What is a GMT Watch? A Detailed Explanation for Watch Enthusiasts

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For those who frequently travel across time zones or need to track events happening in multiple locations around the world, a GMT watch can be an indispensable tool. GMT, which stands for Greenwich Mean Time, refers to watches that have an extra 24-hour hand for displaying a second time zone. This additional hand allows the wearer to easily reference home time or another important time zone with just a glance at their wrist.

In this blog post, we’ll dive into everything you need to know about GMT watches. We’ll explore the history of these dual-time watches, explain how they work, describe the different styles available, and outline the key benefits GMT watches offer for pilots, travelers, or anyone who needs to juggle multiple time zones. Whether you’re an avid watch collector or simply looking for a stylish, functional timepiece for your next jet-setting adventure, you’ll learn all about the world of GMT watches here.

Stick around as we unlock the full potential of these specialized timekeepers! We’ll also provide recommendations on some of the top GMT watch models on the market from leading brands like Rolex, Omega, TAG Heuer, and more. And if you need assistance with manufacturing custom branded GMT watches with your own logo and design, our OEM/ODM watch manufacturing services can help bring your vision to life. Let’s dive in!

Luxury Steel GMT Watch
Black Luxury Steel GMT Watch

What is a GMT Watch?

GMT watch models are designed to display two different time zones simultaneously. The letters GMT stand for Greenwich Mean Time, which is the time zone at the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England that serves as the reference point for calculating time worldwide.

On a typical watch, the hour, minute, and second hands display the current local time. A GMT watch takes this a step further by adding a fourth hand – the GMT hand. This extra hand is linked to a 24-hour scale on the watch face and can be set to display the time in a secondary time zone.

For example, if you were traveling from New York to London, you could set your GMT hand to display New York time while the standard hands show the current London time. This allows you to track both time zones on one watch. The GMT hand makes a full rotation every 24 hours instead of every 12 hours like the hour hand.

The key functionality of a GMT watch is having that dedicated fourth hand for showing a second time zone. This distinguishes it from other dual time zone watches that may have a subdial or digital display for a secondary time. The ability to quickly reference two time zones on one watch face is what makes GMT models so useful for frequent travelers and aviators.

What is a GMT watch
What is a GMT watch

How Does a GMT Watch Work?

GMT watches have a mechanism that allows the main hour hand to be set independently from the GMT hand. This enables each one to display a different time zone.

The hour hand indicates the local time in the current location of the wearer. This is set normally using the crown and works the same as a standard watch.

The GMT hand is linked to an internal 24-hour module. On some GMT watches, this hand can be adjusted using a secondary crown or a rotating bezel aligned with the 24-hour markers. The wearer uses this mechanism to set the GMT hand to the time zone they want to track.

Once set, the GMT hand will continue moving around the 24-hour scale and can be read against the marker for that time zone. For example, if you set it to GMT-5, you could quickly check the Eastern Time in the US while traveling in Paris. The GMT hand keeps Eastern Time while the main hands show Paris local time.

Some GMT watches have a bidirectional rotatable bezel that allows easy adjustment of the GMT hand on the fly as time zones change. The hand remains in sync with home time as the bezel is rotated. This convenience makes a GMT watch with a rotatable bezel a popular choice for jet-setting travelers and pilots.

The ability to simultaneously track two time zones is what makes the functionality of a GMT watch so useful. The mechanisms driving the separate hour hand and GMT hand allow ease of use and quick reference for the wearer.

How does a GMT watch work
How does a GMT watch work

The History and Origins of the GMT Watch

The origins of the GMT watch can be traced back to the 1950s when watchmakers recognized the need for pilots and navigators to track multiple time zones at once.

Pan American World Airways approached Rolex in the early 1950s to create a watch with a 24-hour display for its pilots and crews. This led Rolex to develop the first GMT-Master watch in 1955, introducing the model 6542.

This early Rolex GMT-Master had a blue and red bezel for tracking day and night time hours. The watch quickly gained popularity among pilots, astronauts, and frequent travelers who appreciated its dual-time functionality.

Around the same period, Glycine and IWC also produced some of the first GMT watch models. Their designs were similar to Rolex’s GMT-Master with the addition of a 24-hour UTC hand.

Over the next few decades, brands like Seiko, TAG Heuer, Omega, and Breitling followed with their own GMT watch versions. The designs were gradually refined with technical improvements but kept the signature 24-hour hand for displaying a second time zone.

From its mid-century roots, the GMT watch continues today as an indispensable tool for aviators and world travelers. The legacy of those early Rolex and Glycine GMT models live on in the vast selection of GMT watches now available from luxury watchmakers to incorporate into your modern travel wardrobe.

Popular Styles of GMT Watches

While all GMT watches have the common functionality of displaying two time zones, these dual-time timepieces come in a diverse range of styles.

Aviator or Pilot GMT Watches

As an evolution of early pilot’s watches, many GMT models adopt an aviation-inspired aesthetic. These often feature bold numerals, large crowns, and high legibility for cockpit use. Popular examples include the Rolex GMT-Master II, Breitling Navitimer GMT, and Seiko Astron.

Dive GMT Watches

GMT watches with dive watch styling offer underwater utility along with a second time zone display. They typically have luminous markers, rotating bezels, and water resistance suitable for scuba diving. The Omega Seamaster GMT and TAG Heuer Aquaracer GMT fall into this category.

