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What Matters
Insight

What Matters

Unfolding My GMT Story
Published by: Zong Lie
Feb 13, 2021
In the “What Matters” series, we will share the elements that affect our watch collections. While this may seem personal, we find it an excellent opportunity to share our love for the horology that matters to us most: From the particular complications of the watches to our indulgence in strap-changing, or simply our enjoyment of quartz and mechanical timepieces. This series will take us on a journey in this niche hobby to better understand what keeps our passion fired. Our obsessions keep drawing us back to the ways to inform people who are into watches so that they might form a consensus with us. Without any further ado, let’s get things started with “what matters” to us in our voyage of watch-collecting.


Introduction

Gone are the days where watches only tell the time, the most fundamental function of a timepiece. As time itself went by, watchmakers relentlessly challenged themselves to push the boundaries of watchmaking. This has led to the innovation of countless fascinating complications, such as the invention of GMT watches. For many, a GMT watch may be seen as just another watch with an additional hand on the dial. However, this article aims to give an in-depth insight into GMT watches and what these particular watches with dual-time functions mean to me.


(GMT matters much to me)



The Birth of GMT Watches

The origins of GMT (not speaking about world-timers) we know today can be traced back to a fascinating tale that occurred more than half a century ago. In 1953, commercial air travel was in its early years of development, and passengers freely wandered into the airplane’s cockpit to check out some cutting edge technology in the controls. On a Thai Airways flight that year between Bangkok and Calcutta, an interesting conversation sparked between Samuel Glur, a sales manager for the watch brand Glycine, and the flight captain. The captain expressed the need for pilots to track a second time zone, a feature not seen on watches at the time.


(The Airman No. 1 from 2015 that’s based on the first 24-hour original from 1953)

Following up the conversation, Glycine successfully debuted the world’s first-ever watch with a 24-hour dual time zone function later that year - the Glycine Airman. This became one of the earliest forms of GMT watches. It was released using a rotating bezel to track a second time zone. Many other historic watches were also introduced in 1953 with a rotating bezel, such as the Zodiac Sea Wolf, Blancpain Fifty Fathoms. Subsequently, the renowned Rolex GMT-Master (Ref. 6542) became available a year later in 1954, celebrated by many watch fans today as the uber traveler’s GMT sports watch.

For this reason, Glycine is one of the many brands that I deeply admire for their horological innovations, with incredibly functional designs appreciated by both military and commercial pilots. While Glycine may be overshadowed by many larger brands prevailing today, Glycine watches have stayed true to their identity with various modern releases that pay homage to their proud heritage - with the timeless designs from the 1950s. If I were to pick my first GMT timepiece, it would be the Glycine Airman Vintage “The Chief” GMT Cream Ref. GL0245 for its handsome cream dial and vintage charm that carries its unique personality. Like many others, I’d gravitate towards vintage-inspired pieces, especially when a brand holds such horological significance. Glycine certainly fits the bill with a historic GMT design that packs great value for money.


(Glycine Airman Vintage “The Chief” GMT Cream Ref. GL0245)



The GMT Complication and My First GMT

Like many other watch fans, I started with simple time-only timepieces that only served the function of telling the time. As I got more exposed to the watch world, numerous watches surfaced online that appeared rather sophisticated, watches that I did not understand during the early days of my hobby. Of the most prominent types of watches that caught my interest was undeniably GMT watches. This interest sparked from the attempt to comprehend why there was a need for an extra hand, fancy bezels, and sophisticated dial layouts in GMT watches.


(My two GMT line-up)

Although the term UTC (Coordinated Universal Time) is used more often than GMT, it can be used interchangeably - meaning essentially the same thing. The word GMT is an abbreviation of Greenwich Mean Time, a yearly average calculated at the Royal Observatory Greenwich. This is a standardization that regulates time as we know it according to fluctuating changes to synchronize clocks worldwide. As the solar (astrological) time changes over time, the Greenwich Mean Time becomes the international standard of time, so our clocks remain unaffected as time passes.

