GMT watches make life easier for jetsetters. GMT, which stands for Greenwich Mean Time, was initially a stylish pilot tool born at the dawn of the jet age—first made by Glycine and shortly thereafter, Rolex. The complication allows the wearer to track a second time zone using a hand that ticks around a 24-hour scale. It was quickly co-opted by mid-century passengers, and has since become an essential timepiece for posh globetrotters.
GMT watches give pilots and travelers the ability to track where they’ve been, destinations on the horizon, and provide a tether home. For those feeling the pangs of wanderlust, adding a travel watch to your collection might be a good way to prepare for, say, puddle jumping from New York to London.
Of course you don’t have to hop on a weekly flight to benefit from a GMT. There are other reasons to nab one, according to Damian Otwinowski, vice president of Watches of Switzerland USA. “Some people buy it for the value of investment, the rarity, and the look more than the function itself,” Otwinowski says.
The Difference Between World Time and GMT Watches
World timepieces are a different animal, says Otwinowski, and customers who choose one are more likely to utilize its functionality.
The world time complication as we know it was the brainchild of Swiss watchmaker Louis Cottier, who developed a movement in the 1930s that could track the time in 24 of the world’s time zones as they related to a local time—first for pocket watches, then for wrist-worn timepieces. Today, most world time complications are still rooted in Cottier’s simple, elegant solution.
“It’s a purpose-driven purchase,” Otwinowski says. “My first watch was a world time because I was traveling like crazy, and I needed the function. Had it been a GMT, I’d constantly have to change it, but the world time ticks on its own. Wherever I am, I don’t have to adjust it that much because of the ability of the complication.”
For most consumers, GMTs are easier to read and more accessible as nearly every major brand makes one, and they come at various price points. Not every horological player regularly makes a world time, so there aren’t as many options. In the end, choosing one or the other comes down to individual sensibilities, and there are a number of considerations to make since a wristwatch is not just a tool but also an extension of personal style.
Here are our favorite GMT watches for the pining traveler.
1. Breitling Chronomat GMT 40
Green dials are particularly en vogue at the moment, but we’ll let you in on a little secret…green’s always been a timeless color. The shade on this Breitling Chronomat GMT 40 is both playfully elegant and highly versatile. It’s a go-anywhere, do-anything piece with not only the ability to track a second time zone but also water resistance up to 200m. The 40mm-width should be easy to wear on nearly any size wrist and at 11.7mm thick, it slides effortlessly under a shirt cuff. With the Breitling Chronomat GMT 40, you’ll always look put together—even when you’re living out of a suitcase.
2. Zodiac Super Sea Wolf Limited Edition World Time
For those who dig a retro 60s vibe, the Zodiac Super Sea Wolf World Time ticks several boxes. It’s automatic and water resistant to 200m; its bracelet has quick-release pins, which makes swapping it out for a rubber band a snap; and the bright-red bezel is a jazzy flourish. Without the Louis Cottier complication, this Zodiac is more of a GMT—with city names in place of the typical numerical time zones—than a traditional world timer. But, the actual locations are more useful for those of us who aren’t quite sure what time zone we’re in without looking it up.
3. Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Geographic
Thin and elegant, the Jaeger-LeCoultre Master Control Geographic is a perfect companion for the world traveler who finds themselves in more buttoned-down situations. While the traditional crown at three o’clock sets the local time, a second one adjusts the reference city and displays the time on the smaller dial at six o’clock. Elsewhere on the dial, the watch’s 70-hour power reserve is tracked on a display at the left, while a dial on the right houses the date.
4. Tudor Black Bay GMT
For those who love a two-tone watch, the Tudor Black Bay GMT is rather splashy in the “root beer” hue. Plus, it represents a helluva value at its price point. Water resistant to 200 meters, the gold GMT hand clicks off the reference time against a 48-notch bidirectional rotating bezel in yellow gold with a graduated matte brown and black anodized aluminum insert. Of course, bi-color watches aren’t for everyone, but they do stand out in a crowd.
5. MontBlanc 1858 GMT
Sporty, suave, and good to 100m undersea, the MontBlanc 1858 GMT uses a jumping square that makes its way around the dial rather than a hand ticking off the hours on the 24-hour scale. It’s a clever solution and incredibly legible on the wrist. On the back of the 42mm case, the continents, oceans, and names of cities in 24 time zones are engraved for reference.
6. L.U.C. Time Traveler One
Whether you’re landing in Tokyo on the third leg of an Asian junket, or just shopping for dinner ingredients at your local shop, nothing says you’ve arrived quite like a gold watch. The dial of the L.U. Chopard Traveler One gets its gold-silver hue from a galvanic treatment, which is then satin brushed for a sunburst effect. Before putting it on, owners can admire the world timer movement’s Côtes de Genève finishing through a sapphire caseback. Remarkably the rather dressy watch is water resistant to 50 meters, though you’ll want to swap out the alligator strap for a textile or rubber before you hit the pool.
