It is a peculiar thing with mechanical watchmaking that the simplest complications are often the most beneficial. For example, tourbillons and moonphases are fantastically complex things, yet they are almost completely useless in our modern lives. On the other hand, a GMT function – the ability to tell the time in two places simultaneously (like the complication found on the Rolex GMT-Master), is something that is actually worthwhile for a great many of us. They are a relatively new innovation in a wristwatch, built out of necessity at the dawn of the jet age. As intercontinental air travel opened up the world to a degree never seen before, the phenomenon of crossing several time zones in quick succession threw up a new challenge; jetlag.
Research carried out in the 1950s by Pan Am Airways (among others) revealed that having a method of keeping track of the time both at home and the eventual destination was enough to help pilots cope with the condition. The first GMT watch as we recognize it today, with an additional hour hand geared to run at half speed and circle the dial once every 24-hours, emerged in the mid 1950s. The collaboration between Pan Am and Rolex resulted in the GMT-Master (you might have heard of it) one of the true icons of horology, still as popular and hugely sought after today as it was then, more than 60-years later.
That esteem has resulted in years long waiting lists at Rolex ADs and massive price premiums on the preowned market, making the contemporary version of the GMT-Master II both difficult to get and an expensive proposition for the average watch collector.
All is not lost however. Rolex’s masterpiece is not the only dual time zone pony in the stable. There are plenty of other thoroughbreds offering similar levels of style and functionality, and remain far more obtainable in both price and quantity. Below, we list our three favorite GMT watches for under $5,000.
Tudor Black Bay GMT
2018 was a good year for GMT watches. The most headline-stealing announcement at Baselworld was Rolex, at long last, issuing a stainless steel version of their all-conquering GMT-Master II with a Pepsi bezel. And to be honest, it is still huge news and remains one of the most coveted watches on the market.
It didn’t have the show all to itself however. Burgeoning sister company Tudor rocked up at the same time with their own GMT model which, if anything, brought an even greater tear to nostalgic eyes.
Where Rolex’s effort was a thoroughly modern take on the groundbreaking original, with Cerachrom bezel, Parachrom this and that, and various other cutting-edge shenanigans, Tudor’s was such a throwback to the fifties it didn’t even have crown guards. Ironically, it was designed to appeal to a younger audience than Rolex’s core demographic, with the whole vintage aesthetic very much de rigueur at the moment. It is a throwback you can’t imagine the more conservative bigger brother making, which has opened the door for Tudor to take their share of the accolades by simply being more willing to experiment.
Inside, the manufacturer has even moved away from using off-the-shelf ETA calibers and the Black Bay GMT is driven by Tudor’s own MT5652. A 4Hz movement with a 70-hour reserve, it offers the same functionality as Rolex’s latest Cal. 3285 in the GMT-Master II and comes with one welcome concession to modern watchmaking, a silicon balance spring.
The case is a mixture of brushed and polished elements, 41mm in diameter and waterproof up to 200m. It has a thickness to it which gives it an aura of real strength, and the generally subdued and non-showy aura marks this out as a real tool watch. The aluminum bezel is a much more restrained affair than its Cerachrom counterpart as well, all ready for a touch of fading or a few scratches to add to the watch’s character.
In all, it gets just about everything right for current tastes. The watch has a laundry list of plus points in its favor for anyone looking for a hardworking GMT. Build quality and engineering prowess on a par with anything produced by Rolex. It features a number of spot-on historical touches in the shape of the big crown, the lack of Cyclops and the riveted bracelet, and perhaps best of all, the ability to actually buy one.
Unlike with the Rolex GMT-Master II, it is far from out of the question to be able to walk into an Authorized Dealer and leave with the watch on your wrist. And with a price of under $5k, it costs about the same as the deposit for Rolex’s alternative, which might arrive at some point in the middle of the next decade.
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean Co-Axial GMT
The Planet Ocean series is Omega’s line of professional dive watches. First seen in 2005, they make up part of the convoluted Seamaster range (which also, for some reason, includes the Railmaster).
Released in 2013, the Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean GMT has only added to the unqualified success of the collection. Sporty, elegant, and stylish, it’s continued the excellent work that the brand has been doing in recent years; treading that line between all-around versatility, and highly capable performer.
