The Best GMT Watches to Buy at Every Budget

No longer solely the realm of expensive, high-end Swiss brands, this handy two-timer of a complication is now affordable and ubiquitous.

November 15, 2022 6:38 am
The Best GMT Watches to Buy at Every Budget

There was a time — a long time, actually — during which if someone wanted a GMT watch, there weren’t too many options out there.

There was of course the Rolex GMT-Master (and, from 1983 onward, the GMT-Master II); there were numerous, more expensive haute horlogerie world time complications from the likes of Patek Philippe et al; there was the vintage 24-hour Glycine Airman of Vietnam War-era fame; and there were others. Not many others, really.

Now, though? Now, we’re in the Golden Age of the GMT(™). These days, everyone and their mother is making a dual-time watch, and, most excitingly, many of them are relatively affordable, hitting right around the $1,000-$1,500 mark. Up until recently, this type of pricing meant that one was getting what noted watch journalist James Stacey has helpfully dubbed a “caller” GMT — a type that is well suited to tracking a second time zone that one isn’t currently located in, as it allows for independent jumping of the GMT hand. However, now we’re beginning to see the advent of more of what Stacey has named ‘flyer” GMTs — the Rolex type, which allows for quick jumping of the local hour hand, and thus makes it a cinch to adjust to a new time zone upon landing.

Whatever your preference — “caller” or “flyer” — the news is good: GMT watches are everywhere, they’re affordable, and they’ve permeated the zeitgeist to the extent that brands are motivated to offer them. Here, we’re going to survey some of these newer GMTs (as well as some fan favorites), but before we do, a little history lesson is in order…

The History of the GMT Watch 

In the early 1950s, Pan American Airways — a perfect symbol of the Jet Age if ever there was one — put in an important request to the Rolex Watch Company: The airline needed a special watch for its air crews that would allow them to keep track of both local and Greenwich Mean Time, the international reference time in the commercial aviation industry. 

Everyone knows what happened next: The Swiss watchmaking giant took the brief under consideration and delivered, in 1954, the GMT-Master reference 6542 in all its Bakelite-bezel’ed glory, followed up shortly thereafter by the famed reference 1675 — the golden standard for GMT watches. Ads from the 1960s show a Pan Am navigator glancing at his handy dual-time watch with the words “Pan Am flies with Rolex” proudly shown above; it was a match made in heaven — or, at least at 35,000 feet. 

Early on, the GMT Master operated using a fairly simple system: a fourth hand ran at half the speed of the hour hand. When used in conjunction with the bi-directional GMT bezel and its 24-hour indices, this allowed the user to track a second time zone — which, in the cockpit, was always Greenwich Mean Time. However, it did not allow for independent jumping of the local hour hand or the fourth hand. 

Independent setting of the local hour hand would come later, with the advent of the GMT-Master II reference 16760 in 1983. This allowed for quick adjustment of the local time zone, to which the GMT hand was no longer tethered. Thus, the user could conceivably read two time zones off the dial, and then rotate the bezel by a known offset to quickly read the time in a third zone against one of the hour hands. 

These days, there are certain GMT watches with both 24-hour bezels and 24-hour scales printed on the dial. (We’re looking at you, first-generation Monta Skyquest.) This allows the user to read three time zones simultaneously, as the GMT hand can be read against the 24-hour dial scale, and the bezel can be left rotated to calculate a constant offset for a third zone. 

Of course, there are other dual-time complications that are worthy of your attention: the 24-hour Glycine Airman of military watch yore, the famed world timers of Tissot and Patek, and many more. (Even a 12-hour watch with a simple, rotatable 12-hour bezel can be used to cheaply and easily calculate a second time zone.) But for ease of use, classic appeal, utility, and more, the GMT Master-style watch has remained the fan favorite-GMT timepiece — a position it largely still occupies.

These days, myriad watch companies have adopted the Rolex model in an effort to offer their own GMT-equipped timepieces. Let’s take a look at some of them…

The Best GMT Watches at Every Budget 

Seiko 5 Sports GMT on a black background

Seiko 5 Sports GMT ($475)

Finally: a truly affordable, GMT-equipped watch in a stainless steel case with a bracelet and a good-looking design! The famed “5” mechanical timepiece series from Seiko has been around since the 1960s, but this is the very first GMT-equipped model. For those who have long touted the qualities of the now-defunct SKX divers, the Seiko 5 GMT is a godsend: Packed into a 42.5mm stainless steel case with a matching “Jubilee”-style bracelet and featuring 100m of water resistance, it’s perfect for travelers on a budget. What’s more, though it’s a “caller” GMT, it features both a 24-hour dial and a 24-hour rehaut, meaning you can track three time zones on it. 

