August 12, 2018
by Bilal Khan
The new Rolex GMT Master II watches were a big story coming out of Baselworld 2018, and the new ‘Pepsi’ GMT is the “it” watch right now, with the ‘Root Beer’ drawing slightly more subdued hype as well. Between the madness of paying thousands over retail price for a new Rolex GMT Master II and the current steel sports watch “shortage” we (myself and Zach Piña) thought it might be a good time to do a list of some of our favorite alternative GMT watches in the spirit of our Top 10 alternatives to the Rolex Submariner article.
The Rolex GMT Master was introduced back in 1959 as the commercial aviation industry was going through a huge period of growth. Pilots who were flying across long distances could easily and reliably keep track of different time zones. The GMT hand and rotating bezel allowed for dual-time tracking, which is useful for anyone who travels or needs to keep track of different time zones. Because of this and the Rolex reputation, the GMT Master found its way on the wrist of people like Fidel Castro (who wore a reference 6542 and 1675). I’ve always found this to be infinitely cooler than the Rolex watches that found their ways on the wrists of, ahem, certain actors who I couldn’t care less about.
The follow up Rolex GMT Master II was introduced in 1983 with the current iteration ref. 116710 introduced in 2007. This is the contemporary model with the ceramic bezel and upgrades like the Triplock crown and bigger lugs, crown guards, and numerals. Also, a big improvement in this generation was the new bracelet with the 5mm adjustable Easy-link system. Since then, the current generation of Rolex GMT Master II has been associated most with Rolex’s ceramic color technology.
Models like the ‘Batman’ ref. 116710BLNR and the newest ‘Pepsi’ ref. 126710BLRO (there was an existing Pepsi dial, but only available in white gold before this year) have taken turns being the “it” watch of the moment with buyers paying thousands above retail price. As of writing in 2018, the Rolex GMT Master II Pepsi model is selling for almost double the MSRP of $9,250 (it will be interesting to see how this ages in a year and more). The black bezel and the ‘Batman’ both retail for around $8,500 – although the all-black bezel model can actually be found for a discount on the second-hand market.
And then, there are the gold models and the underrated new two-tone Rolex GMT Master II ‘Root Beer’ ref. 126711CHNR which is just under $15,000. I have a feeling this model will age well once the novelty of colored ceramic gets old and the production technology is cheap enough to produce.
In any case, the Rolex GMT Master II is an icon and chances are if you hear the phrase “GMT” this watch is one of the first few things that will come to mind. Here, we came up with a list of 10 alternatives from “peer” brands like Omega and Breitling as well as more afforable GMT offerings. A successful GMT watch does not need to look like a bi-color Rolex like the Pepsi or Coke. Some watches in this list share that aesthetic, others don’t at all.
Without further ado, here are 10 alternatives to the Rolex GMT Master II as written by myself and Zach Pina.
It’s no secret that I’m a huge Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean fan, but when put side to side, I think this is the stiffest competition the Rolex GMT Master II faces on the market. I think the black and white bezel ‘Cookies & Cream’ model is the best challenger (note that the Good Planet model is not METAS-certified, which is why I didn’t also choose it – though the all-ceramic Deep Black and Big Blue models are there for someone who wants a bigger and flashier GMT watch.
It comes in a 43.5mm case size with the METAS-certified Co-Axial calibre 8606 movement that has a silicon hairspring, anti-magnetic materials, and a 60-hour power reserve. And, of course, there is an independent hour hand as well as a Liquidmetal bidirectional bezel. One more note about the black and white bezel; Omega says this is the first watch bezel that has two distinct ceramic colors. In comparison, Rolex’s GMT bezel is done in one color with half of the bezel treated to make it a different color.
The Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean GMT ref. 18.104.22.168.01.001 is water-resistant to 2,000 feet but the tradeoff is the thick case size of 17.04mm. On a steel bracelet, this Omega is priced at $8,000.
Introduced in 2017, the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Cal. 7 GMT is the first ‘Pepsi’ bezel GMT from the brand since the Autavia GMT back in the ‘60s (speaking of watches I’d love to see reissued…). The Aquaracer is an entry-level TAG Heuer piece but the reliability and durability of a 300m water-resistant true GMT at $2,700 is difficult to ignore (though admittedly, Tudor’s piece on this list may still present an even better value proposition even though it’s $1,000 more).
