Travel time: the best second time zone watches

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Not just for holidays, a GMT watch is also a businessman’s long-haul companion

The story goes that in the early days of jet-powered air travel, pilots battling disrupted sleep patterns turned to the watch industry and asked for a wristwatch that could display the time in two different zones simultaneously. The thinking being that at some deep, barely accessible psychological level, at least knowing the time both locally and at home would help them overcome what the fashionable set began calling jet-lag, leaving them to get some sleep.

How true that actually is we may never fully know, but certainly the advent of commercial airliners and quick-flash international travel provided watchmakers with an opportunity. A new generation of businessmen, explorers and playboys needed state-of-the-art, modish timekeepers to accompany them on their adventures. And they got them.

Rolex is famed as laying down the marker with its GMT-Master (the one with the blue and red ‘Pepsi’ bezel), although history records Glycine preceded it – just rather less memorably. The basic principle applied was a second central hand pointing to a 24-hour scale running around the bezel, or sometimes the dial, that showed home time, while the conventional hour and minute hands were adjusted to local time.

In the 60-plus years since the days of those first red-eyed pilots, there have been too many watches to count carrying the GMT, UTC, dual time or second time zone nomenclature. They’ve become pillars of watch collections, recognised as useful travel companions, whether your frequent flier miles are accrued on business or in pursuit of the world’s many riches. Here’s a snapshot of today’s most stylish examples.

Rolex GMT-Master II

No list of dual time watches would be complete without the latest addition to the Rolex legend that is the GMT-Master, the watch that in the 1950s became the official watch of Pan American Airways. Launched at Basel this year, it has a blue and red Cerachrom (Rolex’s ceramic) bezel, Rolex’s bullet-proof automatic Calibre 3285 and the company’s Jubilee bracelet, which is enjoying a style renaissance at the moment. The black and brown-bezelled Oystersteel and Everose gold model is a peach, too.

£6,800, shop now

Montblanc 1858 Automatic Dual Time

The easy 1858 is the natural home among Montblanc’s collection for a watch with a second time zone. The function is shown by a 12-hour central hour hand, backed up by a day/night indicator at 12 o’clock that should help you avoid those embarrassing middle-of-the-night calls home. Aesthetically, the combination of vintage beige dial elements, a cognac leather strap and that attention-grabbing bronze crown and bezel give the watch its casual man-of-the-world feel.

£4,300, shop now

Bremont MBIII

You’d have a job on your hands to single out British brand Bremont’s hardiest watch, but the trinity of models tested on Martin-Baker ejector seats (whence the name) would certainly be right up there. The third of the three carries a GMT function, indicated by a red-tipped arrow hand that points to a 24-hour scale running around an inner bezel. Should you need them, the watch also comes with guarantees of resistance to water (100 metres), shock, vibration, temperature extremes and even salt-fog.

£4,195, shop now

Farer Ponting

Sticking with the British connection, Farer’s burgeoning collection of automatics includes this Ponting GMT model. The vivid colour spectrum – electric blue, burnt orange, primrose yellow, sunray silver, bronze – won’t be to everyone’s taste, but to this reviewer’s eyes, the flush is winning, managing to be refreshingly devil-may-care without irritating. The pockmarked navy rubber strap option gives it extra zest, as does the knowledge that this reasonably priced watch comes with a five-year movement guarantee. The first numbered 150 pieces are almost gone…

£1,158, shop now

Bell & Ross BR 126 Heritage GMT & Flyback

First thoughts on considering Bell & Ross turn to aviation and to the Franco-Swiss company’s line of BR01 and BR03 instrument watches – the square-cased ones. Less abrupt is the brand’s Vintage collection of round-case designs, where you’ll find this cosy looking number. Sitting alongside its GMT function is a flyback chronograph that can be reset and restarted once running with a single jab of the vintage-inspired pusher at 4 o’clock.

£5,000, shop now