Diameter: 42.5mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Movement: Seiko 4R34 automatic
Strap: Stainless steel “Jubilee” style bracelet 

Maen Hudson 38 GMT on a black background

Maen Hudson 38 GMT (~$710)

Maen, a microbrand founded by duel Dutchmen, makes Swiss watches whose pricing belies their quality. The new Hudson 38 GMT, based upon the company’s Hudson 38 Mk IV dive watch, features appointments and details generally found in timepieces well above the $1K price point, including a Swiss-made Soprod C125 automatic (“caller”) movement; a sandblasted, 120-click GMT bezel; 300m of water resistance; a handsome, sandblasted dial with ample lume; and a tapering, stainless steel five-link bracelet. Offering three time zones via a 24-hour rehaut and the watch’s bezel, this impressive timepiece is proof positive that a GMT-equipped travel watch needn’t break the proverbial bank. 

Diameter: 38mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Movement: Soprod C125 automatic

Strap: Stainless steel five-link bracelet 

Baltic Aquascaphe CMT on a black background

Baltic Aquascaphe GMT (~$920-$987)

People love French microbrand watches because their wares walk a fine line, taking inspiration from classic 1960s and 1970s references without outright copying any of them. The Aquascaphe GMT was a long time in the works: It adopts the brand’s handsome diver as the basis of a travel watch, adding a Swiss Soprod movement, a bidirectional bezel with a sapphire 24-hour insert featuring a distinct Bakelite look, and several dial and bracelet options. Handsome, water resistant to 100m, and well sized at 39mm, this is the type of well designed, contemporary GMT master that we love — one with just the right amount of vintage influence that never crosses over into “homage territory.” (Dig the thoughtful touches, also, such as a caseback inscribed with 24 time zones and corresponding cities.) 

Diameter: 39mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Movement: Soprod C125 automatic
Strap: Tropic rubber strap; stainless steel “beads of rice” bracelet 

One of the best GMT watches, Mido Ocean Star GMT on a black background

Mido Ocean Star GMT ($1,190)

Remember we mentioned the recent availability of “flyer” movements at about the $1K price point? This is what we’re talking about. Watches such as the Mido Ocean Star GMT are able to offer the Caliber 80 (ETA C07.661), a Swiss-made, local hour-jumping GMT movement with all the fixins’ at an affordable price. Many of the watches currently using this movement are on the dressy side, by the Ocean Star GMT is a notable exception: It’s an oversized, 44mm dive watch, complete with a unidirectional dive bezel, 200m of water resistance, and a ceramic bezel. The combination synthetic-and-calf leather strap is designed to be comfortable out of the water, but throw this baby on rubber or a NATO, and you’ve got yourself a genuine diver with added GMT functionality via a 24-hour rehaut. (Now, if only it came in 39mm…)

Diameter: 44mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Movement: ETA Caliber 80 (ETA C07.661)
Strap: Synthetic fabric/calf leather strap 

The Monta Atlas is one of the best GMT watches

Monta Atlas ($1,950)

Released in 2019, the Atlas is still one of the best picks for a contemporary GMT that straddles the line between sporty and dressy. With its steel case, matching “Oyster”-style bracelet, and oversized, screw-down crown, it’s clearly a tank of a watch, well built and capable of withstanding 150m of water. However, the lack of a rotating bezel — the dial features a 24-hour rehaut instead — means that you get a slimmed down, ergonomic 38.5mm profile that clocks in at just 10.2mm thick. These proportions, along with beautiful, symmetric dial options, Swiss-made GMT functionality, and classic Monta build quality, make for a delightful travel watch that works for a number of wrist sizes. (We’re crossing our fingers for a “flyer” option sometime down the road!)

Diameter: 38.5mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Movement: Monta Caliber M-23 (SW330-2 base) 
Strap: Stainless steel “Oyster”-style bracelet 

One of the best GMT watches, on a black background

NORQAIN Freedom 60 GMT Opaline Dial On Bracelet ($3,990)

If you’ve never heard of Norqain, listen up: It’s a newish brand, founded in 2018, that consists of several watch industry veterans who have banded together to bring the world kick-ass timepieces with features that watch nerds truly appreciate. One of its newest offerings, the Freedom 60 GMT, takes vintage inspiration and blends it with contemporary aesthetics in a winning combination of function and color. Sure, there’s the classic red-and-blue “Pepsi” color combination on the 24-hour scale, but here, it’s relegated to an inner dial ring, while a polished and brushed H-link bracelet further differentiates the watch from its Rolex cousins. Powered by an automatic, chronometer-certified movement from Kenissi, this is an awesome travel watch that begs a closer look.

