by Stella Kirchner
GMT watches are more popular than ever. But which brands offer the best models for keeping track of two time zones?
What is a dual time or GMT watch?
Before we take a closer look at watches with a GMT complication, aka a two time zone feature, let’s define some of these terms. GMT stands for Greenwich Mean Time and refers to the solar time at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London. Greenwich played a significant role in the history of sea travel and lent its name to the Greenwich meridian, which also serves as the prime meridian. Time zones are indicated as GMT plus or minus “x” hours, depending on their distance from Greenwich. The GMT time zone system is based on the rotation of the earth. The more precise UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) later became the official time standard, especially after leap seconds were adopted.
1. Rolex GMT-Master
The first Rolex GMT-Master dates back to the 1950s. It’s said that the watch was the result of a cooperation with Pan American Airways, who wanted a watch for their crew on long-distance flights. In addition to the typical hour and second hands, there’s another hand that displays the time in a second time zone. This hand circles the dial once every 24 hours and shows the time in another time zone using a 24-hour scale on the rotatable bezel. Many GMT bezels have two colors to indicate whether it’s day or night in the other time zone. Over the years, a number of GMT-Master variations have appeared on the market.
However, there’s a clearly recognizable design that runs through all of these models, from the first Rolex GMT-Master with the reference number 6542 to the more recent ref. 16710 with a blue and red “Pepsi” bezel. In the beginning, the bezel was made of Bakelite. This version is also known as the “Pussy Galore,” named after the pilot who wore the exact same watch in the James Bond film Goldfinger. The watch was produced with an aluminum insert until 2007, at which point it was replaced with ceramic. At first, the bezel was only available in black, but it now comes in black/blue as well as red/blue for the white-gold model.
2. Patek Philippe Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph 5990/1A-001
The Patek Philippe Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph ref. 5990/1A-001 with a second time zone has only been on the market for a few years, but its design harks back to the original Nautilus from the 1970s. The time in the standard time zone, which is labeled “Local,” is set using the crown. Beneath the word “Local,” a small window indicates whether it’s day or night. On the left side of the 40.5-mm stainless steel case, you can set the time in a second time zone using two push-pieces. This time zone is labeled “Home” on the dial and also has a day/night display. The second time zone is displayed using a skeletonized hour hand. The time can be set one hour ahead or behind using the push-piece.
As mentioned above, this Patek Philippe watch also has a chronograph function with a 60-minute counter at the 6 o’clock position. The subdial at 12 o’clock with a date display rounds out the dial. This date display can be set using a small hidden push-piece on the top right side of the case.
3. Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Duoface
Another interesting watch that displays two time zones is the Jaeger-LeCoultre Grande Reverso Duoface. With a design that goes back to 1931, the Reverso has the longest history of all the watches in this article. Unlike the models above, this watch doesn’t use an additional hand for the second time zone, but instead incorporates two separate dials on the front and back sides of the case. Each dial can be set independently and shows a different time zone. You can flip the case to view the local time or your home time.
On one side, you’ll see the regular time with a small seconds at 6 o’clock. If you flip the case, you’ll find a second dial that shows the time as well as a day/night display. The Reverso Duoface is available with a number of different case material and band options. Since the Duoface has two separate dials, it’s also a good choice if you like changing up the appearance of your watch from time to time.