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What is a GMT Watch and How Does It Work? A Detailed Guide

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What is a GMT Watch and How Does It Work A Detailed Guide

Dive into any premier men’s watch collection, and a GMT watch from celebrated brands like OMEGA, Rolex, and Tudor is sure to stand out. 

Initially crafted for pilots and global travelers to keep pace with varying regional times, the GMT watch tracks Greenwich Mean Time, facilitating the monitoring of multiple time zones. 

This guide explores the GMT watch’s journey from indispensable aviation instrument to luxurious timepiece, showcases top GMT models, and provides insights on selecting the perfect GMT watch to complement your lifestyle and travel demands.

Understanding the Mechanics of a GMT Watch

Understanding the Mechanics of a GMT Watch

The GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) watch enables tracking of multiple time zones at once, proving vital for world travelers and global professionals. It boasts an extra hour hand and usually a 24-hour bezel or dials, moving beyond simple timekeeping to seamlessly connect diverse geographies and schedules.

Understanding the functionality of a GMT watch reveals its complexity and utility.

Two Key Features

  • 24-Hour Hand: This additional hand rotates once every 24 hours and is used to reference a second time zone, distinct from the local time displayed by the main hour hand. This feature enables the wearer to keep track of time in two different zones at a glance, a boon for those who engage across borders.
  • Bezel: Many GMT watches come with a rotating bezel marked with a 24-hour scale. This can be aligned with the GMT hand to track even more time zones. The bezel’s adjustability adds a layer of versatility, allowing for quick and easy time zone changes without the need for resetting the watch.

These features combine to offer a level of sophistication and practicality, setting the GMT watch apart as a unique and valuable timepiece. Its utility is evident whether in maintaining connections with business partners in other countries or keeping in touch with global markets.

Types of GMT

office gmt vs travel gmt
  • Office GMT Watches: Known also as “caller GMT” watches, these are equipped with a GMT hand that can be set independently of the local time. This function is particularly beneficial for professionals who need to quickly check another time zone without disrupting the watch’s main timekeeping. This feature allows for seamless adjustments, ensuring that the local time remains accurate even as the second time zone is changed.
  • True GMT Watches: Preferred by avid travelers, these watches enable the GMT hand (tracking the second time zone) to be adjusted independently from the local time. This is crucial for individuals moving across time zones, as it allows for the local time to be updated without affecting the reference to the home time zone.

How the GMT Watch Works

Mark Bernardo, a watch expert, notes that at the core of a GMT watch is the additional 24-hour hand that completes one rotation every 24 hours, in contrast to the regular 12-hour hand. This extra hand points to a 24-hour scale, typically on the watch dial’s bezel or outer rim. This allows you to reference a second-time zone.

For example, combine this feature with a rotating bezel, and you can adjust the reference time zone without disturbing the main time setting.

Models like the Tudor Black Bay GMT with the in-house caliber MT5642 or the Rolex GMT-Master with the caliber 3258 allow for the independent adjustment of the hour hand. This enables the wearer to set the local time and track an additional time zone using the GMT hand and bezel.

History and Evolution of GMT Watches

wearing rolex gmt batman

The GMT watch is a pivotal innovation, tracing the era when global standard time became paramount. Greenwich Mean Time (GMT) emerged as the answer to the world’s need for a uniform time standard critical for navigation and international communication as explained by the Royal Museums Greenwich.

Initially, GMT was used for railroads and telegraphy. Still, as air travel took off, the demand for a watch capable of tracking multiple time zones grew. The world shifted from pure GMT to Coordinated Universal Time (UTC), a more precise standard that factors in atomic timekeeping.The watershed moment in timekeeping came with introducing Rolex’s first GMT watch in 1954 as detailed in their history. This was done in collaboration with Pan American Airways.


The evolution of the GMT watch continued beyond the introduction of Rolex’s first GMT watch. The brand has continued producing their GMT lines, known as the Rolex GMT-Master II collection. Other watchmakers also began to innovate, introducing their own versions with various features to enhance usability and accuracy. 

As technology advanced, so did the precision of these timepieces. The development of quartz movements and digital displays in the latter half of the 20th century allowed for more accurate and easier-to-read GMT watches. 

Notably, the Seiko and Maen Hudson 38 GMT, marked significant advancements in GMT watch technology, offering more affordable and accessible options.

How to Use a GMT Watch

Knowing the primary purpose of a GMT watch, the next important thing to learn is how to use it. Having adequate knowledge on utilizing this practical tool watch is beneficial if you’re a frequent traveler or want to keep updated with certain timezones. 

This section details the general steps on how to make use of a GMT watch:

Setting the GMT Function: A Step-by-Step Guide

1. Find your local time: Ensure your primary hour is set to local time first.

2. Identify the GMT hand: The hand, usually in a different style or color, denotes the second time zone and revolves around the dial once every 24 hours.

3. Set the GMT hand: Adjust the GMT hand to GMT or the time zone you need to track by pulling the crown to the appropriate position detailed in your watch’s manual.

4. Utilize the bezel: Some GMT watches have a rotating bezel with a 24-hour scale. Align the bezel to match the GMT hand for an added visual reference.

