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. Though few are, or should be, traveling right now, hopping on a plane will (hopefully) become a less harebrained endeavor in the year to come. 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.
Right now time may feel like a flat circle, but it keeps ticking into a future where we can safely roam again. Here are six watches to wear for the pining traveler.
1. 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.
2. 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 150 meters—so it’s perfect for travels that take you to a beach or just a hotel pool.
3. 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 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.
4. 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 100 meters. 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.
5. 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.
6. 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 100 meters. While it may look like this watch can see the future, it sadly only tells time.
[Price available on request; audemarspiguet.com]
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