What Is A GMT Watch?

When you think of timepieces that are practical, stylish, and full of history, GMT watches are likely to come to mind. They are not just simple accessories but tools that aid us in our daily life, especially in our increasingly globalized world.

GMT watches, or Greenwich Mean Time watches, have long served a crucial role in helping us track different time zones simultaneously, making them highly beneficial for travelers and international business professionals.

A GMT watch is essentially a wristwatch that allows you to read time in two or more time zones. It comes equipped with a fourth hand and a 24-hour bezel, enabling this multi-time zone tracking.

The invention of GMT watches dates back to the 1950s when they were initially designed for Pan American World Airways pilots to keep track of GMT – the then global aviation standard time.

This comprehensive guide will provide a deep dive into GMT watches, explaining their workings, significance, popular models, maintenance, and much more.

What is a GMT Watch?

A GMT watch, in the simplest terms, is a timepiece that displays time in two or more time zones. The name “GMT” is derived from Greenwich Mean Time, which served as the world’s time standard before being replaced by Coordinated Universal Time (UTC).

The genesis of the GMT watch can be traced back to 1954, when Rolex designed the first model, the Rolex GMT-Master, at the request of Pan American World Airways.

The airline wanted a reliable watch that could assist their crew in navigating multiple time zones.

This watch was an innovation in the industry, helping not only pilots but also frequent travelers and businesspeople dealing with international clients.

How Does a GMT Watch Work?

To understand how a GMT watch functions, it’s essential to grasp the idea of the GMT hand and the 24-hour bezel.

The GMT hand, which is the fourth hand in a GMT watch, makes a complete rotation around the dial every 24 hours. This hand points to the 24-hour marked bezel, allowing users to track a second-time zone.

A key point to note is that the GMT hand operates independently from the standard hour hand, which moves around the dial twice in 24 hours.

This feature is what enables the tracking of multiple time zones. Some advanced GMT watch models also offer the ability to track a third-time zone using the rotatable 24-hour bezel.

Why is a GMT Watch Useful?

In an increasingly interconnected world, the ability to track multiple time zones on your wrist is tremendously beneficial.

For frequent travelers, a GMT watch is an essential tool, reducing the confusion of timezone differences and aiding in jet lag management.

Business professionals working with international clients find GMT watches invaluable, as it helps them schedule meetings and calls more effectively, respecting their clients’ local times.

But the utility of a GMT watch is not limited to travelers and professionals.

Even for casual watch wearers, it serves as a fascinating piece of technology that tells more than just the local time.

There is a wide range of GMT watches available in the market today, with each offering unique features and styles.

Rolex, with its GMT-Master and GMT-Master II, remains a prominent player. Other notable brands include Omega, with its Seamaster Planet Ocean GMT, and TAG Heuer, with its Carrera Heuer 02 GMT.

Each model offers a distinct set of features, such as the ceramic two-tone bezels of the GMT-Master II, the Liquidmetal diving scale of the Seamaster Planet Ocean GMT, and the skeletonized dials of the Carrera Heuer 02 GMT.

When choosing a GMT watch, it’s essential to consider these features along with your personal needs, preferences, and budget.

How to Set and Use a GMT Watch Correctly?

Setting a GMT Watch

  1. Setting Local Time: Begin by pulling the crown of the watch to its outermost position and setting the local time using the regular hour hand.
  2. Setting GMT Hand: Push the crown to its middle position and adjust the GMT hand to the desired second timezone.
  3. Setting Date (If Applicable): Some GMT watches have a date function, which can usually be set by turning the crown while in its middle position.

Using a GMT Watch

Using a GMT watch involves reading both the local time and the time in the second timezone.

The local time is read in the standard way using the regular hour hand, while the time in the second timezone is read using the GMT hand pointing at the 24-hour bezel.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When setting and using a GMT watch, one common mistake is confusing the 24-hour bezel for a standard 12-hour one, which can lead to inaccuracies in reading the second timezone.

