Bob's Watches Founder Reveals Stories Behind World's Greatest Rolex GMT-Master Collection

From the high seas to the Great Pyramids, these historic timepieces have been everywhere.
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Paul Altieri, CEO and founder of Bob’s Watches, is one of the world's top Rolex experts. While he has been selling and purchasing Rollies both new and used for over 20 years now, it's very clear on speaking with Altieri—as Maxim editors have on many occasions—that for him, Rolexes are far more than just great investments or symbols of material achievement. 

Altieri is a true collector in the sense that for him, the stories behind these watches are as important as their monetary value. 

Shane Nickerson, an avid watch collector when he's not at work producing Rob Dyrdek's Ridiculousnessonce told me in a text conversation about our collections that wearing great vintage timepieces is "a tribute, in a way, to the guardians of these little pieces of artwork," and the wearers are links "in the chain of the story of each watch."  

Paul Altieri has definitely taken on that guardian role Nickerson so poetically referred to. 

Among Altieri's Rolexes, he's compiled a particularly fascinating set of Rolex GMT-Masters. He gave Maxim brief histories of five of his favorites. Read on to see why—to some people—a watch is not just a watch, but a living piece of history.

ROLEX GMT-MASTER 6542 'PEPSI'

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"This watch came to us from the son of a highly decorated Captain in the Merchant Marines," Altieri writes, "Born in 1909, the original owner of this Rolex GMT-Master had a long and illustrious career in the armed forces, starting out in the 1930s and continued all the way up until his retirement in the early 1970s. He began his military career with the US Navy, and at some point picked up this GMT-Master, before going on to become a Captain with the Merchant Marines. During his time with the armed forces, he played an integral part in many wars and international conflicts, including WWII, Vietnam, and Korea."

The former Captain's "involvement in countless important missions," Altieri tells us, "earned him many distinctions, and after purchasing his Rolex GMT-Master, it rarely left his wrist until his passing in 1987."

Altieri goes on to say that though the watch was bought as a "reliable timekeeping tool," it ultimately "meant a significant amount to its owner and was one of his prized possessions." ($249,950)

ROLEX GMT-MASTER 'PEPSI' WITH BAKELITE BEZEL

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Altieri writes that the next GMT-Master, a "Pepsi" with a tan leather band, belonged to someone who "has traveled to the furthest corners of the world." 

The timepiece was originally bought at a Rolex store "in Lucerne, Switzerland," according to Altieri, and it "would go on to accompany its owner absolutely everywhere, from 1300 meters underground in the copper mines in Kitwe, Zambia to Al-Kufrah, Libya where it spent an extended period of time bouncing through the desert in a Land Rover." And that was where, Altieri admits, this Rollie acquired "a few scratches and stories in the process."

Altieri states that the "original owner recalls wearing this GMT-Master through all of his adventures and travels, from climbing up the Great Pyramid in Egypt to traversing back and forth between Amman and Baghdad in 1980s Chevy Impala taxi cabs." It was also the owner's "timekeeping friend through three marriages, time spent navigating the Nile, Zambezi, Rhine, and Mississippi rivers, and even being evacuated to Athens from Beirut just before the Lebanese Civil War."

And yes, the Bob's Watches CEO assures us, it definitely does "still run and keep proper time." ($249,950)

ROLEX GMT-MASTER 6542 WITH NIPPLE DIAL

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Altieri tells Maxim that this GMT-Master came "from the grandson of a doctor in North Carolina." 

The former owner was "born into a humble household," Altieri continues, and "he worked hard as a college professor until he met his wife, whose father—a man also from humble beginnings, whose first job was pulling a vegetable cart—offered to fund his dreams of continuing medical school."

He ultimately became a plastic surgeon, Altieri writes, and "his true passion was working with his best friend, a trauma surgeon, to rebuild the more complex parts of seriously injured people before too much scar tissue had developed." 

The same physician did groundbreaking work in organ transplants, but Altieri says that while "he always remained true to his humble roots and rarely ever purchased himself nice things," the surgeon's "one exception was this Rolex GMT-Master, which he purchased while on a family trip in Switzerland." It would remain his go-to timepiece long after he opened a private practice. ($174,950)

ROLEX GMT-MASTER 1675

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"This watch belonged to a retired military pilot that served in Vietnam," Altieri writes, and the pilot bought the GMT-Master when he was "returning home from his tour of duty." The owner recalled for Altieri that "back in the day if you didn’t have money, you’d buy a Seiko, but if you had some money, you’d buy a Rolex."

The pilot told Paul Altieri that he "liked the collaboration between Rolex and Pan Am Airlines," and as a pilot himself, he found "the functionality of the GMT-Master...particularly appealing." Also, "at the time, the GMT’s red and blue bezel was highly unique and unlike anything else on the market, and he liked the way that the watch stood out from the other timepieces of the era." 

After wearing the GMT for a decade or so, Altieri tells Maxim that the pilot "started to feel that it was a little bit too heavy for his wrist and stopped wearing it, putting it away for safekeeping." 

The former owner is retired and today spends all his leisure time going on cruises. You can buy a lot of cruise tickets if you sell a Rolex for $74,995.

VINTAGE ROLEX GMT-MASTER 1675

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Bob's Watches acquired this Rolex GMT-Master "from a clockmaker in Scotland," Altieri writes, "whose father acquired it as part of a box filled with various items that he had purchased from a local auction hall in their small town."

After the father died, according to Altieri, "the man inherited a box filled with old watches and clocks, many of which were purchased from that exact same local auction sale room."

It was 1974 and the former owner was trying to begin his own clockmaking business. So, Altieri says, "the box of watches and clocks from his father was put away and forgotten about for many years."

Flash forward to 2001. Altieri writes that "the clockmaker and his wife emigrated to Naples, Florida and this Rolex GMT-Master just happened to be among the boxes of personal and family belongings."

"When he first discovered it among the various watches and clocks left to him by his father, he didn’t know much about it," according to Altieri, so he let a Rolex-certified watchmaker have a look, and the expert "told him that it was a valuable and noteworthy watch."

Altieri continues on to tell us that after the man learned this GMT-Master's value, he did further research. That was when he encountered Bob's Watches and sold it to them. He then tsold his Florida business and moved to Spain. ($34,995)

They specialize in Rolexes but Bob's Watches also sometimes features other luxury brands including Omega, Breitling, and the occasional Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe. Find more personal histories in physical form here.