The 43mm case has an aluminum red and blue bidirectional bezel, complementing the red lacquer GMT hand. The Caliber 7 movement is a modified Sellita SW330, which gets a 42-hour power reserve. All in all it’s a solid package for someone who wants a modern GMT that they won’t be too worried about beating up a little bit, but it’s far from the most inspiring watch out there. Again, the TAG Heuer Aquaracer Cal. 7 GMT is priced at $2,700. If you’re looking for a better deal, the black and blue bezel Aquaracer Cal. 7 GMT is functionally the same at a price of $2,100.
I’ve been calling the Tudor Black Bay GMT the ‘blizzard’ because that’s the last time I saw so many snowflakes in one place. Obviously, this watch was going to make this list. Rolex’s “younger sibling” released their GMT this year alongside the crown’s Pepsi GMT and it hasn’t been overshadowed – in fact, the Tudor has gotten a ton of attention. At first, I was cynical about yet another Black Bay iteration (especially after 2017’s dysmorphic Black Bay Chronograph) but these days competent design and flawless execution go a long way.
We wrote a ton about the specs of the Black Bay GMT but the in-house MT5652 movement excels with a 70-hour power reserve and jumping hour hand for easy adjustment and convenience, especially when traveling. Tudor smartly kept their aluminum bezel very muted by having a matte burgundy and blue finish because it’s a solid preference many would have over Rolex’s Pepsi bezel, which I’ve heard on many occasions described as being too glossy.
It’s certainly one of the “it” watches in 2018, but the Tudor Black Bay GMT is no doubt a watch worthy of praise by even people like myself who wish Tudor would expand their horizons a little bit more (new Heritage Chrono, please). Priced at $3,900 there’s not much to hate here.
The new Oris Big Crown Pro Pilot Calibre 114 was just released this past year, and it’s a seriously compelling traveler’s watch from Oris. The price is high, especially when looking at other Oris watches, but this $6,100 watch has a lot going for it. First off, the new in-house calibre 114 manual wind movement has a 10-day (240 hour) power reserve. While some will legitimately have gripes about having to wind a watch, I can imagine the tactical satisfaction of winding knowing that I’m set for 10 days.
The other factor that will please those who seriously use their GMT function is the ability to adjust the second timezone by thirty-minute increments as opposed to one-hour increments. There are many places that have time zones separated by 30 or 15 minute increments such as in India, Australia, Sri Lanka, and a few others. If you’re doing business frequently in any of these time zones, you can imagine how valuable this would be.
Housed in a 44mm case that is 14mm thick with 100m of water resistance, the Oris Big Crown Pro Pilot Calibre 114 utilizes its dial real estate well. It’s legible and the red of the GMT hand and power reserve indicator is used sparingly and for two important reasons. In all, this Oris may outperform many watches on this list as well as the anchor competitor in the Rolex GMT Master II watch.
First off, I wish Eberhard would reconsider the pricing for this excellently designed and well-built watch. At around $3,700 on a rubber strap and $4,400 on a bracelet, you really would have to fall in love to justify the ETA 2893-2 movement housed within (same as on the $700 Squale 30 ATMOS Black GMT Ceramica). That said, Eberhard & Co. aren’t exactly a huge manufacture with the cost cutting methods and tools that many non-independents can take advantage of. In any case, I firmly believe that the Scafograf GMT earns a spot on this list.
Vintage Scafograf 200 watches (such as the reference 11536) are some of the most alluring divers I’ve ever seen, and the brand still has a place in the hearts of horological design nerds. At 43mm wide in either blue or black with an orange GMT hand, the Scafograf GMT knocks it out of the park with font, hands, and proportions. While the rubber strap has its own appeal, I find that the bracelet and its patented declic deployant clasp, used for locking and unlocking the bracelet, is such an integral part of the watch.
Oh, and it’s based off their Scafograf 300 watch which got a People’s Choice Award, or something.
Unlike the GMT Master, the Navitimer 8 B35 Unitime is not a traditional GMT watch per se, but from a utility standpoint, it’s a sterling example of Breitling’s efforts (under the new leadership of Georges Kern) to strip out all the excess and give pilots, travelers, and adventurers everything they need and nothing they don’t. It’s also a relatively rare example of a worldtimer expressed in a more purist tool watch form, with a few neat tricks to boot; specifically the screwdown crown ensuring 100m of water resistance, a rotating bezel for tracking flight times, and a quickset hour hand for easily staying punctual when disembarking in a new time zone. Even the subtly modernized 24-hour disc and worldtime ring remain in concert and highly legible without betraying the classic layout originally pioneered in the 1930s by watchmaker Louis Cottier. The Breitling Navitimer 8 B35 Unitime starts at $8,140, and the price jumps up to $8,520 on Breitling’s signature three-link steel bracelet.