What Is a GMT Watch?

Written By: Vahid Moradi

While there are many different types of watches out there today, one of the most impressive options is the GMT watch. In a certain day and age, being able to know the time in another part of the globe with just a twist and a click would sound nothing short of magical. But with a GMT watch, you can do just that. GMT watch complications allow you to view the time in two time zones at once.

If you’re a jet-setting world traveler, an international broker, or simply want to feel close to a loved one on the other side of the world, a GMT watch can keep you connected and on schedule despite the distance and time zone difference.

Keep reading to find out what makes a GMT watch unique and why you should consider adding one to your luxury timepiece collection.

How GMT Watches Work

So, what is a GMT watch—and how do they work? When it comes to complications, the GMT feature is a simple one that makes a big visual impact. A GMT watch allows you to quickly tell the accurate time in two different time zones at once with a 12-hour dial and a secondary 24-hour dial.

When you’re using a GMT watch, you’re synced up with whichever second (or sometimes third) time zone you set your piece to coincide with, and can easily keep track of whether it’s day or night as well. You're not just watching your local hours tick by—you’re connected to anywhere in the world with just a few clicks.

A GMT watch can be useful in a wide expanse of situations—for instance:

  • If you’re hopping on a flight from New York to LA, you can set your watch to show the exact time in both your departure and arrival locations.
  • If you’ve got a best friend in Denver but you live in Boston, you’ll be able to check their local time before giving them a call that might wake them up before sunrise.
  • And if you work for a multinational corporation, you’ll be able to keep up with your coworkers on the other side of the globe without missing a beat.

The 24-hour division of GMT watches also gives them a unique look that makes them desirable as an everyday watch for any wrist, even if you’re not a pilot flying across multiple time zones daily. GMT watches are stylish, functional, and easy to use–the perfect combination for an everyday watch that ticks all the boxes.

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The GMT Watch: A Timepiece for Modern Times

A utilitarian timepiece associated with the new international connectedness of the jet age, the first mainstream GMT watch was commissioned from Rolex by Pan Am Airlines in the 1950s to keep their pilots in sync.1 The collaborative result was the iconic Rolex GMT-Master, featuring a rotating 24-hour bezel with red and blue color pops to differentiate day and night.

The style quickly elevated from the utilitarian captain’s uniform to a status symbol, even making an appearance in the James Bond film Goldfinger.2 Today, you can see them adorning the wrists of a who’s who list of celebrities. GMT watches have become a sought-after complication for both their function and aesthetic, and are included in timepiece creations by a multitude of the best watchmakers in classic, modern, and futuristic designs.

What Does “GMT” Mean?

If you visit the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, London, you’ll be able to stand on the Prime Meridian—the zero-point for international clocks and astronomical maps. Since the late 16th century, Greenwich Mean Time has been calculated as the average time for the sun to cross the meridian. But what do the Prime Meridian and astronomy have to do with GMT watches?

With origins in nautical navigation and astronomy, Greenwich Mean Time (GMT time zone) is the point of reference for the standard for international time. The Prime Meridian runs right through London, serving as a dividing point for the eastern and western hemispheres and the zero starting point for calculating time differences across zones.

With so many major metropolises spanning the globe, you may be wondering how London ended up as the center point for stars and clocks. The Prime Meridian location was chosen by popular vote during an 1884 conference, after much of the world had been already utilizing maps and navigation systems with Greenwich as the zero point.

In essence, Greenwich Mean Time allowed countries around the globe to function with a united system.3

GMT vs. World Timer Watches: What’s The Difference?

GMT watches can sometimes be confused with world timer watches, or even feature both of the globetrotting complications. While both GMT watches and world timer watches function similarly in that they display more than one time zone at once, they are slightly different:4

  • GMT watches have a distinct 24-hour numerical division, going from midnight to midnight alongside Greenwich Mean Time.
  • World timer watches showcase the names of major international locales associated with 24 of the most prominent cities (although there are actually 37 time zones around the world).
  • In terms of accuracy, GMT watches are typically better at precise time-telling for the other time zone you need—but you’re limited to two or three zones at a time.
  • Meanwhile, world timer watches will show you multiple cities around the globe at a glance.

What About Dual Time Watches?

As the name suggests, dual-time watches also show the time in two locations, just like the GMT watch. But dual time watches differ from GMT and world timer watches in that they don’t utilize the 24-hour scale. Instead, they use a secondary dial or side-by-side twin clocks to differentiate the two locations.

How to Use a GMT Watch

In addition to the hour and minute hands to tell your own local time, GMT watches feature a rotating 24-hour bezel with a GMT hand that will point to the selected additional time zone, so you can instantly see the time in both locations.

