GMT watches are the timepieces with the extra hand - and for good reason. As worldwide travel took off in the 1950s, time took on a new meaning. It began with the first commercial pilots of the jet-age who needed to tell the time both where they were and according to GMT. A watch with an extra hour hand was the answer. That additional hand moves at half the usual speed to follow the 24-hour clock and, set to GMT, avoids any confusion. It's an idea so simple that it's a wonder no-one had thought of it before. The first GMT watches quickly became standard airline issue. Their highly sophisticated descendants today incorporate the rugged style that every man's signature piece of personal jewellery demands. We've rounded up our ten favourite GMT watches for men - and first an essential background briefing.
What is a GMT watch?
Simply put, your GMT watch tells the time both at your current location and according to the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, which sets the standard for time worldwide. Each GMT timepiece features - along with the usual hands for hours, minutes and seconds - a single extra hand to display the GMT time.
This GMT hand rotates at half the speed of the ordinary hands, with gearing designed to rotate once every 24 hours, as opposed to the usual 12. GMT reading typically is on an inner dial - and there can be no confusion between a.m. or p.m., because the GMT hand always points to the correct 24-hour clock time, as measured at Greenwich.
A further usual feature is a rotating bezel to convert GMT to your time at home. Naturally all of this requires precision design, engineering and manufacture so choosing exactly the right GMT watch is key, whether your preference is for an automatic or quartz movement. We've had a look around to come up with our favourites, but first the all-important heritage.
History of the GMT watch
As worldwide travel evolved from intrepid adventurers to well-heeled travellers in the 1950s, keeping track of time at home while sailing, flying or in your luxury train compartment become a real need. Why not, watch manufacturers mused, reflect the time in your current location along with GMT, with - perhaps - a handy conversion device added into the bargain.
The GMT watch was born, with its extra hand and a rotating bezel for conversion purposes. Pilots and ship captains, particularly, valued the first GMT watches by little-known Glycine, with the under-rated Airman model. But it was the great Swiss watchmakers at Rolex who produced the best-known GMT pioneer with their first GMT-Master, making the third hand and the moveable bezel standard features for GMT watches to come.
Pilots worldwide adopted the Rolex, and its successors. Today, GMT watches remain ideal for an instant timecheck worldwide and are a celebration of artisanal handmade construction. As our selection of the ten best illustrates, there are a variety of approaches among contemporary timepiece makers. Only question now: which will you choose?
Best GMT watches for men
BALTIC Watches Aquascaphe GMT Orange
Exacting French watch brand BALTIC take their inspiration from vintage watches. Third hand here has highly distinctive arrow for ease of GMT reading, set within super-thin elegant-but-tough stainless steel casing protecting precision Swiss automatic movement. Glossy black dial contrasts sharply with C1 Luminova to highlight five-minute markers and hands, neat timechart to rear adds character and utility. Glass is double-domed sapphire, crown is screw-down and there's water resistance to 100m.
NOMOS Glashütte Tangomat GMT
Minimalist design from the home of German watchmaking in Glashütte, in an innovative GMT watch designed and crafted by the exacting specialists at NOMOS Glashütte. Timezones are denoted in dedicated window by airport codes, referencing origins of GMT watch for pilots, switchable at the touch of a button, with hour reflected in opposing window. Clear, angular and elegant style conceals NOMOS-built 24-jewel automatic movement, with Chicago-tanned leather strap.
Seiko 5 Sports GMT WatchNation Exclusive Automatic Orange Dial
From storied Japanese watchmakers Seiko comes the 5 Sports GMT, prominent GMT arrow hand here is coated with Lumibrite to contrast sharply with striking orange face, bezel rotates with 24-hour time for further ease of reading, movement is Seiko's latest manual wind automatic 4R34, pushdown crown is located at 4 o'clock position for maximum convenience, date display window is magnified by dedicated window. Precision brilliance.
Rolex GMT-Master II
The discerning flyer's choice. With heritage dating back to 1955 - original was so popular among pilots it became the official watch of PanAm, then the largest American airline - GMT-Master II by Rolex has a red GMT hand with prominent luminous triangle tip and bidirectional rotating bezel in red and blue, referencing the original and featuring Cerchrom 24 hour inserts for ease of reading. Latest 3285 Rolex automatic movement is, naturally, handmade. A true form-follows-function great.
Montblanc Heritage GMT
Classic polished stainless steel chic references style of Montblanc collections from 1940s and 1950s. Bold blue triangle-tipped GMT hand measures 24-hour clock on silver-white dial, seconds marked at five-second intervals, hours in rhodium-coated numerals and dot indices. Automatic movement is precision 21-jewel, crystal is domed sapphire with anti-reflective coating and there's water resistance to 50m. A GMT watch that's an embodiment of Montblanc's time-honoured traditions.
Monta Atlas 24-Hour With Date
Monta is the boutique American watch brand making waves with classic style and handmade-in-Switzerland timepieces. Their Atlas 24-Hour With Date has GMT hand featuring red-lined arrow tip and dedicated 24-hour dial markings. Super-LumiNova makes for easy reading whatever the light while the specialist Monta M-23 self-winding mechanical movement is Swiss-made. Charcoal dial has subtle sunburst pattern and, for divers, the Atlas has been designed and tested to 150 m of water resistance.
Tag Heuer Carrera GMT Automatic Chronograph
Latest take on Carrera silhouette from Tag Heuer, one of Swiss watchmaking's signature brands with history dating back to 1860. Heuer's new 75-hour power reserve 02 automatic movement is visible through skeletonised dial, beneath bright red arrow-pointed GMT hand. Full chronograph functions - with twin dials - are in the Tag Heuer tradition, separate central inner dial aids with GMT reading. Blue and black bezel rotates. View full movement through exhibition case back. Unbeatable? Quite probably.
Bamford Watch Department GMT Automatic 40mm Brushed Stainless Steel Watch
Mayfair-based timepiece brand reinvents past classics for a new era. Bamford Watch Department's GMT Automatic has classic red-edged GMT hand set over black dial, with inner rotating bezel and blue accents to hands and markings. All-black brushed stainless steel case and matching strap provides distinctly stealth style. Automatic movement is Sellita SW330-1, crystal is sapphire glass, water resistance to 500 m for added toughness.
Bell & Ross GMT Automatic 41mm Stainless Steel and Rubber Watch
Highly distinctive French design, drawing on heritage of military-spec technical timepieces. Case is Bell & Ross's signature square with bevelled edges, movement is 25-jewel BR-CAL.325 automatic, a hand-made elegance that's visible through sapphire glass back. GMT hand has bright red triangle tip for maximum visibility, aided by Super-LumiNova to all hands, numbers and indices. Handmade for Bell & Ross in Swiss city of La Chaux-de-Fonds.