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Found A Strange Rolex Document About The Famous GMT-Master Radioactivity Recall

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When it comes to vintage watch collecting, the term "scholarship" is one that often comes with caveats. Sure, there are some things we know 100% for sure, and modern brands issuing archive extracts can go a long way toward proving or disproving the existence of a particular watch, but there are also a lot of things that we only "know." Whether it's serial number ranges for Rolex models of certain years or the peculiarities of various production processes, there are quite a lot of important details that collectors  have to sort of figure out for themselves, arriving as an evolving consensus with the best information available. For this reason, it's a pretty big deal when any of the grey areas becomes a little more black and white – hence the document we've got for you here today.

A ref. 6542 GMT-Master with its original Bakelite bezel intact.

The document you see below is strange, to say the least. It came to me via Eric Wind (former HODINKEE contributor and proprietor of Wind Vintage), who himself saw it posted in the Vintage Rolex Forum Facebook group (though a little digging shows that this popped up on PuristsPro back in 2013 and Rolex Forums in 2006 too). It's a statement issued by Rolex in 1959, through their authorized dealers in the United States, to address fears that resulted from the recall of the original ref. 6542 GMT-Master. In case you don't know, the GMT's Bakelite bezel was radioactive (there's some debate as to exactly what in the bezel was the biggest culprit here) and Rolex recalled the watches, offering to retrofit them with aluminum bezels. This is one reason why original Bakelite GMTs are relatively rare today. It turns out that another reason is that they were imported and sold in small quantities too – this document asserts that only 605 total Bakelite GMTs were imported to the United States, including both the stainless steel and solid 18k gold models. Check it out:

There are some real gems in here, if you read closely. Beyond the sort of funny, mid-century tone of the entire statement, we get confirmed prices for the two watches (which would be equivalent $2,256 for steel and $5,640 for gold today, accounting for inflation), some insight into the Atomic Energy Commission's recall, and, all importantly, the total number of GMT-Masters that made their way to the United States with Bakelite bezels. Rolex never confirms production numbers or historical details like this publicly, so to find a period document like this that can give us concrete information is pretty special indeed.

A solid gold ref. 6542 GMT-Master that sold at Sotheby's.

Now, if only we could learn a little more about those "first, hurried press reports" that caused "unfortunate confusion" I'd be a very happy man indeed.

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