While some features and setting capabilities are specific to certain models, in general, the steps are simple:

  1. You begin by setting the GMT hand to your local time, and then set the hour and minute hand.
  2. When you want to know the time in another zone, just adjust the bezel forward or back to the correct zone.
  3. Voilà! You’re mentally on track in two places at once.

How to Choose a GMT Watch

If you’re ready to channel your inner James Bond or Don Draper and sport a stylish and functional globetrotting GMT watch, there are so many designs to choose from that will seamlessly support your wardrobe and aesthetic. Think about how, when, and why you’ll be using your GMT watch and its functions, and find a design that speaks to your aesthetic.

While the Rolex GMT Master is the leading GMT watch, there are other options for this luxury timepiece. Whether you love the timeless vintage look of the original Rolex GMT-Master, an over-the-top modern marvel, or a more subdued and chic classic design, consider some of these styles when you’re on the hunt for the perfect GMT watch to keep you on track—and on time:

  • The polished steel case of the Panerai Luminor GMT - 44mm PAM01088 contrasts its jet-black dial. This watch also features seconds and date subdials balancing each other at 6 and 9 o’clock.

Some other options for the best GMT watches also include the Tudor Black Bay GMT 79830RB and the Carl Bucherer Patravi GMT 46MM Stainless Steel, if you happen to be looking for a three-different time zone function.

Other Watch Features to Consider

When selecting your GMT watch, you’ll want to think about the aesthetic as well as any additional functions to find a piece that fits your timekeeping needs. Many GMT watches can be found with other desirable functions and complications, including:

  • Date
  • World timer
  • Chronograph
  • Luminous numbers
  • Waterproof
  • Power reserve
  • Magnetic field protection
  • Compass
  • Tourbillon

Depending on the GMT complication or function you're searching for beyond the display of multiple time zones, this can help narrow down the perfect timepiece for you from the best GMT watches out there.

Keep Your Jet-Setting Schedule with GMT Watches from CJ Charles

A luxury watch not only tells time—it also tells your story, becoming a part of your history and lived experiences. At CJ Charles, we have the knowledge and inventory to connect you with a timepiece that will be your perfect travel partner—and our wide selection of new and certified pre-owned GMT watches has the right aesthetic and functionality for every timekeeping need.

If you’re not sure which direction you want to go when choosing the best GMT watch for you, contact our friendly and knowledgeable CJ Charles customer service team. We can help guide you to the perfect GMT watch to take you cross-country or overseas.

With over 30 years in the luxury timepiece and jewelry business, our dedicated staff brings extensive knowledge and care to our customers and the exquisite heirloom pieces that become a part of your life story. Once you’ve got the perfect piece to adorn your wrist, wear it in confidence knowing we can keep it ticking in tip-top shape with top-of-the-line service and repair by trained horologists for heirloom quality function and preservation.

Keep time on a global scale with CJ Charles.


Written By: Vahid Moradi

Vahid Moradi’s lifelong passion, dedication, and commitment for the jewelry industry led him to become the respected owner of CJ Charles Jewelers in 1988. From that moment, Moradi’s single focus in business was to become recognized as the pinnacle of value and world-class quality in the his Community. Over 34 years later, CJ Charles continues to grow and thrive as a successful, family-owned business that consistently provides exceptional service to all their clientele.


  1. Esquire. In the zone: the history of the Rolex GMT-Master II. https://www.esquire.com/uk/watches/a33817003/rolex-gmt-master-ii-history/
  2. Antiques Trade Gazette. ‘Pussy Galore’ Rolex watch bought in Singapore brings demand in Wiltshire. https://www.antiquestradegazette.com/print-edition/2020/november/2466/feature/pussy-galore-rolex-watch-bought-in-singapore-brings-demand-in-wiltshire/
  3. Royal Museums of Greenwich. What is Greenwich Mean Time? https://www.rmg.co.uk/stories/topics/greenwich-mean-time-gmt
  4. Prestige. The history of GMT watches and world timers. https://www.prestigeonline.com/sg/style/watches/the-history-of-gmt-watches-and-world-timers/
  5. Gear Moose. Horology 101: How to Use a GMT Watch. https://gearmoose.com/horology-101-how-to-use-a-gmt-watch/
  6. Gear Patrol. What Makes Rolex's GMT-Master The Best Travel Watch Ever? https://www.gearpatrol.com/watches/a65658/rolex-gmt-master/
  7. Greenwich Mean Time. What is Greenwich Mean Time? (GMT). https://greenwichmeantime.com/what-is-gmt/
  8. Hiconsumption. Complications: The GMT Watch Explained. https://hiconsumption.com/explained-what-is-a-gmt-watch/

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