When it comes to fizzy drinks, the Cola Wars rumble on – The Pepsi Challenge Vs The Real Thing. But for watches, no contest: the red-and-blue has been the clear winner since Rolex’s ref.6542 first saw the light of day in 1954. Although Rolex totally ‘owns’ the distinctive bi-colour bezel, its GMT-Master (now Master II) is not the only Pepsi game in town. And with that watch being so hard to get – current and vintage models all command massive premiums – it’s a good moment to consider other ways to get that Pepsi fix.
Tudor Black Bay GMT
Here we have the GMT-Master II’s little cousin: it comes from the ‘other branch’ of the Rolex empire and costs less than half the price (list price, obviously, not the absurd premiums now being asked). Its Pepsi-ness comes in more subdued tones than the Rolex: the blue is navy blue, the red has a burgundy cast and the anodised aluminium gives the bezel a more matt appearance. The dial is also matt, with a slightly grainy finish and the date is perfectly legible, without a Cyclops lens.
You get the key Black Bay design iconography: snowflake hands (for both minutes and second time zone), fine knurling on the bezel edge, strong lume that glows green in the dark, and an extra-large crown with the Tudor Rose emblem.
Plus: Calibre MT 5652 was developed from scratch for this model; it’s an integrated movement with a silicon hairspring, not a module added to an existing base. It’s offered with a choice of three straps. Real substance for the money.
Minus: Hard to think of any, unless the lack of the word ‘Rolex’ on the dial is a deal-breaker.
The basics: Steel case 41mm x 14.5mm; automatic calibre MT 5652 with 70-hour power reserve; choice of three straps: black fabric with a burgundy stripe, a ‘vintage-finish’ brown leather or a stainless steel bracelet.
Price: $4670 AUD on bracelet
TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 7 GMT
Pepsi and TAG Heuer go back a bit – the 1960s Autavia GMT sported the bicolour bezel – but this Aquaracer GMT, introduced as part of the refreshed line in 2017, is the first time we’ve seen it since then. With a shiny finish and shades of red and blue that are very close to true Pepsi colours, the aluminium bezel is 12-sided (a dodecagon to mathematicians and a lotsagon to me) with plenty of angles to catch the light. And there’s more to attract the eye: a mix of brushed and polished surfaces on the steel case, horizontal ribbing on the black dial, and flashes of red on the second hour hand and the ‘Calibre 7 GMT’ text. The elongated trapezoid hour markers and the baton hands are big, bold and very easy to read, and there’s a love-it-or-hate-it Cyclops lens over the date.
The movement, Calibre 7, is based on the reliable and accurate Sellita SW300 with a GMT module added. You can’t see it, though, because the Aquaracer case is built to diving watch specs, with a closed caseback and 300-metre water resistance – decorated with a diving helmet, for added emphasis. But there’s something a bit schizophrenic here: Aquaracer is a diving line and the GMT has many of the necessary attributes: massive water-resistance, an integrated crown guard, a rotating bezel, a diver’s extension under the folding clasp … but the bezel is bi-directional, and it lacks the 15-minute countdown markers that are essential for safety, as well as the knurling needed for grip. So really, it’s a GMT watch that would also be great for snorkelling, not scuba.
Plus: Eye-catching looks – including that nice mix of angles, polishing and brushing on the case; the beefy-as-hell water resistance.
Minus: The confusing message: not a dive watch but wearing dive watch clothes.
The basics: Steel case 43mm, steel bracelet; Calibre 7 automatic mechanical movement with 42-hour power reserve.
Price: $3400 AUD on bracelet
It’s amazing what the power of Pepsi and a shovel-load of nostalgia can do: within minutes (it seems) of Timex launching its reissued Q Timex, it was all over Instagram – on the wrists of people who claim to be proudly mechanical-only. Never say never. An almost exact replica of the original 1979 model, from the proud Q and Quartz emblazoned on the dial (quartz was the cool thing in the ’70s, remember, so it was worth saying it twice) to the domed acrylic glass and the battery hatch that you unscrew with a coin.
The few modern improvements are functional rather than stylistic – the construction of the “woven” steel bracelet, for instance, and the use of Seiko’s quartz calibre PC33 – so are impossible to detect just by looking. The rotating bezel is a real eye-catcher. If you’re still not sure where this watch is aimed, Timex’s cool James Bond-meets-Roy Lichtenstein promo video will tell you all you need to know.
Plus: It’s fun, it fits men’s and women’s wrists, you can wear it straight or with irony, and it costs peanuts.
Minus: It’s quartz. For those to whom it matters.
The basics: Steel case 38mm x 11.5mm with 50-metre water resistance; steel bracelet; Seiko calibre PC33 with about a bazllion days of power reserve.
Price: $179 USD
And finally, the granddaddy of them all:
Rolex Oyster Perpetual GMT-Master II REF.12670 BLRO
This watch has been reviewed so many times since it was launched at Baselworld 2018 that running through its many fine qualities again adds no real value here. Instead, here’s a quick run-down of its Pepsi history. Introduced in 1954 (ref.6542), it had a Bakelite bezel (replaced by aluminium in 1956 because of its brittleness) and no crown guards. Designed for pilots – the bi-colour bezel made it easy to distinguish day and night – it was adopted as the official watch by Pan Am, followed by other airlines. During its 5-year lifetime, the reference had a series of different movements.
Ref.1675 replaced the original, remaining in production until 1980 and offered on both Oyster and Jubilee bracelets. Over the years, a number of small design changes included the shape of the crown guards, fatness of bezel font and shape of the extra hour hand, but the main changes were internal, with a series of upgraded movements.
Replacing this, the reference 16750 – in production from 1980 to 1988 – introduced the calibre 3075, which featured an increased frequency of 28,000 vph and a quick-set date.
Then came the GMT-Master 16700 (1989–2001) and, alongside it, the 16710, which (like the ‘Fat Lady’ before it) made it possible to read a third time zone. Again, over the course of the production cycle, the main changes were to movements, not aesthetics. When Rolex introduced ceramic bezel inserts in 2007 (then able to produce them in single colours only), it marked the end of the 16710’s production run and the end of the Pepsi bezel. For a while.
In 2014 the red-blue colour scheme reappeared on the 116719 BLRO – on a ceramic bezel insert but in white gold, not steel … which leads us right up to date – and the ref.12670 BLRO in steel on a Jubilee bracelet.
Plus: It’s The Real Thing (and that doesn’t mean Coke).
Minus: Good luck getting one without paying 2x retail.
The basics: Steel case 40mm x 12.1mm with Cerachrom bezel; water-resistant to 100 metres; Calibre 3285 with 70-hour power reserve; steel Jubilee bracelet with Oysterlock clasp.
Price: MSRP $11,750 AUD