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Dubbed a “transitional year” by organizers, this years’ Baselwold was noticeably smaller than years previous, though met with just as much enthusiasm for the news emerging out of the annual watch circus. From TAG Heuer’s Autavia collection to Tudor’s Black Bay P01 — a brand that continues to punch above its weight — the 2019 cohort did not disappoint. In addition to these brand new styles, fans of GMT timepieces also got a couple crumbs via an updated bracelet on the Rolex GMT-Master II with a “Batman” black and blue bezel (Caliber 3285), something fans cheered about even though it’s already a familiar style.
GMTs — particularly from Rolex — always get their fair share of ink. Why? Aside from their utility, there are many reasons.
Appreciation for Design
GMT (short for Greenwich Mean Time) watches are lusted after quite simply for their practicality: With one strapped to your wrist, you can keep time in two time zones or more depending on the watch. And like many purpose-driven designs, their development was birthed by necessity. For Rolex, their GMT took off alongside cocktails and smoking at 30,000 feet.
By the mid 1950s, Pan Am Airlines had already crossed the Atlantic more than 50,000 times, boom times in the heyday of commercial aviation. The company was busy setting speed records, flying between Honolulu and San Francisco and chartering flights to the Antarctic in support of U.S. Government research. Yes, we all know from “Mad Men,” it was a good time to fly.
With pilots logging more miles, Pan Am came to Rolex with a commission: to build a movement to track two time zones for their weary-eyed pilots. The result was the Caliber 1036, which then evolved into the Rolex GMT-Master, first sold publicly in 1954.
A decade later and helped by product placement in 1964’s “Goldfinger” on lead actress Honor Blackman’s wrist as Pussy Galore, the beauty and practicality of the design became lusted after, emerging as an icon worthy of ink by the barrel. In the decades since, the design has become one of the most coveted watch styles amongst collectors.
How They Work
Functionally speaking, GMT complications work quite simply, according to watchmakers inside Crown & Caliber, an online watch refurbisher and marketplace.
“There are several different ways a watchmaker can do it, but most have two hour hands, one rotates once a day, the other twice a day, then you can move them independently to keep track of time zones. There are other ways, but that’s the way most do it,” explains senior watchmaker Bryan Traylor. “Really what they’re doing is adding an extra wheel in the gears that enables you to keep track of two or more time zones.”
Beyond the Rolex GMT-Master and Master II — arguably the gold standard in GMT design, a watch so oversubscribed you could wait years to buy one new — there are lots of offerings of similar caliber to choose from. Here are the five GMT watches we are loving right now:
Oris Aquis GMT
“This new Baselworld 2019 release adheres to the well-established design language of the Aquis, but implements a GMT function in a creative and aesthetically pleasing manner,” says Paul Altieri, founder and CEO of Bob’s Watches. Thanks to the ceramic bezel insert on the Aquis GMT, which is laser-engraved with a 24-hour time scale, this GMT tracks three time zones simultaneously – one via the central hands; a second via the additional GMT central hand; and a third by aligning the bezel with the central hour hand. Pretty neat, and pretty affordable too.
$2,700 at Oris.ch
Nomos Tangomat GMT
“[The Nomos Tangomat GMT is] quite clever and one of the simplest GMT designs you’ll find,” notes Hamilton Powell, CEO of Crown & Caliber. “You push a button on the side of the case to move the second hour hand back and forth — very elegant.” With their distinct lines, Nomos watches attract fans for their simplicity.
$4,920 at Tourneau.com
Grand Seiko Spring Drive GMT SBGE015
“This watch offers a highly unique and accurate movement (a spring drive), with some of the best finishing that Seiko has to offer,” explains Altieri. This GS comes with rotating bezel, screw down crown, GMT, power reserve display and is the finest examples of Japanese watchmaking you’ll find anywhere.
$6,324 at Chrono24.com
Omega Planet Ocean GMT
“The Planet Ocean is one of Omega’s most serious and purpose-built collections of dive watches, and this version adds GMT functionality, making it a perfect travel watch for whatever your travels may entail,” says Altieri. With a stainless steel 43.5mm case, blue bezel and transparent caseback, it’s on the higher end of things when it comes to size, but still a great example of a professional dive watch (300m depth capability) with GMT functionality.
$5,495 at BobsWatches.com
Tudor Black Bay GMT
“Tudor just introduced this model at last year’s Baselworld and it’s a great example of beautiful design,” Traylor tells us. “It’s a watch that allows you to enjoy the thing that’s so beautiful about watches: their engineering.” Collectors have eyed this one since its release, particularly as Rolexes have moved up the price scale, as an affordable piece to own today, and a collectable for tomorrow.
$3,625 at TudorWatch.com
Watches are one of the last items in your life that remain mechanical — especially in 2019. This is one of the reasons those who appreciate fine timepieces gravitate toward chronographs and GMTs in the first place. Relish that.
Whether sitting in a meeting staring off into space or stepping off a plane somewhere brand new, it’s a tactile watch complication to play with — something to really savor. Their use and utility (plus they’re just really good looking complications) will make them desirable for years to come.