So what does all this have to do with watches? GMT watches serve the function of tracking two or more timezones. Since time zones vary around the world due to their geographic location, the Greenwich Mean Time compensates for these changes as the Earth rotates by adding or subtracting from the GMT +0 time, or also known as the ‘Zulu’ Time in a military context. Since GMT watches allow one to measure two separate GMT timezones effectively, these watches are described as what we know today as GMT watches.

Shortly after getting a gist of GMT watches and their significance, I felt the desire to venture deeper to learn more about GMT watches as they were vastly intriguing. It was not long before I yearned for my first GMT piece as I was attracted to the utilitarian yet lavish-looking designs. When I noticed most GMT watches were associated with hefty price tags, I continued my search and discovered a multitude of options. However, the one that stood out the most was the Steinhart Ocean One 39 GMT Black Ceramic for its incredible value with premium materials such as a ceramic bezel, sapphire crystal, and a Swiss-made reliable GMT movement.  


(The Ocean One 39 GMT Ceramic was my first love)

Luckily enough, the Steinhart Ocean One 39 GMT Black Ceramic was readily available here at Gnomon Watches as one of Steinhart’s authorized retailers. I fell in love with it instantly for its astonishing 39mm size and how well made it is when I first got my hands on it. The classic design and accurate Elaboré grade Swiss movement make it perfect as a daily beater. While I don’t use the GMT hand daily in particular, the slight pop of red text on the dial and the red GMT hand gives the piece an additional sophisticated character.


(Damn, it’s so wearable and versatile)



Applications of a GMT Watch

If you are one who travels often, the importance of tracking different time zones becomes increasingly essential. Although some may argue that smartphones can tell us the time in different time zones in this day and age, the joy of looking down at your wrist brings a sense of gratification that cannot be replicated through other means, especially for watch lovers. Having a GMT watch is one of my essentials when I travel overseas for a holiday.

Even before I embark on my journey to another country, strapping a GMT piece on my wrist evokes a feeling of adventure as I set the GMT hand to align with the time of the country I’m traveling to. Adjusting it beforehand gets me accustomed to the overseas time while still being able to read the time locally, a nifty feature indeed.


(A “true” GMT hand that I frequently utilise when travelling abroad, to read home time)

One of my small satisfactions through the experience of owning a GMT piece is the ability to track two time zones on the airplane when my mobile phone is switched to flight mode. We could say GMT watches are still ahead of the game when competing with a smartphone.

Of course, as the global pandemic puts the world at a halt (at the point of writing), traveling has become almost impossible with travel restrictions worldwide. Would a GMT watch be without purpose? Not for me. I set my GMT hand to the timezone of a loved one in another country as a subtle reminder in my daily life. The GMT hand could be set to your favorite country or the time of your home country if you’re working or studying abroad. Another alternative way I use a GMT hand if I’m using it to track an additional time zone is for the GMT hand to be set in the same time zone as my local time. This could function as an indicator as a morning/night indicator that could prove useful whenever I pick up the watch to set the time after allowing the movement to sit idle for a while. This way, setting the date would be a breeze without much uncertainty of whether the time is shown in PM or AM.


(Utilizing it as a PM/AM indicator, for now)

The usage of the GMT complication is entirely up to one’s imagination. Like many other innovative complications integrated with watches, the GMT plays a functional role in tracking multiple time zones, especially for those traveling often.



True GMT VS Standard GMT

An insight about GMT watches would not be complete without talking about the movement itself that drives the GMT hand on the dial. Although GMT watches may look similar to each other and generally serve the same purpose of telling the time in multiple time zones, it comes with no surprise that not all are built equal. There are two main types of GMT movements commonly implemented in watches that hold the function to read multiple time zones; the “true” GMT and the “standard” GMT movement. These two groups of movements have their own distinct advantages and disadvantages. The terms to describe them may be rather misleading to imply one is superior over another. Each of them is preferable to different groups of people and their lifestyles. I have a preference to own standard GMT pieces over “true” GMT watches. Let us explore the key differences between these two GMT movements to get an idea about how they work.



