Best GMT Watches: How To Use One & Our Top PicksRafael Dominguez2022-01-06T22:49:21-05:00
Quite possibly the most widely used complication second only to the chronograph, the GMT watch has evolved significantly since its first widespread introduction in the 1950s.
Back then, the GMT function on watches was developed for pilots crossing oceans and time zones. The professionals needed a way to track and easily reference their local time as well as Greenwich Mean Time (GMT). Rolex is renowned for having answered the call with their GMT-Master reference 6542. Since then, the GMT watch has been eternally linked with jet-setters and adventurers alike.
In the modern day, the GMT watch has evolved into a staple of the boardroom rather than a tool of vital functionality in the field. Nevertheless, it remains a useful and charming complication eternally tied to earliest days of cross-continental travel.
In this resource, we will be reviewing it in various sections. Feel free to use the below links to jump ahead:
As you can quickly gather by our list above, the GMT complication is no longer reserved for pilot or explorer-themed timepieces. It has spread from its aviator origins to dress watches and even divers.
If you continue scrolling through our page, you will come to appreciate how this same complication can span across very different applications and feel appropriate in each one. Alternatively, use the hyperlinks above to jump down to a specific one.
At its most basic level, a GMT watch is a timepiece that can record the time in two separate time zones. More specifically, one of these time zones must be displayed in 24-hour format, otherwise the watch would technically be considered a dual-time watch.
The earliest GMT-Master, the ref. 6542, possessed a 24-hour hand that swept the dial at half the speed of the hour hand. It also had the bi-color, bi-directional bezel which today has become instantly recognizable.
However, the 6542 differed slightly in function from today’s GMT watches. Notably, most modern models give the wearer the ability to adjust the hour hand independently from the GMT hand. This was not the case back then.
The hour and GMT hands moved in tandem; this allowed the GMT hand to act as an AM/PM indicator, in essence. It is with the help of the rotating bezel that a time difference can then be “configured” to continually track a second time zone.
From its early days on pilot’s wrists, the GMT complication has seen its functionality applied in all styles of watches. Some of our best GMT watch picks below highlight this.
Yet it should come as no surprise.
The ability to easily maintain a second time zone on a mechanical watch is a truly useful one. And in a world of international business, and international relationships, keeping a second time zone on the wrist allows one to be punctual as well as mindful.
How Do You use A GMT Watch?
The modern Rolex GMT-Master II, in any of its various forms, certainly has to be one of the most well-known watches “out in the wild” today. Ironically enough, it’s also very likely that many of the people who know the watch, or even own one, don’t necessarily know how to use its GMT capability.
As we mentioned above, the first GMT-Master was limited by the fact that the hour and GMT hands moved in tandem. With modern GMT watches, this is rarely the case. This fact allows the watch to track an additional time zone, for a total of three.
We’ll be using a vintage Rolex GMT-Master ad to explain, so here goes:
At center, the wearer of the watch will set their main time, either “home time” or the local time. In the case of the image, this main time is 10:09AM (GMT hand indicates AM). This is your first time zone.
If the bezel had not been rotated, the GMT hand would point right past the 10. But the bezel has been offset, by 6 hours in this case, so it points just past 16. This tells us that the time in the second time zone is 16:09.
So, conceptually, you are going to look at the hour hand for the “hours” component of one time zone, while looking at the GMT hand for the “hours” component of the second one. The minutes remain the same.
3 Time Zones With A GMT Watch
Patek 5034. No rotating bezel = two time zones.
When the hour and GMT hands can be configured independently of one another, we open the door for a third time zone.
In this case, one time zone will be indicated by the center hour hand. The second time zone will be indicated by the independently-set GMT hand. And the third timezone is calculated by offsetting the bezel from the already-configured GMT hand, whether it’s forwards or backwards, making for three separate time zones in total.
If you would like some additional help understanding this concept, drop us a comment below and we will be glad to elaborate. Next, we review our favorite GMT watches. Our picks are undoubtedly not exhaustive or final, so keep checking back to this page to see which others make the cut.
The GMT-Master II is considered our top GMT watch simply because it is the absolute standard to which all other GMT watches are held. We’ve specifically chosen to go the way of the now-discontinued GMT-Master II Batman ref. 116710BLNR for a couple of reasons.
First, this Baselworld 2013 premiere was the first time that Rolex used a two-color ceramic bezel. The Cerachrom bezel is the hallmark of a modern Rolex, and its blue-and-black presentation was the most desirable steel sports watch of the past two years.
Second, the GMT-Master II 116710BLNR, in its own right, is an absolutely outstanding watch. There’s no question why it’s become so desirable. Aside from its indisputable construction and durability, it’s a perfect example of Rolex striving and arguably succeeding in producing a perfect timepiece.
