Conquering the skies

The Oyster Perpetual GMT‑Master was launched in 1955, during the golden age of commercial aviation.

Society’s relationship with time and travel was evolving, with transatlantic flights enabling voyagers to cross the ocean without needing a stopover. Designed especially for airline pilots, the GMT-Master rapidly became the watch of choice for aviators and world travellers alike.

Four years after its launch, the GMT-Master played a starring role in an event that secured its reputation as a watch that connected people: the first non-stop Pan Am flight from New York to Moscow.

GMT-Master ad

Concorde test flights

When Concorde, the first supersonic passenger airliner, performed its final test flights in the 1960s, Rolex proudly announced that both the British and French test pilots wore GMT-Master watches, cementing the status of the GMT-Master in an era of supersonic flight.

X-15 Programme

Shooting stars

Scott Crossfield – the first test pilot to fly in excess of Mach 2, in 1951 – took part in the X-15 programme. An ambitious project, it began in 1956 and aimed to develop new-generation, more powerful engines that paved the way for the propulsion of the first space rockets. During testing, Crossfield made 14 test flights. In October 1962, he wrote to Rolex declaring his watch to have worked perfectly in temperatures ranging from –54 °C (–65 °F) to 75 °C (170 °F), as well as at altitudes of 76,000 metres (249,000 feet) simulated in a hyperbaric chamber and 28,000 metres (92,000 feet) in real flight conditions.

One of the programme’s test pilots went on to be known as the fastest man of all time by commentators of the era. On 3 October 1967, in the rocket-powered X-15, US Air Force lieutenant and engineer William J. Knight set the highest speed ever recorded, which is unequalled to this day: 7,274 kilometres (4,520 miles) per hour – Mach 6.7. On his wrist was a GMT-Master.

Today, the challenge is to keep the adventure of flight alive. Rolex watches are there to accompany those who endeavour to make this dream perpetual.

Jeana Yeager and Dick Rutan

Going further, for longer

Since the origins of aviation, humankind has always wanted to go faster, higher. But for some visionaries, there was another quest: one to go further, for longer. Sheila Scott was one of those people. In 1966, she became the first British woman to complete a solo round-the-world flight in a single-engine plane. She and her tiny aircraft returned having covered 50,000 kilometres (31,000 miles), flying 189 hours in 33 days. Scott was wearing a GMT-Master. She also set more than 100 long-distance solo flight records, one of which was for the longest non-stop flight – from London to Cape Town and back without landing.