“True” GMT Explained

The “true” GMT watch, or the travelers’ GMT, is predominantly defined by its function to independently adjust the hour hand in one-hour increments forward or backward without hacking the movement. This is known as the travelers’ GMT as it is more desirable for frequent travelers for its ease of use and convenient function of quickly changing the hour hand that clicks or “jumps” into place to match another time zone in another country. Having this feature is incredibly handy to be able to adjust the time on the fly without meddling too much with the crown that would result in having to reset the time entirely that would mess up the accuracy of the minute and second hand. The GMT hand would remain in the home time like it should as the hour hand sets into place in another country’s time zone.

While implementing a quick-set hour hand is a neat feature, one of the downsides of a “true” GMT is a lack of a quick-set date function. Nonetheless, this may not be too much of a hassle, as adjusting the date manually from the quick-set hour function would quickly advance the date forward.

That being said, one of my favorite “true” GMT timepieces of my latest acquisition is the Mido Ocean Star GMT 2-Tone Ref. M026.629.22.051.00, which carries a beautiful two-tone charm, with a modern ceramic bezel and caliber that blends well - where oldies meet modern specifications.


(My go-to GMT in two-tone disguise)

Many aspects of the Mido Ocean Star GMT really speak to me, from its rudimentary yet modern style, horological significance, and most importantly, its affordability. Many “true” GMT watches available on the market are generally associated with a higher price tag. Having a well-built piece from a heritage brand that packs such value is simply refreshing. The integration of a quick-set hour hand sets this piece apart from many GMT pieces in its price range. This would be a piece I would easily recommend as a first “true” GMT watch or even to seasoned collectors who are looking for a beater piece to serve as a reliable travel companion overseas without the worry of losing a timepiece that costs an arm and a leg.


(The primary hour hand grasps the local time in the country I’m in)

The two-tone Mido GMT runs on the reliable Mido Caliber 80 movement, which incorporates a GMT, allowing the watch to feature a “true” GMT while retaining the best aspects of the Caliber 80 movement. Having an astonishing power reserve of approximately 80 hours, owning this piece would mean being able to switch up for another watch during a holiday trip overseas over the weekend and still have the watch running on the following Monday, ready to be strapped on the wrist without the trouble of setting the time all over again.


(80 hours of power reserve baby!)

Taking things up a notch, in the higher end of the spectrum, one of the “true” GMT pieces that I truly admire the most (and is a personal grail to add) is the Seiko Prospex LX Skymaster Blackout Ref. SBDB025 / SNR035J1. This piece brings the game to a whole new level when it comes to an in-house GMT movement. The blackout design and impressive specifications are what captured my interest.


(The “Grail” piece)

Similar to the Mido Ocean Star GMT, the Prospex LX Skymaster Blackout Ref. SBDB025 / SNR035J1 houses a quick-set hour function that allows for an easy adjustment when switching between time zones. However, the main aspect of this piece that captivated me is the 30 jewel Caliber 5R66 Spring Drive GMT movement with unbelievable accuracy and a satisfying smooth sweep of the second hand. Seiko excellently nailed the large crown with substantial grooves that allow a pleasing experience when setting the hour hand where it needs to be when crossing over to another time zone.


(The pinnacle of Seiko’s movement development: a Spring Drive GMT)

Even though “true” GMT watches are not seen as often compared to “standard” GMT pieces, there are amazing options available that fit the bill for those who require the jumping hour hand feature distinct to this type of GMT watches. For me, the convenience and functionality of a “true” GMT outweigh the lack of a quick-set date. I can see why these watches are highly sought after in the watch community, with much respect for watch manufacturers that produce innovative movements allowing for a convenient experience while traveling.



