What Is a GMT Watch?

More often than not, a watch aficionado buys a watch for its aesthetic, legacy and collectability, and not necessarily to use its prominent features. The Submariner is not always used to go diving, as owners of the Daytona don’t always use it on the race track.

The GMT function, however, is actually being used by a vast number of GMT watch owners. Unlike other complications, it’s actually quite easy (and even fun) to use, and certainly useful when travelling between different timezones. Moreover, they have distinctive looks and impressive versatility.

Here’s why a GMT watch is a worthy addition to your collection, frequent traveler or not.



The concept of GMT dates back to 1884. Established in an era of slow boat travel, it helped monitor time in between oceans by declaring Greenwich, England as the “Mean Time” by which the rest of the world’s timezones would be compared. This was necessary at the time when time zones crossed over weeks and days. Jet travel changed all that.


In 1952, the British de Havilland Comet became the first jet airliner to fly nonstop, going from London to Johannesburg. This would become the advent of the Jet Age, when people were, for the first time, able to fly across oceans in a day – also introducing the modern ailment known as jet lag.

Pilots who flew these long haul flights needed a way to keep track of both local and destination time. Pan Am airlines approached Rolex and requested for a watch to be built for this new need. In 1954, the GMT-Master was introduced – a watch that could track two time zones simultaneously.


The Rolex GMT-Master is arguably the most popular GMT watch of all time. Rolex produced it for Pan Am airlines in 1954. While the distinctive blue and red bezel design was made for the air carrier, most people know it as the “Pepsi Bezel” Rolex today.

pictured: Rolex GMT Master II Pepsi Bezel Steel Automatic Mens Watch 16710



Simply put, a GMT watch is a timepiece that has a 24-hour format hand in addition to the hour, minute and seconds hands. It’s worth noting that there are other watches labeled GMT that feature two time zones in a 12-hour format – while useful, they can’t be considered true GMT watches.

Most GMT watches have two hands to display the 12-hour format, and another hand that’s independently adjustable to display the 24-hour time. The Rolex GMT-Master II in particular, comes with a two-directional rotatable 24-hour graduated bezel. This works together with the colored 24-hour hand to display the local or home reference time which can be read on the scale points on the bezel.


GMT watches may also have other complications aside from the dual-timezone function. Breitling’s in-house Chronomat GMT has both a GMT hand and chronograph for added utility. While GMT watches were originally designed for pilots, they can easily be used to track time in two different timezones.

pictured: Breitling Chronomat GMT Steel Black Dial Mens Watch



Certainly, the GMT watch will be advantageous for someone who travels frequently. Aside from being able to tell the time in two timezones, a GMT watch can be useful in assimilating to different time zones and avoiding jet lag. To do this, one can simply set the 12-hour hand to the current travel destination time a few days before departure, letting you get accustomed to a different time zone before travelling.

Aesthetically, GMT watches are of the sporty kind. Most GMT watches use colorful accents, such as a distinctly colored 24-hour hand or a bi-color bezel, making it the perfect fit for those who like distinctive looking watches.






PHOTO CREDITS: Three Pan Am Boeing 707 awaiting delivery [Public Domain] via Wikimedia Commons 
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