Tips for Travelers: Tracking Multiple Time Zones

  • Use the GMT hand: To know the time in a new time zone, calculate the difference from GMT and adjust the GMT hand accordingly.
  • Rotate the bezel: If you change time zones frequently, use the rotating bezel (if available) to quickly find the current time in your new location.
  • Keep your local time set: Maintain the main hour hand on your local time to keep grounded to your home time zone.

Remember, knowing how to read a GMT watch is pivotal for harnessing its full potential. With its practical utility and sophisticated design, learning to use your GMT watch can make you more adept at managing time complexities across the world.

Top 7 GMT Watch in Singapore

When selecting a GMT watch, consider how it blends with your lifestyle and the frequency of your travels. Remember, different luxury watch brands offer GMT watches but are not created equal. 

Here’s a table showing various luxury watch brands and their top GMT watches so you can compare them better:

Brand & ModelGMT Function DescriptionMarket Price
Rolex GMT-Master II (126710BLRO)It has an independent 24-hour hand and bidirectional rotatable bezel for easy time zone adjustment.S$27,070
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean GMT ( features a helium-escape valve and GMT hand with an arrow tip for tracking a second-time zone.S$7,740
Tudor Black Bay GMT (79830RB)It comes with an additional red snowflake GMT hand and a bidirectional rotatable bezel for tracking two time zones simultaneously.S$3,986
Breitling Chronomat GMT (AB041012)It has a GMT hand with an additional time zone display on a 24-hour scale, integrated with a chronograph function.S$5,606
Patek Philippe Complications Travel Time (5524G-001)It allows a dual time zone mechanism with separate day/night indicators for local and home time.S$47,232
IWC Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Chronograph (IW395001)It gives you a unique time zone bezel that can be set by rotating the bezel to the desired time zone.S$10,160
Panerai Luminor 1950 3 Days GMT (PAM00531)It has an additional GMT hand and AM/PM indicator on the sub-dial to track a second-time zone easily.S$6,816

Tips for Choosing the Right GMT Watch for You

rolex batman

When choosing the right GMT watch, it’s not just its multiple time zone tracking functionality you should consider. You also have to consider the following:

  • Assess Durability and Legibility: Opt for a watch that offers both robustness for travel and a dial that is easy to read at a glance, ensuring it can withstand your adventures while providing clear time checks.
  • Set a Budget: Luxury options like Rolex and Omega offer exceptional craftsmanship, while Tudor provides affordable quality, balancing cost and value, according to Jorg Weppelink
  • Consider Your Lifestyle: Choose a design that aligns with your daily activities—whether you need a sleek, professional look or a durable, adventure-ready piece.
  • Prioritize Comfort and Fit: Attention to case diameter and thickness for a perfect fit is important, too. The watch shouldn’t be too big so that it doesn’t impede your wrists’ movement.
  • Maintenance and Service: Consider the long-term care of your watch. Accessible service centers and transparent maintenance costs will ensure your GMT watch stays in prime condition for years.

Frequently Asked Questions

1. What Is the Point of a GMT Watch?

The primary purpose of a GMT watch is to provide an easy and reliable way of tracking time across different regions without the need for complex calculations or constantly adjusting the watch. Once the GMT hand is set to your desired time zone, you can quickly glance at the watch to know the time in both the local and the second time zone. 

2. What Is the Difference Between GMT and Normal Watches?

Normal watches display only the local time with three hands: hour, minute, and second. They lack the additional GMT hand and the 24-hour scale, and they cannot track multiple time zones simultaneously. 

While some normal watches may offer a dual time function through a sub-dial or a digital display, they do not provide the same convenience and ease of use as a true GMT watch.

3. Why Are GMT Watches So Popular?

According to Budget Direct Insurance, there were about 19.12 million visitor arrivals in Singapore in 2019. This has always been in the millions range yearly, although it plummeted when the pandemic hit. 

Pair this up with the fact that luxury watch brands, such as Rolex and Omega, are producing GMT timepieces; you’re getting functionality, style, and prestige out of their wristwatches.

4. Why Are GMT Watches So Expensive?

GMT watches are expensive mainly due to their complex movements, requiring sophisticated engineering to display multiple time zones accurately. Additionally, the materials required to manufacture them are high-quality, like stainless steel, titanium, or precious materials, as produced by the top luxury watch brands. 

Final Word

A GMT watch is a global companion. The ability to track different time zones is a testament to how interconnected our world has become. These watches keep you grounded to Greenwich Mean Time, the cornerstone of modern timekeeping, while also allowing you to swiftly jet between the zones of your choice.

Key Takeaways

  • Selecting a GMT watch requires evaluating your needs, including its multi-time zone tracking ability, travel durability, readability, style, and budget, to ensure it fits both your practical uses and personal taste.
  • The ideal GMT watch depends on personal preference and budget, with options ranging from luxury brands like Rolex to more accessible ones like Tudor, balancing features, design, and cost for your specific needs.
  • GMT watches are essential for frequent travelers and those working across time zones, offering convenience, global connectivity, and style, making them a practical and sophisticated choice for keeping time worldwide.

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