I think that it’s pretty safe to say that there are quite a few complications out there in this world of watches that are done just for the sake of being done. I mean, no one actually needs to counteract gravity with a tourbillon on their wrist watch (even though they do look pretty awesome). And how many of us actually use the chronographs on some of our favorite watches other than as an expensive egg timer out of obligation to show how useful it really is (I say this knowing well that I am incredibly guilty of doing the exact same thing). All that being said, there is one complication that is actually practical for everyday life (mostly)...the GMT.
As the development of international travel, telephones, and the internet have progressed over the years, the world we live in has gotten smaller and smaller. Where fifty years ago it was rare to have ever travelled outside of your continent much less had consistent communication with someone on the other side of an ocean, today it’s commonplace in both business and our personal lives. With the world quite literally at our fingertips, it has never been more important to keep up with it. And whether you’re using a GMT complication to keep track of international business or to know what time it is speaking to relatives back in other parts of the world (a very important thing I learned at an early age when trying to phone my grandparents in Germany at an ungodly early morning hour), the concept of having two time zones on one watch brings a feeling of closeness to the wearer.
It was 1953 when the very first GMT watch was introduced by Glycine called the Airman. While the original Airman didn’t have a separate GMT hand like we are used to seeing with the complication, it utilized a 24 hour scale on the dial partnered with a 24 hour bezel to bring this idea of international jet setter to the wrist. In fact, it was because of this “jet setting” lifestyle that Rolex developed their GMT watch and introduced it just one year later.
Just picture it, the 1950’s represented a whole new era in life. Pan American Airways was changing the way we saw the world by making flying a “regular” part of life. There was just a small problem, pilots needed a way to keep track of both local and GMT time while crossing many time zones on longer flights. To answer that need, Rolex introduced the GMT Master ref 6542 in 1954. A true first of its kind as the calibre 1036 allowed for a separate hour hand to display the GMT time, though the hand could not actually be set separately and the second time zone was set by rotating the bezel. (check out this great read for a more in-depth look at the history of Rolex and GMTs)
That changed in 1983 when Rolex introduced the quick setting GMT Master II which allows the hour hands to be set separately (for some technical tips, check out this guide on using a GMT). While Rolex may not be the only name in the game when it comes to GMT complications, they are arguably the most iconic. After all, they were on the scene right as the need for this complication grew where other brands needed time to catch up. And while it’s easy to get caught up in the hype that is all things Rolex as we know it today, I think it’s important to remember where the brand came from. So many of their watches, including the GMT, came from a need. Not just someone who wanted a fancy watch, but for someone who needed a tool in order to better perform the task at hand. Fortunately Rolex has found a way to suit both of those types of people as the collection has progressed over the years. With different bezel colors, bracelet options, and even different styles (like the Explorer II instead of the more traditional Rolex GMTs), you can choose your adventure.
Whether having a GMT complication is practical for business or just for your pleasure (I mean who wouldn’t want to set the second time zone to your favorite vacation destination and fantasize about it throughout the day), it remains undefeated in my mind as the best complication around. And as big as this world is, there’s just something about it that makes it seem like we can all be together. But for those who may be a little less, dare I say “cheesy”, about your watches, it just looks awesome so that’s good enough too. Just be sure to pack your Everest watch roll in your suitcase with plenty of watch and strap options!