If, like me, you’re old enough to remember when “Tu-Tone” was an acceptable ad-copy variation on two-tone, the idea of a gold and steel watch can seem a little challenging. A gold and steel Datejust carried with it a little bit of a stigma in quote serious unquote watch circles for a while; there was a persistent notion that such a watch would be most likely to be worn by someone who wanted something a bit flashy but couldn’t afford the upcharge for a solid gold watch – a wannabe, to put it uncharitably. With the passage of time, however, there has been an increasing appreciation for the unique charms of a mixture of one of the most practical of metals with one of the most precious, and two-tone watches are making something of a comeback both in vintage collecting circles, and in the collections of modern watch brands. Rolex has long embraced the two-tone watch as an independent design statement – after all, this is the company that coined its own in-house term for two-tone watches all the way back in the 1930s (Rolesor).
The two new pure metal versions of the GMT Master II this year met with a lot of interest, because both were firsts – the new Pepsi is the first red-and-blue bezel GMT Master II in stainless steel, and the new Everose model represents the first use of that metal in a GMT Master II as well. A little less talked-about has been the two-tone model, in “Oystersteel and Everose Gold” (Rolex refers to this combination as Everose Rolesor; I like to imagine The Powers That Be at the Crown probably thought about “Everolesor” at some point and then, being a fundamentally sensible company, decided not to push it).
As with the pure Everose model, the Oystersteel and Everose Gold version (reference 126711CHNR) is equipped with a new version of the GMT II movement. This is the caliber 3285, which benefits from Rolex’s new Chronergy escapement. The Chronergy escapement has an improved geometry over the traditional Swiss lever, offering better efficiency (the power reserve gets a bump to 70 hours, over the 48 hour power reserve of its predecessor, the caliber 3186) and has a Parachrom balance spring – this is a niobium alloy spiral that offers better protection than standard Nivarox-type balance springs, against magnetism.
The implementation of silicon balance springs across a wide range of price points and models throughout the watch industry has made watches with excellent resistance to magnetism much more common and Rolex actually has its own in-house silicon balance spring, but interestingly they’ve remained committed in general to Parachrom (the Syloxi balance spring is currently found only in the caliber 2236, which is deployed in the Lady Datejust).
Sharp-eyed GMT Master II watchers have noticed that there is a small Rolex coronet between “Swiss” and “Made” at 6:00 – this is a visual indicator that this is a GMT Master II model using the caliber 3285, rather than the older 3186.
Despite the fact that the Cerachrom bezel GMT Master II watches have larger crown guards than the last anodized aluminum bezel models, which gives an impression of a more massive case (as does the Cerachrom bezel) it’s the same diameter as those much-loved older GMT Masters: 40mm. I would certainly not want the case to be so much as a gnat’s whisker bigger, but modern Rolex sports watches remain in general very comfortable and easy to wear and this reference is no exception. This is helped, of course by the excellent bracelet, with its supple-but-robust links; and augmented by the Easylink adjustment system, which gives you 5mm of leeway to quickly adjust the fit.
The brown and black bezel is the most visibly and obviously dramatic new update. Thanks to the ceramic material the appearance of the bezel can change pretty dramatically depending on how the light hits it. Under certain conditions, the brown and black can seem to blend into each other and become relatively hard to distinguish, but change the angle, and the colors suddenly become deeply saturated, with the demarcation between the two crisp and easily visible.
The first appearance of a two tone GMT Master was in the early 1960s, when the reference 16753 was released. These two tone brown dial models, with their brown or brown and cream inserts, and gold bezels, eventually came to be nicknamed “Root Beer” GMTs. Some folks seem to feel that calling these new models “Root Beer” GMTs is a bit of a stretch, on the argument that a bit of brown in the bezel doth not a Root Beer make, but as the term is an informal coinage from the collector community and not one used by Rolex in any of its descriptions, I suppose one can do with the term what one likes (after all that’s how we ended up with “tropical” dials and “ghost” bezels).
Now, both the full Everose version and the Oystersteel and Everose model are extremely striking watches and in general, I’d usually prefer a full gold Rolex anything to the half-and-half pleasures of Rolesor, but I feel a sneaking admiration for the gold and steel model. It’s impossible to tell just how much one’s reaction to a modern version of a vintage model is influenced by nostalgia, but I’m pretty sure that at least to some degree I’m looking at the new watch through Everose-tinted glasses. But maybe not to an excessive degree. This is after all pretty far from a copy-paste of a bona fide Root Beer – the dial isn’t brown; the bezel is one you’ll find on no vintage Root Beer model, and moreover the vintage Root Beer GMT watches were yellow gold and steel, not Everose and steel. The combination of steel and Everose seems to give the bezel a bit more pop than in the straight Everose model as well, and it feels as if it connects the dots between what we respect about newer Rolex watches technically, and love about vintage Rolex watches aesthetically, more directly than the pure Everose model.
One of the fun things about wearing a watch is that watches support Walter Mitty fantasies – they give you the chance to experience yourself as you would like others to experience you. The dreams that go along with any solid gold Rolex are most enticing, but gold and steel Rolex watches seem to support both a wider, and perhaps more accessible, slightly more Everyman fantasy life. With a solid gold Rolex you feel yourself a slightly merciless man’s man, broadcasting a willingness, if not the actual intention, to crush your enemies and make their riches your own. A solid gold Rolex, in other words, whatever else it says, does not broadcast “here comes Mr. Nice Guy.”
There is however a disarming, one-of-the-fellas quality to a gold and steel Rolex; sure, you’re doing well, and you like closing a deal as much as the next fellow, but at the end of the day, you’re just happy to have won the monthly sales contest at the car dealership and head home to your split-level in Morristown to throw a few burgers on the Weber. I wouldn’t want to go over the line between Walter Mitty and Will Loman, but if affably well-off upstanding citizen is more your vibe than ruthless caporegime, this might be the Rolex for you. (I still want a 36mm yellow gold Day-Date, though).
In Oystersteel and Everose gold, $14,050; more at Rolex.com.