The Rolex Batman watch originates with the 2013 model of the GMT-Master II. The Rolex GMT-Master watch has been around since 1954, when it was designed in collaboration with Pan American Airways for use by professional pilots and navigators (the 'GMT' actually stands for 'Greenwich Mean Time'). Various models have been released over the years, but none have garnered quite as much popularity as the most recent Batman Rolex watches.
Understanding the significance of the Batman Rolex first requires understanding its origins in the GMT Master, which was designed for use by pilots during the aircraft boom of the 1950s. For this reason, one of the watch's defining features has always been its ability to tell the time in two different zones simultaneously. The first-ever Rolex GMT Master, ref. 6542, was released in 1956 and famously worn in the James Bond classic, Goldfinger.
A number of new models were released over the next few decades: the ref. 1675 released in 1959, which allowed customers to choose their watch in gold or steel alongside multiple choices of straps; and the ref. 16750, released in 1981, which featured the new Rolex engine calibre 3075. The first model to be named the GMT Master II, ref. 16760 in 1983, also known as 'the fat lady', came with numerous upgrades including a rotating bezel that could be used to track a third-time zone and an independent hour hand. Further updates to the GMT Master II were released in 2005 and 2007, before 2013 hailed the beginning of a new era.
The first Rolex Batman watch, released in 2013 and officially named the Rolex GMT-Master II, ref. 116710BLNR, was quickly given its nickname for the black and blue ceramic bezel around the watch dial, which was reminiscent of Batman's classic comic book colours. GMT-Master watches traditionally featured two-toned bezels to help pilots distinguish quickly between the day and night times of the watch's second time zone, but this was the first time Rolex had succeeded in creating a two-tone bezel from ceramic. This simple fact in itself has made the 2013 Batman Rolex a valuable item among collectors.
There was a lot to like about the 2013 Batman model. It was a return to form in many ways for Rolex, who had been unable for some years to capture the original look of the 1950s GMT-Master models, which sported a blue and red bezel that earned it the nickname Pepsi. The watch also held the proud title of being Rolex's only stainless steel model with a bi-coloured bezel for the next few years, due to the red and blue Pepsi GMT watch being transitioned away from stainless steel to 18k white gold that same year. This made the Batman virtually sought-after overnight.
In 2019, the latest incarnation of the Rolex Batman ref. 126710BLNR was unveiled at Baselworld. It sports a similar style to the original Rolex Batman with some subtle differences that, for the most part, only collectors will spot. The biggest change from the original Batman Rolex is the introduction of the five-link 904L stainless steel Jubilee bracelet, which has now become a standard across the brand. The new strap looks the part, though some traditionalists found this change a backwards step, seeing the original Oyster bracelet as a sportier look more in keeping with the style of the GMT-Master II's history.
Other feature upgrades to the 2019 model include the calibre 3285 movement engine, which includes Rolex's proprietary Chronergy escapement, a technology which means that energy reserves last a lot longer, among other things. The latest model also features Chromalight lume on its Maxi dial - a nice touch which means the watch dial can glow blue for up to eight hours at a time - and the ref. 116710BLNR's 40mm case has also be designed to feel thinner and sleeker on the wrist.
The original Rolex Batman has already become a popular collector's item and, because it saw a relatively short production run, waiting lists for the genuine artefact can often run from months to years in length. It was also the last stainless steel GMT-Master II equipped with an Oyster bracelet, making it in more ways than one a landmark model for the luxury watchmaker.
The price of Rolex Batman watches on the secondhand market has more than doubled since the watch was first released in 2013, and this rise in price looks set to continue as demand still consistently exceeds supply. While there's no doubt that the updated Rolex Batman watch released in 2019 packs the better specs, the original Batman is likely to remain a favourite with collectors - and thus fetch the highest prices at auction - for many years to come.