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The intentionality of putting on a watch goes hand-in-hand with the purposeful planning of a trip across the globe, and for both endeavors, one of the best GMT watches is going to serve you very well. A GMT watch — GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time — displays a 24-hour time scale in a nod to point 0 on the scale of international time zones. Put simply, it’s a watch for globetrotters, and if you look more closely, you’ll recognize that it’s not quite as complicated as you first might think.
While some of the most expensive watches on the planet feature ridiculously complicated movements, intricate designs and enough bells and whistles to intimidate even the most seasoned watch enthusiasts, the best GMT watches are actually simpler and even sporty and rugged in nature. You probably recognize the most notable brands making GMT watches, like Rolex (more on our favorite GMT watch brands in a moment).
In fact, simplicity is actually the name of the game when scouring the market for a GMT watch, one with a 24-hour scale on the bezel. To keep it simple: Although there are variations in design (some GMT watches can track three time zones), you can set one hand to track your home time, and another hand to track the local time.
GMT watches first shot to popularity with the rise of the “jetset age” and modern air travel in the 20th century, Blake Buettner, the managing editor of Worn & Wound, a popular online timepiece guide, told SPY. GMT watches have a clear and distinctive purpose that lends itself to wearability across the globe, he said.
“What you’re really trying to do is differentiate from your home time and local time when you’re traveling, and you want to do that quickly and easily,” Buettner said.
What Makes a “True GMT Watch”
Although there’s certainly variety in the GMT watch market, Buettner noted, true GMT watches are surprisingly easy to set, read and use, specifically thanks to the local hour hand (the watch’s fourth hand beyond the typical hours, minutes and seconds hands).
“With a true GMT, you want to be able to just pull out the crown, and quickly and independently set the hour hand to wherever your local time is,” he said. Sounds easy enough, right? Logistically, the second hour’s hand runs half as fast and helps you keep track of the GMT 24-hour scale.
Brands like Rolex brought the GMT to the masses rather famously, with models now instantly recognizable today. Take the Rolex GMT Master — the famed company’s original GMT was introduced in the 1950s.
It’s helpful that modern iterations of the Rolex GMT look very much like the original, Buettner noted, which very likely contributes to the brand’s stature as far as the best GMT watches are concerned.
Other GMT models have a slightly more complex independently adjustable GMT hand, but a true GMT serves its purpose on the ground, locally, with a few quick movements.
Either way, it’s possible to get a relatively accessible GMT watch beyond the confines of a Rolex (rest assured, our picks are forthcoming). Brands like Christopher Ward do a standout job at lower prices than a much larger watchmaker, Buettner noted.
“The movement’s not going to be fancy or super beautiful by any stretch, but it’s certainly there,” he said.
What To Know About GMT Watches
The age-old debate among watch lovers rages on, even when considering something like the relatively simple GMT: Should the wearer select a battery-powered quartz movement or the more intricate and expensive mechanical movement?
Most GMT watches are relatively sporty, to begin with (for example, the stainless steel build of the Rolex GMT Master), and some say that quartz fits better with a GMT watch. It’s ultimately up to you, but it’s perhaps best to start your search by looking for a true GMT with long-lasting design prowess, and then proceeding from there.
It also helps, Buettner says, that the humble GMT watch, especially like the Rolex Explorer II and GMT Master has “this sporty ‘toolish-ness’ to them that kind of speak to their exploring roots” — wear it with multiple ensembles in your wardrobe if you want to pack light on a jet setting trip, in short.
That’s where our favorite GMT watches come into play. Your wrist game just got an upgrade, anywhere on the planet.
1. Rolex GMT Master II
Now, not everyone can easily shell out many thousands of dollars for a Rolex GMT Master II. But if you want one that’s brand-new, that’s likely what you’ll pay — keep in mind that you can scour the best vintage watch shops, as well, to find the timepiece of your dreams. The original and the best never seems to fail, and the distinctive red-and-blue, or “Pepsi” bezel is the stuff of legend. That color combo also makes it even easier to read the bezel. Better still, it comes on a more rare Jubilee bracelet with slimmer, more refined links. Put it all on red, so to speak, with this iconic watch.
2. Christopher Ward C63 Sealander GMT
For excellent value, pristine quality and a super-crisp dial complemented by standout orange design details, get this bang-for-your-buck GMT from Christopher Ward. It’s a favorite of watch expert Buettner, featuring the Sellita SW330-2 GMT movement for the ultimate in timekeeping precision. The case diameter clocks in at 39mm, which is smaller and more refined while still sitting nicely on most wrists. If you’re looking for an intro to the GMT market, this could be your go-to watch.
3. Luminox F117 Nighthawk Pilot GMT Watch
With a heavy dose of practicality and go-anywhere capabilities, it makes sense that GMT watches are especially useful to pilots, and even more specifically, to the armed forces. This particular timepiece (named for the semi-retired Nighthawk stealth bomber) is an adventure watch in every sense, bolstered by a sturdy carbon case and a hard-wearing kevlar strap for maximum toughness. It’s also built with trademark self-illumination from Luminox, all the better for increased visibility in extreme conditions.
4. Citizen Endeavor Stainless Steel GMT Watch
One could argue that it’s tough to top the classics (like Rolex) as far as great looks are concerned in a GMT watch, but we beg to differ. The Endeavor is the epitome of sport luxury, perfect for the globetrotting man and designed with distinctive touches throughout. There’s the stylish blue-and-gold dial and bezel contrast, for starters, but the fact that the watch dial can also be used as a compass goes above and beyond. Best of all, it’s powered by Citizen’s noted Eco-Drive technology, which means it can run off any light source. Oh, and it clocks in at well under a grand.
5. Torgoen T25 GMT Pilot Watch
BEST LEATHER STRAP
GMT watches, perhaps because of models like the OG Rolex, are closely associated with stainless steel or sport-oriented straps, but the GMT watch can also sit right at home on a handsome leather strap. The contrast between the black dial and its mariner’s instrument-inspired design stands out subtly and stylishly against the brown leather strap. But really, it’s the functionality of this watch — built with a Swiss quartz GMT movement — that sets it apart from a crowded field of the best GMT watches. Whether worn with a polo and chinos or a rugged short-sleeve henley and blue jeans, this is a trusty leather GMT watch built for years of wear.