When it comes to travel watches, the Rolex GMT-Master II is often considered to be the gold standard. However, when you really think about it, an instantly-recognizable Rolex model with a shiny multi-colored bezel and an open market price of nearly $30k probably isn’t the best timepiece to wear in a foreign city with a high crime rate. Similarly, given that any repairs to the GMT-Master II will likely set you back nearly a thousand dollars (or more) at your local Rolex Service Center, it also isn’t the ideal travel watch to bring on an outdoor adventure that runs a high risk of damaging your timepiece.
With that in mind, there are countless other fantastic travel-ready watches that exist at a wide variety of different price points, and they offer styles that range from dressy to sporty and everything in between. Below are some of the best and most practical travel watch alternatives to the Rolex GMT-Master II, and all of them can be purchased brand-new for less than $5k.
Tudor Black Bay GMT
If you really have your heart set on a red and blue travel watch from the greater Rolex parent company, then the Tudor Black Bay GMT makes a fantastic alternative that checks a lot of the same boxes but for a fraction of the cost. Given that the Rolex GMT-Master II has an official retail price of just over $10,000 and a current open market price of roughly three times that, the fact that you can pick up a brand-new Black Bay GMT for just over $4k seems like a relative bargain.
Like the Rolex GMT-Master II, the Tudor Black Bay GMT features a bright red and blue bezel, which has the potential to attract unwanted attention if worn in the wrong city or setting. With that in mind, wearing a Black Bay GMT isn’t quite the same as flashing around a Rolex that every pickpocket and mugger knows is worth $30k, and the Tudor will also be significantly less expensive to repair if you happen to damage it. All things considered, the 41mm Black Bay GMT may not be the most understated travel watch on the planet, but with a jumping local hour hand, a chronometer-certified movement, and 200 meters of water resistance, it is undeniable that it offers quite a lot of watch for your money.
Grand Seiko SBGM221
Image: Grand Seiko
Many travel watches take the form of overbuilt sports models, but this style of timepiece isn’t always ideal if you are going on a trip that will largely consist of business meetings or when you really just need something that can show you the time in two locations and look good when paired with a suit. The Grand Seiko SBGM221 offers a dressy take on the classic travel watch, and despite its refined and elegant design, it sacrifices nothing when it comes to travel-ready capabilities.
Inside the 39.5mm stainless steel case of the Grand Seiko SBGM221 is the brand’s Caliber 9S66 movement, which offers GMT functionality and a jumping local hour hand, along with a date display located at 3 o’clock. Despite its $4,600 retail price, the understated aesthetic of the SBGM221 means that it is less likely to attract unwanted attention (unless the mugger is a serious watch enthusiast), while its ivory-colored dial and highly polished hands provide all the close-up visual appeal of a true luxury timepiece.
Finding a perfect balance between dressy and sporty, while still managing to include two time zones and a date display, the MONTA Atlas makes an ideal go-anywhere, do-anything travel watch that can comfortably exist in a wide variety of different situations. Without an external rotating bezel, the MONTA Atlas is inherently more refined than most GMT watches on the market; however, it retains the durability of a true sports model, offering users a screw-down crown and 150 meters of water resistance.
The 38.5mm case of the MONTA Atlas is incredibly versatile, both in terms of its size and overall aesthetics. Since the watch’s 24-hour scale is printed along its rehaut, the external bezel is free to be a simple piece of brushed stainless steel that perfectly compliments the curves of its case. With an official retail price of less than $2k, the MONTA Atlas is a fraction of the cost of the Rolex GMT-Master II while simultaneously offering an extra 50 meters of water resistance. Additionally, when it comes to long-term ownership, the MONTA Atlas also benefits from being significantly less expensive to maintain, as it doesn’t rely on a proprietary movement that has to go back to the manufacturer every time it needs to be serviced. Little known fact, MONTA also has an in-house watch maker to attend to any service needs if they should arrise.
Casio World Time AE1200WH
When it comes to the best bottom-dollar travel watches, it is hard to think of a timepiece that offers more bang for your buck than the Casio World Time AE1200WH. While a plastic digital watch is hardly the most inspiring thing to wear on your wrist, the Casio AE1200WH is an incredibly functional item, and it is capable of displaying the time in all 31 time zones around the globe, along with also offering an alarm, timer, stopwatch, and even a backlight.
The Casio World Time AE1200WH is available in a wide variety of different colors and configurations, although all of them are similarly affordable and a budget of $35 grants you access to any model that your heart desires. Given that the AE1200WH offers 100 meters of water resistance with a 10-year battery life, you will likely end up needing to replace the strap on your watch before you need to open up the case to change the battery. However, should you happen to lose or break your Casio AE1200WH before that point in time, you can easily purchase a replacement for less than the price of a tank of gas.