effect as Paul Newman did on the Daytona. But still, it’s neat bit of trivia that gives vintage examples added appeal to collectors.
The Rolex GMT-Master II Ref 126711CHNR Root Beer
The Root Beer GMT disappeared from the Rolex catalogue for quite some time. Then in 2018 it made a return of sorts. Unveiled alongside the new Pepsi, Ref 126711CHNR became the unofficial Root Beer 2.0. It was a surprise move by Rolex. And many did not know what to make of it. A good-looking watch no doubt. But lacking several of the key characteristics of its predecessor.
In fact, many collectors argue that the Ref 126711CHNR is no Root Beer at all. It may share some of the original DNA. Have a passing resemblance even. But it’s not a remake of the original. Not that Rolex ever claimed it was. In any event, all the details of the new model are below. As always, have a read and make up your own mind.
Like the original Ref 1675/3, the new Ref 126711CHNR is bi-metal. Instead of yellow gold though, it features 18ct Everose gold. Introducing this proprietary material to the GMT-Master II collection for the first time. This is not a bad thing per se. Although not everyone is a fan of rose gold. But it does dampen somewhat that quirky 70s vibe the original Root Beer had going on.
The Oyster case is consistent with previous versions of the GMT-Master II. Such as the Ref 116710BLNR Batman. That means a 40mm diameter. And a thickness of 12.5mm. The design includes a monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown. All combining to give it a water resistance of 100m/300ft.
The Ref 126711CHNR features a rose gold bi-directional bezel. It’s fitted with a ceramic bezel insert. The colour scheme is not quite the same as the original though. Instead it’s black and brown. The moulded numerals and graduations coated with pink gold via PVD. The result is more muted and understated. It’s still eye-catching to some degree though.
This is the first time Rolex has produced this colour combination with its patented ceramic material. And the reviews have been mixed. Some complain the brown blends into the black in lower light conditions. That’s good for flying under the radar. But who buys a two-tone or solid gold watch to fly under the radar?
In many ways the dial of the Ref 126711CHNR was another source of disappointment for purists. It’s only available in black. No brown here, sorry. That shouldn’t come as a surprise to anyone though. Once Rolex perfects something, it tends to stick with it. Likewise, there are no nipple-shaped indexes.
Instead, what we have is a familiar maxi-dial. The hour markers are made from 18ct rose gold, as are the hands. This is at least in keeping with the original Ref 1675/3. Although it does mean the GMT hand stands out less than on other versions. So, a small compromise on legibility for the sake of nostalgia. Speaking of legibility, the dial features Rolex’s Chromalight display. This means long-lasting blue luminescence in low-light conditions.
As you may know already, the GMT-Master II collection uses two different bracelets. The steel models come on the Jubilee bracelet only. While the Rolesor and full gold models are on the Oyster bracelet. In the case of the Ref 126715CHNR, the centre links are in polished 18ct Everose gold. And the outer links are satin-finished stainless steel with polished edges.
The bracelet closes using an Oysterlock folding safety clasp. This clasp also incorporates Rolex’s Easylink 5 mm comfort extension link system. It’s one of the best metal bracelets on the market. That said, most collectors still associate the Root Beer with a Jubilee bracelet. Even though it was available on both at the time. Yet another subtle difference.
Inside the Ref 126711CHNR is the new-generation calibre 3285. Developed and manufactured in-house by Rolex. It features a Parachrom hairspring, offering good resistance to shocks and temperature variations. It also has a Chronergy escapement, offering a power reserve of 70 hours.
Like all Rolex Perpetual movements, the 3285 is certified as a chronometer by COSC. The movement has then undergone extra testing by Rolex after casing. This means a final precision of -2/+2 secs a day. To reflect this, it bears the title of Superlative Chronometer.
Price And Availability
The retail price of the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref 126711CHNR Root Beer is USD 14,050. These watches are not as sought after as their steel counterparts. That doesn’t mean there easy to find though. Expect to pay a 20% premium on the secondary market.
Is It The Root Beer 2.0?
I’m in two minds about this. The Ref 126711CHNR is the most outlandish model in the Rolex sports watch line-up. Its colour scheme is unusual to say the least. And it does channel some of the original Root Beer aesthetic.
On the other hand, the Ref 1675/3 is a quirky watch. The brown dial. The nipple-like hour markers. The strong 60s overtones. It’s Rolex taking a risk and saying convention be damned. And that’s why collectors love it.
For me, it doesn’t meet the requirements for the Root Beer moniker. But it’s the closest thing we’re going to get. Does that mean you shouldn’t buy a Ref 126711CHNR? I don’t think so. It’s a solid watch, destined to be a future classic. Prices aren’t too far past reasonable. Yet. At least not compared to the steel versions. And it stands out in a crowd.
You could certainly do worse, as my grandfather used to say.
Technical Specifications: Rolex GMT-Master II Ref 126711CHNR “Root Beer”
- Case: Oyster – 40 mm – Oystersteel and Everose gold – monobloc middle case, screw-down case back and winding crown – Bidirectional rotatable 24-hour graduated bezel. Two-colour brown and black Cerachrom insert in ceramic, engraved numerals and graduations – waterproof to 100 metres / 330 feet.
- Dial: Matt black – 18ct Everose gold hour markers – Chromalight display with longlasting blue luminescence on hour markers and hands.
- Movement: Calibre 3285 – bidirectional self-winding via Perpetual rotor – Parachrom hairspring – Chronenergy escapement – 70-hour power reserve – Centre hour, minute and seconds hands – 24-hour display – Second time zone with independent rapid-setting of the hour hand – Instantaneous date – Stop-seconds for precise time setting – Certified as superlative chronometer (-2/+2 sec/day, after casing).
- Price: USD 14,050.