Diameter: 40mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Movement: Norqain Caliber NN20/2 automatic
Strap: Stainless steel H-link bracelet

Tudor Black Bay Pro ($3,675-$4,000)

The tudor Black Bay Pro on a black background

There’s simply no better value proposition in contemporary GMT watches than the Tudor Black Bay Pro — except maybe the Tudor Black Bay GMT at $4,175. (There, I’ve said it — come at me, don’t @ me, whatever.) Fans of the Black Bay Fifty-Eight had long been clamoring for a GMT-equipped version — namely, a 39mm, moderately thin GMT using the brand’s in-house, “flyer” movement, the COSC-certified Calibre MT5652. Well, their wish was (largely) Tudor’s command: The Black Pro, features a 39mm stainless steel case, a stark, handsome dial, and a kick-ass, “rivet”-style bracelet. Sure, some will inevitably feel it’s slightly too thick, or that it too closely resembles the Explorer II from sister brand Rolex, or that it would’ve been better with a rotating bezel. But there’s no denying that this is one hell of a watch for the money.

Diameter: 39mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Movement: Tudor Calibre MT5652 automatic
Strap: Stainless steel “rivet”-style bracelet with “T-fit” and rapid adjustment

The Most Affordable New, Pre-Owned and Vintage Rolex Watches 
These 10 options, from the Air-King to the Cellini Danaos, are the easiest way into the Crown
The Grand Seiko Automatic GMT is one of the best GMT watchess

Grand Seiko Automatic GMT SBGM221 ($4,600)

Prefer a dressier GMT? Believe it or not, there’s a gorgeous option for under $5K — from Grand Seiko, no less! The SBMG221 boasts a ludicrously handsome, ivory-colored dial housed within a 39.5mm stainless steel case. Via a sapphire display caseback, it’s possible to view the Grand Seiko Caliber 9S66, an in-house “caller” movement that powers the watch’s dual time zones. Though it features only 30m of water resistance, this good looking timepiece is ideally suited to the business traveler, seeing as how well its brown crocodile strap with three-fold clasp and button release pairs with a well made suit or sport coat. In short: Well proportioned, handsome watches such as these are the reason that Grand Seiko has been quietly gobbling up market share in an already-crowded space.

Diameter: 39.5mm
Case Material: Stainless steel
Movement: Grand Seiko Caliber 9S66 automatic
Strap: Brown crocodile leather strap 

The Rolex GMT Master II on a black background

Rolex GMT-Master II ($10,550+)

Still the golden standard in GMT-equipped watches, the modern GMT-Master II recently received an interesting, left-of-center addition to its lineup in the form of the “destro” (left-handed) reference 126720VTNR green-and-black bezel model. Whether you opt for the traditional “Pepsi” bezel, the newer “Batman” bezel, or a special model like the white gold, meteorite-dial version, wearing a GMT projects a very particular message: It either says, “I travel frequently and I use this to retain a semblance of order in my life,” or, “I am wealthy and I would like you to acknowledge that fact.” (Sometimes both.) Pro tip: Glancing at someone’s GMT-Master II to see if it’s actually set properly is a good indicator as to which extreme the wearer belongs.

Diameter: 40mm 
Case Material: Oystersteel; white gold; Everose gold; two-tone Oystersteel and Everose 
Movement: Rolex Calibre 3285 automatic
Strap: Oystersteel, white gold, Everose gold or two-tone Oyster bracelet; Oystersteel Jubilee bracelet 

One of the best GMT watches, the BVLGARI Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT on a black background

BVLGARI Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT ($19,100)

There’s simply nothing on the market quite like the Octo Finissimo Chronograph GMT. Upon its launch, it featured the world’s thinnest chronograph caliber in production, and this was to say nothing of the included GMT feature! Housed in a mind-blowingly cool, super futuristic matte titanium case, the watch has three pushers: the two on the right case flank control the chronograph functions, while the left-hand pusher jumps the local hour hand in one-hour increments. A 24-hour indicator at 3 o’clock displays home time, while a 30-minute counter above 6 o’clock and a running seconds counter at 9 o’clock constitute the chrono functionality. Truly, there’s nothing quite like Ocoto Finissimo on the market when it comes to groundbreaking horological design.

Diameter: 42mm
Case Material: Titanium
Movement: BVLGARI Caliber BVL 318 automatic 
Strap: Titanium bracelet 

The InsideHook Newsletter.

News, advice and insights for the most interesting person in the room.