Maybe it’s because Halloween is approaching, or perhaps it’s the never-ending array of superhero movies hitting theaters and streaming services. It may even just be the fact that people can (kinda) start flying again. Whatever it is, we can’t stop thinking about the Rolex GMT-Master II affectionately known as the “Batman.”
Thanks to its handsome, understated black and blue bezel, this watch was an instant classic upon its debut in 2013. While the Batman will likely never eclipse its older brother, the GMT-Master “Pepsi,” in popularity, it has still cemented its place as one of the most in-demand Rolex watches in the current lineup. Let’s take a look at the origins of this model, the recent upgrades to the latest generation, and put our economist hats on as we look to the past, present, and future of the Batman market.
The Rolex GMT-Master II Batman: A Hero Is Born
The Rolex Batman stepped onto the scene in 2013 with the ref. 116710BLNR. It came with the brand (and world’s) first two-tone ceramic bezel. More specifically, it uses Rolex’s proprietary ceramic, Cerachrom. Rolex had previously debuted the monochromatic Cerachrom bezel back in 2007 on the black-bezeled GMT-Master II 16710LN “Lunette Noir.”
Rolex used a patented process to create this two-tone bezel by adding black coloring onto a blue bezel made of porous ceramic. Some speculate that the black and blue color combination – a first for the GMT line – was easier to produce than the already-existing combinations of blue and red (“Pepsi”) or black and red (“Coke”). That might explain why Rolex didn’t release the Pepsi with a Cerachrom bezel until the following year. It also sheds some light on why the 2014 re-release of the Pepsi came in white gold instead of steel, limiting demand for it with its significantly higher retail price.
In any case, speculation like this is probably best saved for another article. The fact remains that, in the absence of a competing Pepsi model with a Cerachrom bezel, the Batman became a new favorite among collectors. The original Batman (ref. 116710BLNR) would remain in the Rolex lineup until 2019, when a new generation hit the shelves, or rather, the waitlists.
(The Rolex) Batman Returns
Every good original deserves a sequel, and in 2019, Rolex released a follow-up to the popular 116710BLNR. The new Batman ref. 126710BLNR, sometimes referred to as the “Batgirl,” shares the same upgrades as the 126710BLRO Pepsi that had debuted a year prior.
One major change was the automatic caliber 3285, a significant improvement over the preceding caliber 3186. The new caliber features a 70-hour power reserve (compared to the 3186’s 50) and comes with solid upgrades in precision, shock-resistance, and anti-magnetism thanks to Rolex’s Chronergy escapement. In total, Rolex applied for ten patents with the launch of the caliber 3285.
These advancements highlight Rolex’s storied approach to incremental improvements in performance and daily wear. One upgrade to the Batman that did not receive universal praise was the switch from an Oyster bracelet to a Jubilee. Certain enthusiasts around the globe decried what they saw as a compromise in the model’s tool-watch reputation. They were used to a rugged Oyster bracelet and claimed the dressier Jubilee felt out of place on a steel Rolex sports watch.
The counterargument to this is that many famed GMTs from the 1970s and 80s came on Jubilee bracelets, so there is not only a historical precedent but also some nostalgia for the combination. The GMT was initially meant as a dress watch to complement the uniforms of time-zone-crossing pilots, particularly those from Pan-Am. So a return to Jubilee is, essentially, a return to the watch’s roots.
It’s also worth mentioning that the brand had, for some time, been transitioning away from tool watches and toward luxury timepieces (the white gold Pepsi is an excellent example of this). Many of today’s Rolex wearers, especially those who don’t exactly lead rough-and-tumble lifestyles, have embraced the Jubilee for its comfort and dress-up, dress-down versatility. And to sweeten the transition to the new bracelet, Rolex added the Oysterlock clasp for 5mm of on-the-go adjustment, crucial on hot days where wrists tend to swell.
The Rolex Batman: A High-Altitude Watch With Prices to Match
With a storied history, densely effective design, and that unmistakable desirability that comes with anything from “the brand with the crown,” you can expect that prices on the secondary market will be high and heading upwards. At retail, the Batman lists for $9,700 – that is, if you can get one.
The viable option for most buyers today is to purchase their Rolex from places like Chrono24, where a comparable Batman starts around $19,000 on the low end. Market prices for these actually dipped to about $16,000 in the summer of 2020, when the pandemic was at its peak. But now that the world is in a (somewhat) better place, the market has returned to “normal,” meaning the return of ever-rising prices for Rolex sports watches.
The (relatively) good news is that the Batman is the most affordable GMT II variation on the market compared to other current-production models like the “Root Beer” and the “Pepsi,” which start around $22,000 and $23,000, respectively. The higher pricing for the Root Beer most certainly comes from the precious Everose gold used for its case and bracelet. As for the Pepsi, let’s not forget that this is the watch that has always been, and perhaps always will be, the watch people think of when they think of a Rolex GMT. It’s a dream watch for many, and unfortunately, dreams don’t come cheap these days.
As the saying goes, the best time to buy a Rolex is yesterday. Prices for these timepieces will likely continue to rise indefinitely, just like the watch market as a whole. Supply has a long way to go before it catches up with demand, and for a watch as well made as the Batman GMT, that demand is steep. Should the watch ever be discontinued, that already steep demand would go damn near vertical.
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