7. Ulysse Nardin Blast Moonstruck
Not quite a Freak, but this one is still just plain wild. The Ulysse Nardin Blast Moonstruck is obviously a world timer—just underneath a polar view of Earth etched onto the underside of the domed sapphire crystal. A pair of rings tracks both the sun as we view it from Earth and the movement and stages of the lunar cycle. The complication even manages to depict tidal shifts. For some wrists, the 45mm case size might seem a little on the large side, but it does hold a pair of celestial bodies after all. To bring the weight down, the designers constructed the case in ceramic and DLC titanium, so it doesn’t feel like you’re wearing a flying saucer.
8. Bvlgari Octo Roma World Timer
Perhaps a little under the radar among Bulgari’s offerings, the Roma is rounder and larger than most of the timepieces in the brand’s slim and angular Octo line. But what’s not to love here? It’s a world time complication built into a sports watch with an integrated bracelet. The metal gets both the satin-brushed and polished treatments for contrast and the 41mm-wide and rough 11mm-thick case is a near Goldilocks size. Circle gets the square.
9. Grand Seiko SBGJ237
Sharp as a tack, this Grand Seiko GMT, like time itself, was born to fly. The blue and white bezel is covered in sapphire crystal. It’s bright and radiant, and the numerals are coated with Seiko’s own Lumibrite, as are the hands, to tell time in the dark. The mechanical movement is accurate to +5 to -3 seconds per day and highly shock resistant. Grand Seiko as a brand is renowned for its finishing—and much of the case, hour markers, and hands are polished by highly trained technicians and applied to the lustrous navy dial, which is a nod to the blue skies through which we soar.
10. Rolex GMT Master II
While it wasn’t the first, the Rolex GMT Master II is the archetypal GMT timepiece. Originally created as the GMT Master at the behest of Pan-Am pilots in 1955, numerous imitators have tried to pay homage to the piece, but demand for the classic Rolex remains off the charts. Over the years, the venerable Swiss maker has upgraded the GMT. Its automatic movement now features a 70-hour power reserve, an independent hour hand, and a sublime 24-hour Cerachrom bezel. It’s easy to use, whether you’re clocking your own travel or just setting up a Zoom meeting with colleagues in the London office.
11. Omega Aqua Terra 150 Worldtimer
Want to wear the world on your wrist? The stunning relief of the globe in the center of Omega’s Aqua Terra Worldimer is created using a laser to vaporize a titanium disc. A 24-hour ring hugs the perimeter, allowing the wearer to track the time in reference cities around the globe. A 43mm case houses automatic movement and a 60-hour power reserve, while a silicon hairspring defends the watch from magnetic fields up to 15,000 gauss, which is way more than you’re ever likely to come across. The watch is also water resistant to 150m—so it’s perfect for travels that take you to a beach or just a hotel pool.
12. IWC Pilot’s Watch Worldtimer Chronograph
The complication in IWC’s Worldtimer is as ingenious as it is intuitive. Push down and turn the bezel to change the time zone you’re in and, thus, the local time. The 24-hour reference hand moves automatically—as will the date if you cross the international date line. Inside the beefy 46mm package, you get a 68-hour power reserve and flyback chronograph. The watch is also constructed to survive rapid depressurization, though we sincerely hope you’ll never need that feature.
13. Hublot Big Bang Unico GMT
Hublot creates some of the most fun, contemporary watch designs around. The Big Bang Unico GMT is no exception. A 45mm satin-finished titanium case ensconces an automatic movement with a 72-hour power reserve, all of which is water resistant to 100m. The skeleton dial lets the wearer gaze upon the caliber from above, and a blue-and-white wheel indicates day to night for the GMT reference time in case jet lag gets the better of you.
14. Patek Philippe Complications Watch (5930G)
If you manage to land one of these, we’d guess you’re someone who enjoys flying private. The Patek Philippe Complications 5930G features both world time and flyback chronograph functions. The elegant 39mm white gold case protects an automatic movement and a dial hand adorned with a circular guilloché pattern. The blue face is a shade so deep and textured, you could find yourself lost in it—but wherever you are, you’ll know the time.
15. Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept Flying Tourbillon
This ultramodern watch subtly echoes the original Gérald Genta Royal Oak, a 1970s masterpiece. The partially skeletonized dial prominently displays the GMT complication on a disk at 3 o’clock. There’s a crown position indicator at 6 o’clock, and the flying tourbillon—which helps counteract the effects of gravity on the hand-wound movement—is visible at 9 o’clock. The 44mm case is made of sandblasted titanium and water resistant to 100m. While it may look like this watch can see the future, it sadly only tells time.
[Price available on request; audemarspiguet.com]