How To Set a Rolex GMT-Master II

How To Set a Rolex GMT-Master II

The double bezel colors on a classic GMT watch are aesthetically pleasing enough on their own. Collectors who buy GMTs, though, aren’t solely interested in aesthetics. If you buy a watch with a GMT movement, you’re interested in utilizing the unique movement complication to track multiple time zones with ease. 

Just for the sake of argument, let’s say that an unexpected global pandemic hampered your access to international travel for an extended period of time. Of course, the possibility of this ever happening seems remote, but let’s just imagine a world in which that’s possible. If that ever were to happen, you might have placed your GMT watches in a gorgeous watch roll rather than on your wrist. After all, wearing a GMT complication would just tantalizingly remind you of what you couldn’t have. 

Again for the sake of argument, let’s say that international travel starts to heat up again and borders are easier to cross. It might be time to put a brand new rubber strap on your Rolex GMT-Master II and start tracking time zones again. Yet it’s possible that in the intervening months, your GMT skills may have gotten a little rusty. Never fear. We’re here to refresh your memory on how to set and read a watch with a GMT complication -- specifically the GMT-Master II. (Or, if you’re more of  a visual learner, check out our video on setting the watch.

rolex gmt on racing leather watch band

True GMT watches have a fully independent 24-hour hand, and most use an arrow hand marker to indicate which is the 24-hour hand. When it comes to Rolex GMT movements, both caliber 3186 and caliber 3285 have a fully independent GMT hand. On the GMT-Master II, placing the crown in the third position moves the GMT hand and the minute hand. With the crown in the second position, the hour hand can move independently from the GMT hand. That’s important to recall before starting the setting process.

rubber watch band on a rolex gmt

How to Track Two Time Zones With a GMT Complication 



Let’s start small, with domestic travel. It’s not hard to remember that New York and L.A. are three hours apart, but a GMT watch saves you from having to do that constant calculation in your head. So first, we’ll cover setting 2 time zones without using the bezel.  

  1. Let’s say your business partner lives in L.A. First, set the GMT hand to track L.A. time. With the crown in the third position, set the GMT hand to the L.A. time of 5 p.m. 
  2. Since you’re located in NYC, you’ll want the mercedes hour hand to indicate your current time of 8 p.m. To set the local time, unscrew the crown and place it in the second position. Then, set the hour hand to your current NY local time.
  3. When you look at your watch, your local time in NYC will be set at 8 p.m., while the GMT hand will be set to the L.A. time of 5 p.m. You’re good to go. 
blnr on rubber watch strap

How to Track Three Time Zones With a GMT Complication 

Now let’s move to international travel. We’ve already established that you’re based in NYC and your business partner resides in L.A. You’re heading to Basel, Switzerland to check out the 2021 HourUniverse exhibition, of course. How can you use your GMT complication to track all three of these time zones? 

  1. You land in Switzerland at 5 p.m. local time, which means it’s 11 a.m. back in NYC. First, make sure the GMT hand is set to NYC time. If it’s not, move the crown into the third position and set the time to 11 a.m.
  2. Next, move the crown into position two, and move the jumping hour hand to the new local time of 5 p.m. in Switzerland.
  3. In order to track your business partner’s time zone in L.A., let’s use the bezel. You know that L.A. is 3 hours earlier than your NYC home time of 11 a.m. Move the bezel counter-clockwise by 3 clicks so that the 24-hour hand is now pointing to 8 a.m. (If the time zone you want to track is several hours ahead of your home zone, move the bezel clockwise.)
  4. You’re now tracking 3 time zones on your GMT watch. The hour hand is set to local Basel time of 5 p.m., the 24-hour hand is set to 11 a.m. NYC time, and it’s pointing to 8 a.m. LA time 
  5. It’s important to note that in order to track 3 time zones on a GMT-Master, you’ll need to do just a tiny bit of mental math. Once you move the bezel, the 24-hr hand will no longer be pointing to the NYC time on the bezel. Instead, it will be pointing to 8 a.m. However, it will also be pointing to the 11 a.m. position of a normally-set bezel, with the triangle on the bezel at noon. Keeping in mind where the bezel “normally” is set will allow you to quickly track where the 24-hour hand would normally be pointing, revealing your NYC home reference time.  
leather watch strap on rolex gmt ceramic

We hope this quick primer helps you review the GMT complication if you’re hoping to get on a plane any time in the near future. Plus, don’t forget to prepare for travel by changing the look of your GMT-Master with a new rubber or leather strap.   

Written by Meghan Clark

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