The latter though has called for a little sacrifice here. The 43.5mm steel case renders the watch waterproof to 2,000ft, and the helium escape valve and extremely legible luminescent dial detailing mark it as most definitely meant for the life aquatic. However, dispensations have had to be made where the bezel is concerned. A vital part of any self-respecting dive watch (and an actual legitimate requirement of official ISO 6425 regulations) is a unidirectional surround with a graduated minute scale. As a GMT watch, the Planet Ocean has neither of these things. Instead, it has a bezel which rotates in both directions, inscribed with the standard 24-hours.
Does it matter? No, not really. Let’s be honest, just as with other dive watches that cost into the mid-four figures, the chances of actually going underwater with one is remote. And if you did, it would be very unlikely to be your only timekeeper. So that leaves its abilities as a dual time zone model, and there it performs handsomely.
The Planet Ocean range, as something of the flagship in the Omega family, is often the first to be granted the latest movements. The caliber 8605 made its debut inside the PO GMT, and is based on the 8500 series. Made in-house, as are more and more of the brand’s engines, it beats at an unusual frequency of 25,200vph.
The 3.5Hz is considered by Omega as the optimum speed for their groundbreaking Co-Axial escapement, perhaps the biggest shakeup to watchmaking technology of the last century, and the innovation which has, more than anything else, made them realistic contenders to Rolex’s crown in this arena. The 8605 is another superb mechanism, again with a silicon balance spring like the Tudor, and a power reserve of 60 hours. A sapphire caseback on the Planet Ocean GMT shows off the outstanding finishing at play as well.
The watch’s frontage is an attractively staid affair, relatively monochrome in all the right places so it won’t look out of place under a suit sleeve, but with enough shrewd drops of color so you don’t forget it is, technically, both a dive and travel companion. The 6, 9 and 12 are picked out in bright orange, as are the tips of the seconds and GMT hands. The broad arrow main hour and minute hands are lashed with enough lume to be visible through a thick fog, and a small date window at the three o’clock finishes everything off.
Like Tudor’s effort above, there is much to recommend Omega’s contribution to this somewhat saturated area of the market. GMT watches that can go underwater are not unusual. But one with the outstanding qualities of the Planet Ocean definitely is.
Oris Aquis GMT Date
The world is pretty well stocked with Oris Aquis watches on the whole. With nearly 100 different models spread over some 22 separate collections, there would appear to be little danger of a sudden shortage. The Oris Aquis GMT Date turned up at Baselworld just this year, yet another addition to the extended family, but one met with a hearty welcome.
Like with Omega’s Planet Ocean, the Aquis range are ostensibly dive watches, on this occasion with a dual time zone function slotted in. It comes as a natural progression of the base three-handed model, and sits alongside others with added complications such as the Big Day Date, Small Seconds, Chronograph, and Depth Gauge. This new piece represents the first time the Aquis family has included a GMT, meaning another 24-hour bezel, which again, diminishes its usefulness as a diver, but makes it more suited to everyday life.
Of our list, this is possibly the watch that makes it easiest to keep track of a third time zone. Now, the main hands display local time, the hour back home is indicated with the GMT hand on the supplemental inner disc, while the bezel can be aligned with the same 24-hour hand to monitor the third. It is a typically neat little trick from the brand that offers up a lot of convenience without detracting anything from the pleasing aesthetics.
Speaking of image, there are four variations in the series, the only thing to choose between them being how they attach to your wrist. Take your choice from a steel bracelet, black or blue rubber, or a fetching dark brown leather strap. On all, the blue sunburst dial and black ceramic bezel insert remain a constant, as do the rhodium-plated hands and large applied indices. The arrow-shaped extra hour hand is given a splash of yellow for easy identification, and the inner dial is sunk in slightly and snailed for a delicate 3D effect.
The only one of our three powered by an outsourced motor, the Aquis GMT Date contains the caliber 798, modified from the Sellita SW 330-1. The 28,800vph movement has a 42-hour reserve and is fitted with Oris’s trademark red rotor, all visible through the display back.
Overall, this 43.5mm steel diver/GMT is a fine inclusion from a manufacturer known for its high quality and very reasonable pricing. While not mentioned very often in the same breath as Tudor or Omega, Oris is renowned for their bang to buck ratio. This particular piece carries on that tradition, a 300m waterproof beauty retailing for roughly half of our $5k price limit. You can’t really say fairer than that.