The GMT, that most romantic of complications, how we love thee so. Deceptively simple yet oh-so-useful, the GMT — which displays the time in two or more time zones — has been intriguing travelers since Rolex debuted its GMT Master way back in 1954. Rolex's models have always been the gold standard for GMT watches, and for many years, there weren't very many affordable options in the space for those who wanted a mechanical travel watch, but didn't want to spend thousands.
Not so anymore, however. Since the dawn of the "microbrand" revolution, seemingly every small horological concern the world over has gotten into the GMT game. Many of these — most? — are also incredibly affordable. What a difference a few years makes in the watch world!
Baltic, a French brand that's been churning out beautiful, vintage-inspired watches since early 2017, has finally debuted its own take on the GMT, which it's calling the Aquascaphe GMT. Based upon its Aquascaphe dive watch platform, it's a 39mm, retro travel watch inspired in no small part by Rolex, but that certainly stands on its own. And given its design, its price, and its synthesis of vintage and modern elements, it may be the best GMT watch of 2020.
Case Diameter: 39mm
Case Thickness: 12mm
Water Resistance: 100m
Movement: Soprod C125 GMT
Baltic already created a great platform to house its GMT in the form of the Aquascaphe — there was no need to reinvent the wheel. And this wheel is a damn good one: it's 39mm wide, just 12mm tall, it has a beautiful dial, three different bezel options, and it's well-priced. It also ships (optionally) on one of the most comfortable beads-of-rice bracelets available right now. The best part, however, is the price: You can get into an Aquascaphe GMT, with the bracelet, for $1,200.
Who It's For
For those who have been looking for an affordable, mechanical GMT (automatic, to be specific) and want some vintage styling to go with it, the Aquascaphe GMT is your watch. Water-resistant to 100m, it's perfect for those on the move or those who want to vacation with a travel watch, but not necessarily worry about a $10K Rolex on their wrists. While not a dive-specific watch (the GMT has a 24-hour bezel, rather than a dive bezel), you could easily take it in the pool or the ocean without worry.
Like we said, you're sort of spoiled for choice right now, which is a great problem to have. You could go for the Atlas ($1,950) from American boutique brand Monta, though this watch is nearly $1,000 more expensive than the Aquascaphe and doesn't use a rotating bezel. (The brand's Skyquest does, however, at $2,190.) Then there's the Crooms from British brand Farer at $1,485 — this has a feature set roughly on par with that of the Aquascaphe GMT for similar money, thought the stock bracelet is a Milanese. Finally, for $1,499, there's the Superman Heritage GMT from French brand Yema, available in several colorways.
There are going to be folks out there who see an image of this watch and are immediately turned off by its vintage Rolex/Tudor cues. And I get that. (Just wait 'til you see its outer and inner boxes.) However, if you're willing to keep an open mind and consider 1) the artificial scarcity of new Rolex sports models 2) the price of both vintage and new Rolex models 3) that not everyone who enjoys the Rolex aesthetic can necessarily afford it (indeed, most cannot at 5-figure prices), then you can better appreciate the void in the market being filled by watches such as the Aquascaphe GMT.
But let us put the "It looks too much like XYZ" argument aside for a moment and focus on the watch itself: It's sized at 39mm wide by 12mm tall (including the slightly domed sapphire crystal), and is powered by the Soprod C125 GMT movement. For those unfamiliar, this is a Swiss-made movement with a 42-hour power reserve and an independently adjustable GMT hand. What does this mean, effectively? In short, it means the watch is (slightly) better for those keeping track of someone in a second time zone, rather than someone who is actually traveling, but effectively, it works just as well for either type of person.
So what's the general design scheme going on here? Well, as I intimated, it's Rolex family-inspired: You've got a glossy black dial with '90s Tudor-looking circle and triangle lume plots; an outer "gilt" minute track; sword hands and arrow-tipped GMT hands; sparse branding; and a date window (though this has a matching black background and it situated at 6 o'clock, rather than 3 o'clock). Honestly, it's a great-looking dial, clean and well-done. c1 Super-Luminova ensures night-time legibility and a double-domed, anti-reflective sapphire crystal offers modern robustness paired with a vintage profile. The GMT hand and "Aquascaphe" text is also matched to one color of the bezel in each colorway — a thoughtful touch.
Speaking of the bezels, the Rolex police are going to show up again: there are three colorways — green and blue; grey and blue; and orange and blue — each of which does indeed give off Crownish vibes with its midcentury watch typeface. However, these bezels are sapphire, offering a Bakelite look without the actual brittleness of old plastic, and they're bi-directional and 24-click. (If you're a real watch nerd, you may also notice that the "4" is not a flat-font as it appears on many midcentury watches, but rather, a more conventional, curved 4.)
A couple things worth mentioning regarding the Aquascaphe's design that are rarely worth going into greater detail over: the case back and the bracelet. The former is sold stainless steel and features a cool world map graphic with different time zones detailed around the outer edge, giving the wearer an at-a-glance reference of all 24 zones. (It's cool enough to warrant removing the watch once in a while and studying them.) The latter is, quite simply, one of the comfiest beads-of-rice bracelets available on a modern tool watch anywhere, complete with a fold-over clasp, micro-adjust, and quick-release, 20mm spring bars. It's absolutely worth the extra $95 or so over the Tropic-esque rubber strap option, though this is a very good rubber strap in and of itself.
The rest of the watch case isn't terribly exciting. It's well-proportioned, thankfully (actually, it may be perfectly proportioned for a sport GMT watch), but there's only one surface treatment: brushed. One of my few asks for a more refined design would have been the addition of a polished bevel or something of the like — something to make for a more dynamic design. However, I am but a humble editor, and can't honestly speak to the costs associated with adding a potential complicated step to the manufacturing process and what this would do to the watch's MSRP, so I'm prepared to shut my mouth about it.
Quite simply, the Aquascaphe GMT wears beautifully. It's comfortable, fits well beneath a cuff, and the bracelet is great. What's my biggest gripe? Truthfully, the movement — at least on my review watch. This may be user error (though I tend to doubt it, after 10,000 watch reviews), but screwing down the crown was an arduous task: unless it catches in a very specific way, I would begin to thread it downward, and it would continue advancing the GMT hand. I'd have to continue attempting to screw the crown down (and frustratingly advancing the GMT hand by accident) many times until I felt the crown "catch," and only then could I screw it down without messing with any of the setting functions. I haven't encountered this before on ETA or Sellita-based GMT movements and I'm not quite sure what's going on here, but I'm hoping it was simply a problem with my review unit. Other than this, no gripes.
Had the Aquascaphe GMT come out, say, three to five years ago, it would be a no-brainer of a recommendation under the "Affordable Automatic GMT Watch" category. Now, of course, there's some stiff competition from all around the world. However, Baltic has always been great at one thing, which is offering a watch that looks "vintage-inspired" without directly recalling any one specific model. There's clearly plenty of the GMT Master in this piece, but not enough that it should cause anyone to faint. (Though no doubt some will.) For the money, it's absolutely one of the best buys in affordable GMT watches, and probably the best one to see the light of day in 2020, that most accursed of years. Would we recommend it? We sure would.