“Standard” GMT Explained

This would likely be the most commonly seen GMT movement in the market nowadays. A “standard” GMT or an “office” GMT bears the same functionality of tracking another time zone. However, the functionality of the quick-set jumping hour hand is not available with GMT movements of this kind. Instead, the quick-set feature lies in the GMT 24-hour hand that can be independently set to monitor a different time zone. The ever-popular ETA 2893-2 and its counterpart, the Sellita SW330-1, is categorized as a “standard” GMT widely used today in many watches.

On the bright side, a “standard” GMT features quick-set date capabilities lacking in “true” GMT movements. This would be a great function to have whenever I pick up a “standard” GMT watch from the watch box after not wearing it for an extended period to set the date and time. For this reason, I prefer a “standard” GMT over a “true” GMT for its practicality that suits my lifestyle of alternating watches every couple of days.

I gravitate towards “standard” GMT due to its wide variety and availability with plenty of affordable watches on the market that use these movements to produce watches, packing incredible value at a competitive price. Brands such as Steinhart and Squale are notable brands that utilize them in their watches. The watch community has held these movements in high regard for their robustness and reliability, also known as being a “workhorse” movement, and run for many years without a service.

One of my personal favorites that uses a “standard” GMT movement would be the Squale 30 ATMOS Blue/Red GMT Ceramica - SEL Bracelet. Undoubtedly, this watch packs a punch when it comes to its value proposition. From Squale’s deep history in producing fine watches to the watch’s solid build quality, I rocked it as my daily driver without a doubt. The blue and red ceramic bezel also evokes a strong, satisfying wrist presence that I would be happy to wear for any occasion.


(Some “pepsi” action never goes wrong)

While many aspects of the watch are already noteworthy, one of the key traits of this piece that excites me the most lies in the stunning fully lumed ceramic bezel that allows me to read the second time zone even in the dark. Being able to read two time zones in the night while enjoying the glow of the lume is simply gratifying.


(Check out the big hour lume plots with the legible handset)


(Yeah, the bezel gets the lume action too)

Another “standard” GMT watch that I took a liking to is the Yema Superman GMT Black 39mm - Bracelet. It has a vintage-inspired design, together with the integration of its innovative bezel locking mechanism that holds the 24-hour bezel in place. As I find myself continually rotating bezels by accident, this feature is much appreciated and not generally seen on many watches.


(When Yema takes its cult-status Superman to the GMT level)

Having a svelte wrist, the 39mm diameter of the Yema Superman GMT Black 39mm - Bracelet perfectly fits my wrist, which makes this piece really pleasurable to wear. Another trait that made me fall in love is the highly-domed sapphire crystal that oozes vintage charm in line with the classic design—wearing this piece on my wrist would take me back to the 60s, feeling like the French Air Force pilots that wore the Yema Superman in the past.



What Drives My Love For GMT Watches

Besides the functional aspect of tracking multiple time zones, GMT watches’ designs and aesthetics are also really attractive. Before I even understood the significance of a GMT watch, the extra second hand stood out as a sophisticated design that looked luxurious and expensive. Fortunately, as mentioned above, you don’t have to spend a fortune to own a beautiful GMT timepiece as watch manufacturers are increasingly producing solid GMT offerings at an affordable price. For this reason, wearing a GMT watch would make me feel slightly more impressive than wearing a time-only watch that gave me a sense of satisfaction, drawing me to GMT watch time and time again.


(A fine example of an alluring GMT from Squale)

As the watch market continues to release new GMT watches now and then, I am spoilt for choices when it’s time to splurge on another GMT purchase. The sheer variety of designs and color options available is what drives me to continue to discover new and innovative designs that would potentially be on my wrist for my next holiday overseas. Perhaps this is a particular type of addiction that is prominent among watch enthusiasts around the world.



Conclusion


Despite being originally designed for pilots, GMT watches continued to stay relevant and timeless in this day and age. Like many other complications, a GMT is another practical feature of a watch that proves watches can do much more than merely telling the time. With a plethora of options available, there would definitely be a GMT watch fitting for any discerning watch collector.

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