Despite the limitations of mechanical watch functionality, brands have been creating unique pieces for over 200 years. All watches (hopefully) tell the time, some tell the date, others tell the moon phase. GMT watches, introduced in the early 1950’s, tell multiple time zones at once. There are two main types of GMTs: “true” GMTs, and “caller” GMTs. The former is characterized by independent manipulation of the hour hand, while the latter is characterized by independent manipulation of the GMT hand. As explained by Vincent Deschamps in his recent article Why I Prefer “Caller” GMTs, these differences are simply a matter of preference and use case. While “true” vs. “caller” is the most salient distinction, there are plenty of variables across GMT watches. Today, we’ll look at three vastly different GMT watches, focusing on what makes each one unique.
Rolex GMT-Master II (Ref. 126710BLRO)
To many watch enthusiasts, the Rolex GMT-Master II is the GMT. Originally released in 1983, the GMT-Master II has been the gold standard of so-called “true” GMTs for almost 40 years. Its “caller” predecessor, the GMT-Master, was originally released in 1954: one year after the Submariner – hence its near-identical design language. Although Glycine’s Airman is thought to be the first GMT wristwatch, the Rolex GMT-Master quickly defined the segment. With the GMT-Master II, Rolex improved upon perfection, introducing independent hour hand adjustment.
The GMT-Master II exhibits robust design language that is unmistakably Rolex, again, sharing most of its DNA with the Submariner. Despite their similarities, the GMT-Master II has a number of unique characteristics. Its bicolor bezel is a defining feature, enabling some of the most iconic color combinations (and corresponding nicknames) of all time: the red and blue “Pepsi”, red and black “Coke”, black and blue “Batman”, etc. The GMT-Master II expertly toes the line between sport and luxury without sacrificing. . . well. . . anything. Inside its modestly-sized case (40mm diameter, 12mm thickness) sits a caliber 3285: a bulletproof, COSC-certified movement with gorgeous finishing.
Simply put, when most people think ‘GMT’, they think Rolex GMT-Master II. This is the independent variable: the reference GMT.
Grand Seiko Elegance GMT (Ref. SBGM221)
The Grand Seiko Elegance GMT strays from the typical GMT archetype – most notably – it’s a dress watch. From the crocodile leather strap to the mirror-polished indices, there’s nothing “sporty” about this watch. Rather than a 24-hour bezel, the Elegance GMT opts for Arabic numerals and dagger indices on the innermost ring of the dial. The creme dial is cut by the black and steel furniture, which is brilliantly interrupted by a chunky, bright blue GMT hand. Like the GMT-Master II, the Elegance GMT is a “true” GMT, sporting independent hour hand adjustment.
The Grand Seiko Elegance GMT is special. Based on the current landscape of GMT watches, a dressy option is anomalous. Rarely do we see an unorthodox pairing like this done with near perfection out of the gate. Similarly to how the Rolex GMT-Master defined the GMT segment, I feel that the Grand Seiko Elegance GMT defined the dress GMT segment. Grand Seiko hit the nail on the head. My one gripe with this watch is its size. Despite a modest diameter of 39.5mm (and 46.5mm lug-to-lug), the case is 13.7mm thick. That’s a chunky watch – and an even chunkier dress watch. Despite this shortcoming, the Grand Seiko Elegance GMT is one of my favorite modern watches.
Monta Atlas GMT
In the words of James Stacey, “the Atlas is a bowl of just-right porridge”. Its 38.5mm case diameter and 10.2mm case thickness are near-perfect for many. The Atlas gives you modest sizing and GMT functionality: the best of both worlds. While its brushed stainless steel case leans closer to the sporty GMT-Master II, the Atlas’ dial displays refined elements á la Grand Seiko. My favorite dial color – Opaline Silver – looks white in pictures, but has a creamy, pearlescent quality. The lumed indices shrouded in mirror polish are prominent – so prominent, in fact, that the GMT hand bends up to clear their height. Rather than a 24-hour bezel or printed numerals, the Atlas displays the 24-hour clock on a chapter ring around the dial. It’s a great use of space that feels like a secret to the wearer. The finishing and quality control is remarkable, particularly at the sub $2000 price point. This is a watch that will look good forever: black, white, steel, and a splash of blue.
Visually, the Atlas toes the line between the GMT-Master II and the Grand Seiko Elegance GMT. However, the movement inside is fundamentally different from both. Rather than the independent hour hand manipulation of a “true” GMT, the Atlas is a "caller" GMT: independent GMT hand manipulation and a quick-set date function. Aside from their functional differences, “caller” GMTs like the Atlas are generally more attainable than “true” GMTs like the GMT-Master II. The Atlas is perhaps my favorite example of a “caller” GMT on the market. It's a great everyday watch.
For decades, the Rolex GMT-Master line has been the blueprint for GMT watches. The entire segment has been anchored by one silhouette. Today, we’re seeing far more variation in the GMT space. No matter where you fall on styling, functionality, and price, there’s likely a GMT out there for you. Regardless of the package, the ability to read two time zones at a glance is remarkable. But let me know what you think – what’s your favorite GMT?