There’s something romantic and exciting about traveling the world. Well, it used to be romantic anyways. While globetrotting has become the norm for many in this day and age, being a worldly explorer in the 1950s and 1960s was truly adventurous. The rise of commercial air travel opened up new destinations and faraway places that people were unable to visit before. A whole world of was suddenly at our doorstep – one that required a new kind of watch that could easily keep track of the time in different time zones.
What is a GMT watch?
A GMT watch displays both home time and local time. By using the rotating 24-hour bezel, you can even show the time in a third time zone. As many of you are already aware, Rolex unveiled the GMT-Master in 1954. This model has come to define the iconic look of the modern GMT watch, but Rolex wasn’t actually the first brand to introduce a GMT watch. No, Glycine had already introduced their Airman in 1953; a year later, Rolex stole the spotlight with the GMT-Master.
The aesthetic of the GMT-Master has become the industry standard for GMT watches. Essentially, you have a watch with a normal 12-hour dial featuring an extra GMT hand – often in a bright color – that indicates the time in a second time zone on the bicolor bezel. The bezel on the GMT-Master was initially blue and red, but over time, Rolex and plenty of other brands have resorted to different colors. The use of two colors is to indicate day and night, i.e., daylight is from 6 am to 6 pm.
Travel GMT vs. Office GMT
Over the decades, we’ve seen numerous brands introduce their own version of a GMT watch, and it has since become a very popular category. The needs of modern travelers have also changed, however. That’s why we currently distinguish between two types of GMT watches: The first is the “flyer,” or travel GMT, and the second is the “caller,” or office GMT. The difference between the two is that a travel GMT allows you to set the local hour hand independently – a handy feature for frequent travelers. You only have to set the central hour hand to the correct time zone, and you’re done (if you’ve already set the 24-hour hand to the home time, of course). If your watch has a date, it will often change with setting the date.
An office GMT, on the other hand, lets you independently set the 24-hour GMT hand, but if you want your watch to display the local time centrally, you’ll have to set that first and then correct the date, if necessary. Finally, you set the 24-hour hand to the home time. In short, it’s quite a bit more work. If you are a frequent traveler, you probably want the practicality of a travel GMT, but if you want to keep track of the time in one specific place, e.g., where your relatives live, then an office GMT will do the job just fine.
Why are GMT watches so expensive?
For a long time, GMT watches were fairly expensive timepieces. This is mostly due to the fact that it’s a complicated watch, i.e., you need a base movement plus a GMT complication. Travel GMTs are especially expensive, as they are more complicated to create. With the introduction of a number of third-party GMT movements that are available to any brand, prices have come down significantly.
Most people, including myself, prefer “true” travel GMT watches, but there aren’t that many movement manufacturers offering affordable travel GMT calibers. There are definitely some, however. While the Rolex GMT-Master is still the king of GMTs, you don’t have to pay over $10,000 to get a beautiful GMT. Let’s focus on some of the most attractive affordable GMTs to give you an idea of what’s out there.
You might also like: What is a GMT function and how does it work?
Glycine Airman Vintage “The Chief” 40 GMT
Remember that very first GMT watch I talked about from 1953? Well, Glycine still exists and they still make the Airman. In tribute to the original watch from the 1950s, the brand added the Airman Vintage “The Chief” GMT to its collection. You can get this timepiece in 36 or 40 mm, and it has the beautiful vintage style of the original watch. It’s powered by the GL293 caliber, which is based on the Sellita SW330-1, an office GMT movement that you’ll see more of on this list. The official list price of the Airman is less than $2,000, but you can get one at a steep discount on the secondary market, and you’ll walk away with the original GMT watch.
Christopher Ward C65 Aquitaine GMT
Christopher Ward has made a name for itself with a wide collection of attractive watches offering incredible value for money. In the current collection, you’ll find three different GMT watches, all of which have ample charm and start at just over $1,200. We picked the C65 Aquitaine GMT for this list, as it offers that classic GMT aesthetic with the brand’s own spin. It’s a beauty of a watch that comes with a 41-mm case housing the Sellita SW330-2 office GMT movement. The watch costs $1,425 on a leather strap and $1,595 on a stainless-steel bracelet.
Baltic Aquascaphe GMT
The French brand Baltic has quickly become a very popular microbrand. Baltic’s success story started with their Aquascaphe, a celebration of the classic diving watch style. The brand subsequently created a beautiful GMT version of the watch. The latter comes with a 39-mm case and three different bezel color combinations. The watch is powered by the Soprod C125 office GMT movement. On a rubber strap, the watch comes in at approx. $1,200; expect to pay slightly more for a stainless-steel bracelet.
