What is a GMT watch? How does it work? In this episode of Behind the Dial we’ll talk about three types of GMT watches, Caller, Traveler, and 24-hour models.
The history of GMT (Greenwich Mean Time) watches intertwines with the development of global travel and the need for accurate timekeeping across different time zones. The concept of a GMT watch was pioneered in the 1950s, in response to the burgeoning age of international air travel. Airlines needed a reliable way for their pilots to keep track of time in both their current location and their home time zone, or GMT, which served as the international time standard. The solution came in the form of a wristwatch that could display more than one time zone simultaneously. The most iconic example from this era is the Rolex GMT-Master, introduced in 1954, designed in collaboration with Pan American World Airways for use by their pilots. Its distinctive feature was a rotating 24-hour bezel and a fourth hand that completed one rotation every 24 hours, allowing wearers to read the time in a second time zone.
As the demand for GMT watches grew among travelers and professionals alike, other watchmakers began to introduce their own versions, each with unique features but adhering to the basic principle of dual-time zone readability. Over the years, the GMT watch has evolved from a tool watch for pilots and frequent travelers to a stylish and functional accessory for the global citizen. The 1980s and 1990s saw the introduction of more sophisticated models, including those with adjustable hour hands that could be set to a new local time without stopping the watch, thus preserving its accuracy. The GMT watch’s ability to track multiple time zones has made it an enduring favorite among watch enthusiasts and professionals whose work spans different continents. Today, GMT watches are celebrated not only for their practicality and precision but also for their role in the history of global travel and communication, symbolizing the interconnectedness of the world.