GMT watches are all the rage. Everybody wants one. Or two, or three. Watchmakers have obliged and seemingly every brand and its cousin has announced new takes on this horological complication lately. Why? Is it a fad? No, the GMT is popular for good reason — or, rather, for multiple reasons.
GMT watches have a long and storied history but the short explanation of their enduring popularity goes like this: they're actually useful, and in more ways than is immediately obvious. The chronograph might also be a desirable and useful complication, but I'd argue that the GMT is even more so. Here's why:
They're handy when traveling.
This is the most apparent reason. It's what the functionality was originally intended for, and the justification many will offer for wanting one. The idea is that the watch's main hands display the time where you're visiting (called the "local time") and the 24-hour GMT hand (often taking the form of an arrow) indicates the time where you came from ("home time").
If you travel often and plan on using a GMT watch in this way, the kind that allows you to quickly set the main time's hour hand (dubbed a "true GMT" by some enthusiasts) will be the most useful.
Tracking a second time zone isn't just for traveling.
A GMT watch is great for daily wear, even when you're not traveling. Though watches are largely antiquated gadgets, the GMT might be the most relevant functionality for the modern user in an increasingly global and increasingly interconnected world.
I don't know about you, but I communicate regularly with people in multiple other time zones. It might be that your business has an office in, say, Europe or the West Coast, or maybe your brother lives in Bangkok. If using a GMT watch in this way, those with common Swiss movements like the ETA 2893 or even Seiko's new 4R34 allow you to easily adjust the 24-hour hand.
Even using the GMT hand to indicate your local time in 24-hour format can be handy for some who might lose track of whether it's day or night — spelunkers or arctic explorers, for example (as was ostensibly the original purpose of the Rolex Explorer II).
It's a watch complication you can actually afford.
Functions beyond basic time-telling on watches are called complications. Not only do they make watches more interesting and (ostensibly) useful, but also expensive due to the complexity they add to intricate mechanical movements. They often remain out of reach for many watch enthusiasts on a budget.
The popular chronograph is often around double the price of a comparable time-only watch, but GMTs have long been far more accessible — it's a watch complication that's only a slight financial stretch beyond your basic automatic watch, and this is a big part of its popularity.
Recently, GMTs have become even more attainable. Long priced starting in the vicinity of $1,500 and primarily the purview of Swiss brands, the introduction of Japanese GMT movements from Seiko and Citizen has seen the functionality truly democratized. Affordability itself makes a watch a more practical choice in many ways.
So why is the GMT especially popular now? Well, it's been on the rise for years due to the above reasons. You might think that people coming out of the pandemic with travel on their minds might be part of it, but it's probably more to do with something else: Rolex.
Rolex is often credited with having invented the GMT in 1953, first of all, but it influences the current scene in other ways, too. The red-hot market for steel Rolex sport watches is a hype inferno, and one of the most fiery is the GMT Master II with its distinctive and oft imitated bi-color bezel.
The look is part of the GMT's popularity, but it's also simply helped to draw attention to the complication itself. Yes, you'll see many sporty takes on the GMT that more often than not take some "inspiration" from Rolex (the Exlporer II included), but even dressy and other approaches to the functionality probably benefit from the Rolex magic.