Dress GMT Watches

For those who want the functionality of a GMT watch in a more refined package, dress styles are ideal. These have elegant, understated dials in materials like leather and alligator-grain leather. Examples include the Jaeger-LeCoultre Geophysic True Second and Patek Philippe Complications Annual Calendar GMT.

Casual GMT Watches

There are also many GMT watches with a sporty, everyday aesthetic. These models could have stainless steel cases and bracelets paired with simple, easy-to-read dials. Casual GMT watch options span from luxury brands like Rolex to affordable options from Seiko, Citizen, and more.

No matter your personal style, there is a GMT watch that combines convenience, functionality, and good looks for the frequent traveler. The range of options makes it easy to incorporate a GMT timepiece into both your adventure gear and professional wardrobe.

The Benefits and Uses of a GMT Watch

For those who regularly travel across multiple time zones or need to keep track of timetables in different global locations, a GMT watch offers several advantages:

Keeps You on Schedule

The prime benefit of a GMT watch is the ability to follow two time zones at a glance. This helps keep you punctual for meetings, flights, events, and calls if you are frequently hopping between time zones. The GMT hand linked to home or headquarters lets you adapt seamlessly.

Reduces Jet Lag

By tracking both local and home time zones, a GMT watch helps minimize jet lag symptoms. You can quickly reset your body clock and avoid confusion about the time. This improves productivity when traveling for work.

Aids Aviation Professionals

Pilots, navigators, and air traffic controllers need to reference UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) and local times. A GMT watch provides this capability and meets the needs of aviation crews.

Useful for International Collaboration

GMT watches enable smooth coordination across global teams. Managers, remote employees, and international organizations can more easily schedule conferences and collaborate on projects.

Stylish Timepiece

Beyond the functional assets, GMT watches have an aesthetic appeal. Brands like Rolex and TAG Heuer make them fashionable accessories for both men and women. The dual-time ability doesn’t compromise on sophisticated design.

For frequent fliers, executives, pilots, or anyone who needs to track multiple time zones, a GMT watch is a versatile tool. The unique movement makes these watches a mainstay for globetrotting professionals and watch enthusiasts.

How to Use a GMT Watch Properly

One of the appeals of a GMT watch is how easy it is to use despite its sophisticated mechanics. Here are some tips for using a GMT watch correctly:

  • Set the local time using the main hour, minute, and second hands. Adjust this just as you would a regular watch.
  • Use the GMT hand and rotating bezel or secondary crown to set the second time zone you want to track. Line the GMT hand up with the corresponding GMT marker on the bezel or dial.
  • When moving between time zones, rotate the bezel to advance or turn back the GMT hand. No need to stop the watch or interfere with the main time display.
  • Remember the bezel aligns with a 24-hour scale, so only move the GMT hand in single-hour increments.
  • For models without an adjustable bezel, use the secondary crown to set the GMT hand to the new time zone.
  • Check any user manuals for the specific operation of your GMT watch’s adjustment features.
  • Adjust for Daylight Saving Time just like a regular watch using the main crown and hands. The GMT hand will remain fixed to its set time zone.
  • Reset the GMT hand each morning to ensure it syncs properly with the desired time zone.

With some practice using its unique features, a GMT watch quickly becomes very intuitive. You’ll be adept at tracking multiple time zones and impressing watch aficionados.

How to use a GMT watch
How to use a GMT watch

Where to Buy a Quality GMT Watch

With GMT watches available from a vast range of watchmakers, here are some tips on finding a well-crafted, functional model:

Look to Trusted Brands

Renowned Swiss watch companies like Rolex, Omega, Breitling, TAG Heuer, Tudor, and IWC have excellent GMT watch offerings. Their pieces utilize high-end movements and materials.

Consider Affordable Alternatives

For those on a budget, brands like Seiko, Citizen, Hamilton, and Tissot make more affordable GMT watches with similar dual-time features. The quality and accuracy may be lesser, but the functionality remains useful.

Research Reviews

Look up professional reviews and user feedback on any GMT watch you are considering. This can reveal potential issues with specific models and help you make an informed purchase.

Shop Certified Dealers

Only buy from authorized retailers or dealers certified by the watch brand. This ensures you get a valid warranty, certificate of authenticity, and after-sales service.

Compare Prices

Check prices both online and at physical retailers. Boutiques may offer better service but web shops can have cheaper deals.

If you need assistance manufacturing custom branded GMT watches for resale or promotion, our OEM and ODM watch manufacturing services can produce high-quality, personalized timepieces with the specifications you require. Please contact us to bring your own GMT watch vision to life!


For frequent travelers, pilots, or anyone who needs to keep tabs on multiple time zones, a GMT watch is an indispensable companion. The additional 24-hour hand allows you to reference a second time zone on one watch face conveniently.

From its origins in the 1950s for aviation crews to the vast selection of styles today from leading watch brands, the functionality and appeal of GMT watches remain unmatched. Whether you prefer a sporty aviation look, classic dress styling, or a rugged dive watch design, there’s a GMT model to suit your tastes.

Now that you know how they work, how to use them properly, and where to buy the best GMT watches, you can make an informed choice to incorporate one into your daily wear. Keep the world right on time, wherever your travels take you, with a quality GMT watch on your wrist.

And if you ever need assistance with manufacturing custom watches, including GMT models, be sure to reach out to us. Our watch OEM/ODM services deliver high-precision, personalized timepieces made just for you.

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