The Rolex GMT is a model shrouded in lore, aside from it being an icon of the modern Rolex offering, it has adorned the wrists of Pablo Picasso, Fidel Castro, Honor Blackman, Tom Selleck and Hunter S. Thompson to name just a few.
In 1953, Rolex was asked by Pan American Airlines and a European airline (there is some speculation as to which one), with the request to produce a watch for pilots that could display two time zones simultaneously. In 1954 the first GMT, reference 6542, was released, featuring a luminous Bakelite bezel with a 24-hour indication, black gloss dial with luminous hour markers and an additional red “GMT” hand with a luminous pointer.
It immediately became the official timepiece of Pan Am and became Rolex's first GMT-Master ever produced. Their pilots found the watch to be a useful tool in the cockpit where many timing calculations were necessary over the duration of a flight. In addition, the simple ability to know what time it was 'back home' was legible at a glance, with the watch's luminous Bakelite bezel.
The present watch was made in 1958 and belonged to Captain Clarence “Jooj” Warren Jr. and is being offered for sale by his family. Born in 1917, Warren was recruited by Pan Am straight out of the military and became a Captain with the airline at the young age of 25. Living in a small bubble of other Pan Am Pilots and employees in Ridgefield Connecticut, Clarence very much embodied the slick jet-setting airline captain, wearing a Rolex and driving a Porsche 356.
Warren was often requested by the White House, by name, to ferry the President, members of the cabinet and White House press to various locations. Such as in 1960 when he was asked to fly President Eisenhower to Hawaii for whom he had met and flown several times over the course of his career.
Earlier in 1959, when vice-president Nixon visited the Soviet Union; the White House requested Warren to pilot the non-stop New York to Moscow flight, which was considered a feat of passenger aviation, and the opportunity was not missed by the executives at Rolex. Speaking with the family of Capt. Warren they believe the watch was given to him ahead of the flight by Rolex, which he then “wore religiously” when flying. In any case, the present watch can be seen on his Warren’s wrist in the 1959 “Pan Am flies on Rolex time” advert and is still viewable as the banner on the Rolex website on their Conquering the Skies page. In addition, the watch is known and has been covered.
The reference 6542 has become a top-tier collector’s dream when preserved in original condition. Of the 605 pieces imported to the US, only a handful exist in noteworthy condition. Following a recall in the late 1950’s due to the radium used in the bezel, paired with the brittle nature of Bakelite and service centers polishing many cases further and further away from their factory proportions, few have survived in whole condition.
When a collector searches for a watch, they tend to look for one of three main attributes: rarity, provenance and condition. This present watch exhibits all three and is an incredibly rare opportunity to acquire a piece worthy of a museum collection.
Sotheby’s is proud to offer this historically important watch, fresh to market on behalf of the family of Captain Warren.