Another mistake is not setting the GMT hand correctly relative to the local time, causing a mismatch between the two.

How to Maintain a GMT Watch?

Like any high-quality timepiece, a GMT watch requires proper care and maintenance to ensure its longevity.

Regular Cleaning:

Keeping your GMT watch clean can prevent dirt and grime from affecting its performance. A gentle wipe with a soft, dry cloth is usually enough for daily cleaning.

Professional Servicing:

Depending on the brand and model, your GMT watches should be professionally serviced every 3-5 years. This service typically involves cleaning, oiling, and adjusting the movement, ensuring the watch remains accurate and functional.

Avoiding Damage:

Try to avoid subjecting your watch to extreme temperatures or humidity, as these conditions can damage the watch’s components. Also, although most GMT watches are water-resistant, it’s still advisable to remove them while swimming or showering to maintain their pristine condition.

Where Can You Buy a GMT Watch?

There are numerous platforms where you can purchase a GMT watch, both online and offline.

Trusted online platforms include the official websites of watch manufacturers and respected online watch retailers. Offline, you can visit watch boutiques or authorized retailers.

When buying a GMT watch, it’s crucial to ensure that it’s genuine and comes with a valid warranty. Always do thorough research before making a purchase and choose a watch that suits your needs, preferences, and budget.

Frequently Asked Questions about GMT Watches

Can a GMT watch track more than two time zones?

Yes, some advanced GMT watches offer the ability to track more than two time zones. These watches often have additional complications or features that allow for multiple time zones tracking, such as rotating city bezels or additional subdials.

Are GMT and dual-time watches the same?

While GMT and dual-time watches serve a similar purpose of displaying time in multiple zones, there is a slight difference in functionality.

GMT watches typically have a dedicated GMT hand that tracks a second-time zone independently, while dual-time watches often have a separate hour hand that can be adjusted to display a different time zone.

What does the “GMT” in GMT watches stand for?

“GMT” stands for Greenwich Mean Time. It was the standard time reference used before Coordinated Universal Time (UTC) became widely adopted. The term GMT is still used in horology to refer to watches that track multiple time zones.

Are all GMT watches automatic or mechanical?

No, GMT watches are available in a variety of movements, including automatic, mechanical, and even quartz.

The choice of movement depends on the brand, model, and personal preference. Each type of movement has its own advantages and characteristics.

Can I use a GMT watch as a regular timepiece?

Absolutely! While GMT watches are designed to track multiple time zones, they can be used as regular timepieces just like any other watch.

The GMT hand can be set to your local time zone, and you can simply ignore the additional time zone tracking functionality if you don’t need it.

Do GMT watches have a date function?

Some GMT watches do feature a date function, allowing you to keep track of the date in addition to multiple time zones. The date function varies from model to model, and some GMT watches may not have this feature.

Can I use a GMT watch for aviation purposes?

GMT watches have a historical connection to aviation, as they were initially designed for pilots to keep track of GMT time.

While many pilots still use GMT watches today, it’s essential to note that specific aviation requirements may vary, and professional pilots often rely on specialized timekeeping instruments that meet their specific needs.

Remember, these frequently asked questions provide quick answers, but for a deeper understanding of GMT watches, it’s recommended to refer to reputable sources and consult experts in the field of horology.


In the world of horology, GMT watches hold a special place, offering not just style and precision but also the practicality of tracking multiple time zones.

Whether you’re a globetrotter, an international business professional, or just a watch enthusiast, a GMT watch is a worthy addition to your collection.

Michael, an ardent horology enthusiast, brings his love for exquisite timepieces to life at WatchReflect. With a background in marketing and a penchant for luxury, he dives into the world of popular watch brands. His journey began during his years at a Swiss watch boutique, fueling his passion for precision craftsmanship. Through his words, Michael shares the allure and innovation that define the watch industry.

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