Traska Venturer GMT
Traska is another microbrand that’s on the radar of a lot of watch fans. The brand offers some great, affordable timepieces like the Traska Venturer GMT, which comes with a 38.5-mm case and your choice of four different dial colors. The watch is powered by the automatic Miyota 9075 GMT movement, a travel GMT that allows you to set the local hour hand independently. This watch has won a lot of fans, especially when people find out it can be purchased on a steel bracelet for $695.
Seiko 5 Sports SSK001
A little over a year ago, Seiko introduced the Seiko 5 Sports GMT series containing three different models inspired by the brand’s famous, now-discontinued SKX in terms of aesthetics. The muse watch has been a longtime fan favorite, and the Japanese brand has successfully reinterpreted its famous silhouette with the current Seiko 5 Sports. The GMT models come with your choice of a black, blue, or orange dial. Each features a 42.5-mm stainless-steel case and bracelet. Inside the case, Seiko equips the watches with its in-house caliber 4R34, an office GMT. At less than $500, these three watches offer incredible value for money and some serious style.
Mido Ocean Star GMT
Mido is part of the famous Swatch Group, which means it has access to movements from ETA. Some of you might know that ETA was behind the popular Powermatic 80 movement that powers watches from Tissot, Hamilton, Mido, and Certina. ETA also created a travel GMT version of this movement that powers the Mido Ocean Star GMT. This 44-mm GMT diver has become a fan favorite thanks to its outstanding specs. It marks a break from the regular GMTs, as it’s a dive watch first and foremost. The Ocean Star comes with a traditional 60-minute diving bezel and incorporates the 24-hour scale on the rehaut. The watch is available in four different versions starting at $1,250 on a fabric strap, and moving up to $1,470 for a stainless steel and rose gold PVD coated version.
Certina DS Action GMT
The Certina DS Action GMT is another watch that uses the same movement as the Mido. This watch has a super cool, distinct look with its integrated 24-hour bezel. All four variants come with a 43.1-mm stainless steel case, two of which are plain stainless steel, while the other two have a stealthy black PVD coating. You have the choice of a NATO strap or stainless-steel bracelet for the regular versions. The black PVD versions come with a fabric or leather strap. Prices fall in the $1,000-$1,100 range, depending on your selection.
Zodiac Super Sea Wolf GMT
Zodiac is known among watch fans for their stylish GMTs. The Zodiac Super Sea Wolf GMT is the brand’s most famous and beloved variant. The current collection is home to a full stainless-steel version and one with a stainless steel and gold PVD-coated case and bracelet. Try to find older versions that come with really nice light bezel color combinations like white and orange or white and bright green. Either would make a great summery GMT watch that packs a lot of style and solid technology thanks to the Soprod C125 movement we discussed earlier. The regular stainless steel version takes after the Rolex Explorer II and is available for $1,695.
Longines Spirit Zulu Time GMT
If we move up the price ladder slightly, you’ll find the Longines Spirit Zulu Time GMT. A 42-mm model was launched last year in three different colors and became an instant hit. This year, the brand followed up with four smaller 39-mm versions. The watches are powered by the brand’s chronometer-certified L844.4 movement, which is a travel GMT. Prices start at $3,050 for the watch on a leather strap, and go up to $3,150 for the same watch on a stainless-steel bracelet. If you want a gold and steel version, expect to see a price tag of $4,200 on a leather strap and $4,300 on a bracelet. What you get in return is a beautiful watch that’s considered best in class.
Tudor Black Bay GMT
Speaking of best in class, we couldn’t end this list without a Tudor. For this list, we picked the Black Bay GMT, as it got a new addition to its line this year. The new version comes with an iconic blue and red bezel and has a white opaline dial. The watch is housed in a 41-mm stainless steel case and comes with the choice of a textile strap or stainless-steel bracelet. Tudor equips this watch with its chronometer-certified MT5652 true GMT caliber. The watch costs $4,300 on the bracelet and $3,975 on a textile strap.
That wraps up our list of ten affordable GMT watches. “Affordable” is obviously relative depending on your budget, so I’ve tried to hit a few different price points here. Be sure to ask yourself whether you really need a travel GMT. While they’ve become more widely available at reasonable prices, most affordable GMTs are still office GMTs. If you don’t travel a lot, that could still be a great option.