Finally, we value its unchanged essence. Indeed, every single component in the contemporary GMT has been improved, but the watch’s look and functionality remain mostly unchanged.
It’s not easy for a model line to survive over half a century, particularly the half century with the Quartz crisis in it, and remain largely consistent. The GMT-Master II has done so, and become an historic icon for it.
Omega’s traditional oversized Seamaster Planet Ocean has been upgraded with a GMT function. Generally a date-only diver, this GoodPlanet Foundation limited edition has been outfitted with GMT functionality and blazing orange accents.
While the popular Seamaster Professional lines are generally presented in muted tones, this Planet Ocean limited edition boasts a more outgoing personality than expected. Nonetheless, it sports the extra color perfectly.
The glossy dial, presented in a deep blue, matches the lustrous character of the ceramic bezel very closely. The sturdy (and hefty) brushed stainless steel bracelet reminds you that you’re handling professional equipment. Lastly, this being a GMT watch, there’s a bi-directional GMT bezel instead of the usual diver’s bezel.
Yet our Planet Ocean remains a beast of the depths. The helium escape valve is present, as is the extreme depth rating. The only difference here is that you won’t be able to time your dive which, if you’re going as deep as 600M, you probably wouldn’t rely on anyways.
An ideal travel watch due to its ease of transition from office to plane to beach, the Seamaster Planet Ocean is likewise the ideal next step for those looking for a Seamaster with more wrist presence. If they’re also looking for more complication, the Planet Ocean GMT like this GoodPlanet edition may just be the perfect choice.
The Breitling Navitimer can often times be considered the quintessential pilot’s watch. The tri-register dial, usually interpreted as “confusing” due to the slide rule bezel markings, is similarly recognized for its classic look.
This Navitimer 1 B04 GMT, aside from being a product of Breitling’s latest manufacturing and horological technology, now boasts a GMT function in its repertoire. The classic pilot’s watch has been functionally renovated while keeping its timeless design.
Like the first GMT-Masters, the Navitimer was also intended to serve professional aviators. Whereas the GMT bezel helps with time calculations, the slide rule bezel in turn aids in unit conversions and simple math. These two watches, so different in nature, are deeply linked in their intended audience.
Although the GMT function is not original to the Navitimer, its application here makes complete sense. Moreover, the difference in appearance is minimal, and limited to the additional hand and dial printings.
With these small changes, Breitling has taken an already-alluring timepiece to another level, making it one of our current favorites when talking GMTs.
This Grand Seiko may be a surprising pick, but we’ve been huge fans of it ever since we reviewed it. We’ve not quite been able to forget it.
Unlike anything else on our list, this Grand Seiko GMT will similarly differ from the majority of watches you’ll encounter on the street. And while it’s offered in two other dial variations, the white is the one for us.
It possesses sharp, aggressive edges and alternating steel finishes. As a result, the light is constantly bouncing off its angles, continuously drawing attention. Subsequently, any eyes captured will become further enamored by its textured dial – that’s if they get close enough to notice its intricacy.
Grand Seiko GMT Sitting On The -Actual- “GMT Line”
Being a GMT, there’s also a heat-blued GMT hand at center. It’s able to contrast just enough for clear legibility, yet not so much so as to ruin the clean aesthetics of the watch. At times, it even hides under the similarly-sized minutes hand.
Just this, in fact, is what we find to be the best aspect of this Grand Seiko SBGJ001. The GMT complication can seem casual, yet in this specific application, Grand Seiko has deployed it very skillfully, and produced a versatile timepiece deserving of many trips across the globe.
The Hamilton Jazzmaster GMT has made its way onto our list of the best GMT watches as the most competitively priced and the biggest value proposition on this page.
It boasts a higher level of complication than our other GMT picks, the same steel construction, and a similar Swiss Made movement, all for a fraction of the retail price of our other picks.
Further enhancing its traveler ethos, it also possesses an inner bezel imprinted with reference cities from time zones, as well as a crown at 10 o’clock. These additional elements essentially turn this GMT into a world timer.
Noting the current city indicated by the red index at 12, the inner bezel can be rotated forwards or backwards with the use of the flanking crown. As the inner bezel rotates, the GMT hand will also move to indicate the correct time in the city selected. All of these functions come with Hamilton’s uncompromising quality,
An interesting and useful additional GMT function, we must highlight once again the price at which Hamilton offers the watch, and without compromising quality or aesthetics. For those looking for their first GMT watch who also don’t want to break the bank, the Hamilton Jazzmaster is an ideal candidate.
If you were not familiar with GMT watches, we hope this resource has served as a valuable introduction. If you knew only about Rolex’s GMT-Master, our picks above should help you get an idea of the vast possibilities that exist outside of the limelight.
As always, we encourage you to take what you’ve seen here and continue your own dive into the extensive world of watches. If you don’t know where to go next, we recommend one of the following links below: