Frequent flyers: GMT and world timer update


Although watch complications are a visual feast and impressively innovative, arguably not all of them are necessarily highly useful.

That is not something that can be said, however, of world timers or GMT watches, which are more in sync with people’s hectic and well-travelled lifestyles than ever, playing an important role in helping generations of travellers track the time in more than one time zone. 

“The second time zone is one of the few complications that is actually very useful for day to day use,” says Rolf Studer, vice president of Oris. “Nobody necessarily needs a chronograph or a tourbillon, however, every business professional or seasoned traveller will use the [second time zone] complication regularly.”

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With travel becoming more hassle free and cheaper by the day, it is easy to see why more and more brands are developing new models within the travel-friendly watch genre.

It is a category that includes GMT models, with their extra hand that points to a 24-hour index and is particularly relevant for activities such as aviation; dual-time watches with two separate dials so that the wearer can track local time and the time in a different time zone; and world timer models, which display the world’s different time zones, generally speaking with the names of major cities in various time zones printed around the dial, enabling the wearer to see the time in different cities at one glance.

It is a functionality that watchmakers have been providing since as early as 1930, when watchmaker Louis Cottier first developed the world timer concept. Cottier went on to work with various watch manufacturers on evolving the multiple time zone model. It was in the 1940s and 50s, when people were able to fly longer distances and pilots found themselves travelling through multiple time zones, that these watches truly gained traction.

The Rolex GMT Master, developed in the 1950s, was designed as an aviator watch and with its fourth hand and corresponding number markings on the outside bezel, allowed the wearer to keep track of a second time zone.

Since the need was first identified, there has been no shortage of travel-friendly watches, particularly GMT watches, with models coming from most major brands, including Harry Winston, Jaeger-LeCoultre, Montblanc, Ralph Lauren, Hermés, TAG Heuer, Citizen, Breitling, Bell & Ross, Tissot, Junghans, Girard-Perregaux, Greubel Forsey, Fortis, Casio and Seiko. The list goes on, and now relatively young brands making their mark on the industry are exploring this functionality too, with models coming from Schofield, Christopher Ward, Bremont and Axion.

Brands and watchmakers are continuing to launch these watches, striving to meet the demand from people including pilots and well-travelled members of the public, for whom telling the time in their current location while keeping track of the time elsewhere, is essential. An influx of world timers too over the past two years or so is testament to the mainstream popularity of watches that lend a hand to easy travel.
“For people who travel the globe, such as pilots, Formula 1 drivers, as well as frequent flyers and international business people who communicate around the world, it is becoming increasingly important to keep track of what is happening in different time zones,” says Thomas Gaümann, head of R&D movement at IWC Schaffhausen. “Therefore, a watch that includes additional time zones is a very helpful function to keep track of things when moving continuously from one continent to another.”

Whether it is for communicating with family living overseas, preparing for a conference call, or to fulfil the requirements of someone who travels for work or fun, the need for GMT watches and world timers to tell the time in different countries or cities has never been greater.

“One of the most practical functions offered in watchmaking is the ability to keep track of time in different time zones,” says a spokesperson for Ulysse Nardin. “Therefore, whether you are a travelling business executive, a vacationer around the world or simply want to keep in touch with friends or family across different time zones, ease of use is the most important aspect of such a timepiece.”

While ease of use is a key priority in designing a GMT or world timer, so is ensuring it is easy to read at a glance, particularly for pilots keeping track of local time while flying across time zones. “The user is seeking a watch which is readable at a glance and can be set quickly and easily,” says Gaümann.

As well as being readable, the watch also needs to have an attractive appearance on the wrist, which is especially important for brands and watchmakers operating in such a busy marketplace.

“As the demand for these pieces grows the options becoming available to the end consumer are vast and varied so the need to stand out from the crowd is even more important for brands now,” says Matthew LeFevre, sales and marketing director at Maurice Lacroix. “We are finding a trend for returning back to smaller more elegant classic styles, so in response this year we have launched our Masterpiece Tradition world timer in a slim 42mm case with two dial options both beautifully detailed depicting either a map of Europe or Asia in
the background.”

Map detailing on the watch dial is often a feature of world timer watches and can provide a popular differentiator in terms of looks from other watch types, as Peter Jackson, managing director of five-store retailer Peter Jackson the Jeweller explains: “I think [men] like the look of the watch first, with all the dials and buttons in the case of Citizen and a beautiful map of the world on the Frédérique Constant, then they notice the functions.”

With dials in silver, the pieces in the Frédérique Constant World timer Collection come with either an engraved guilloché design or a detailed world map in the centre. These limited edition models have a date counter at the 6 o’clock position, as well as a 24-hour disc with day-night indication. The dial also displays a 24-city disc — one for each of the 24 time zones in the world. All functions can be accessed by using the crown. The models boast a simplicity, with no extra push buttons sticking out from the smooth and polished sides of the case.

“Many complications in watches tend not to have a very practical daily use for the wearer,” says Giuseppe Ferro, UK distributor for Frédérique Constant. “However, at a time when the world seems to be within everybody’s reach, the Frédérique Constant world timer offers the unique opportunity to wear a luxurious, elegant, easy to use, manufactured timepiece, not only useful to, but also, affordable to many.”

A recently launched watch depicting a map of the world is Christopher Ward’s C900 World Timer, which the English brand says is a new interpretation of the classic GMT timepiece. The dual time zone watch has been designed by watchmaker Johannes Jahnke. It houses a calibre JJ03 movement that is based on an ETA 2893 base movement with a complication that, by engineering the gearing system to enable both the “local” hand and the GMT hand to rotate at the same speed, makes the dial easy to read. The two hands use the same 24-hour scale instead of the more traditional approach, where one uses the 12-hour scale and the other, the 24-hour one. The C900 World timer also features a window at 12 o’clock as a location reminder – displaying the selected three-letter airport code appropriate to the chosen time zone. By setting one hand to local time and, via the central crown, setting the second to the chosen global destination, the two times are easily read. By using the window to display the selected location, the C900 World timer is said to avoid the sometimes-confusing clutter caused by featuring 24 locations on the face of traditional world timers.

As is the case with all watches, style definitely plays a role in the development of GMT watches and world timers. “These watches also need to be comfortable and easy to wear,” says Kirsten Crisford, UK marketing manager of Seiko UK. “The last thing anyone wants while on a long flight is the irritant of a watch that catches and feels clunky. This is what consumers get when they pay for a trusted brand that provides well made watches.”

Seiko launched its own influential timepiece within the travel-friendly watch genre last year. “The Seiko Astron Solar GPS watch is a big step forward for all watches, not just travel watches,” says Crisford. “At the touch of a button the watch will calculate your position on the earth and change the time to the local time zone, it recognises all 39 time zones on earth. It is something so simple, something a mobile phone does, and something that watches should, and now can, do. Unlike a phone, the watch is powered only by light, so no battery change required when you are 30,000 feet in the air.”

In the reworked GMT category, Jaeger-LeCoultre has also made an impression recently, with the launch of its Duomètre Unique Travel Time, which offers style and substance.

Whether they give the watches a classic, sporty or contemporary style, watch manufacturers continue to compete to produce travel-friendly watches that make travel and keeping track of other time zones as hassle free as possible, always enhancing functionality. “If you are spending a week travelling to various different countries it can be exhausting, and so simple little things like adjusting your watch can become frustrating or irritating,” explains LeFevre. “In order to simplify this process we have added a function for quick time zone adjustment through the two pushers on the side of the case, which enables you to advance the hour hand backwards or forwards by an hour on each push of the buttons while leaving a second hour indicator always showing your home time. We have also added a day and night indicator, as well as showing the date to help people that may be flying long haul through the night into a different day.”

Also creating world timer models that stand out, Richard Mille launched the RM 58-01 Tourbillon World Timer Jean Todt Limited Edition earlier this year, combining the multiple-time zone model with a tourbillon. Looking ahead, Richard Mille of the eponymous brand expects further developments in the genre. “There will be more and more mechanical developments in the future. However, these will be stepwise and incremental,” he says. “Electronic world timer watches offer all kinds of extra possibilities, such as GPS, which a mechanical world timer cannot compete with, so there are natural limits. However, for anyone who appreciates beauty combined with practicality, nothing can ever beat a mechanical jewel that can accompany you across the globe in style like this.”

Many brands have long histories in travel-friendly watches, including Girard-Perregaux. The watchmaker presented a redesigned Traveller collection at BaselWorld and has always sought to combine the world time functions with other complications, such as its tourbillon with three gold bridges or perpetual calendar.

Retailers are appreciating the developments in this genre and confirming the appeal to their customers. “The demand for timepieces with these functions can be split into two noticeable trends,” explains Adrian Marroneau, director of buying and merchandising at DM London. “Firstly, the world timer, such as those brought out by IWC, Alpina and Bremont, is perfect for those who want more of a statement piece and these designs often feature a busy dial modelled on historical pilot instruments. Furthermore, brands like Bell & Ross have produced watches with a sportier aesthetic such as their BR-0193 GMT automatic, which combines this extra time functionality with a cool contemporary design. In contrast, but as equally popular, are the more classic models, such as the Master Geographic range from Jaeger-LeCoultre, which demonstrates perfectly how these desirable complications have also been appropriated within a more traditional design.”

With their popularity showing no sign of waning, travel-friendly watches continue to be launched onto the market, bringing with them innovative designs and user elements so that there is something to suit every consumer’s different style and needs.

For instance, Oris has developed a world timer with the brand’s own retro adjustable date, operated with a mere click. The watchmaker has plans to continue innovating within the genre. “Our dream would be to create a watch with a second time zone and alarm capability,” says Studer.

Developments in the genre are also something that Ball Watch Company, with its Trainmaster Worldtime Chronograph, has high expectations for. The company founder Webb C Ball was the first watchmaker to standardise the time for American railroad companies in the late 19th century. “A major development would be the possibility of fine adjustment of the world time function according to the use of daylight saving time applied by each time zone,” says Mathieu Schmidhauser, market executive at Ball Watch Company.

At IWC Schaffhausen, the new Ingenieur Dual Time Titanium has been designed to show a second local time of the wearer’s choice. The dial displays the current local time and this can be advanced or moved back in one-hour steps. While the white-tipped seconds hand relentlessly circuits the dial, the white triangle in the outer 24-hour ring shows a second time and ensures that the wearer’s home time is always visible. To make it easier to differentiate between day and night, the upper half, from 6pm to 6am, is darker than the lower half.

Meanwhile, IWC’s Pilot’s Watch World Timer has a 24-hour ring that enables the wearer to look at all 24 time zones, including the Universal Time Coordinated (UTC). The city ring shows the names of 23 places around the globe, each of which represents a time zone. The dial shows local time, which can be adjusted forwards or backwards in one-hour steps.

A recent launch from Nixon, the Diplomat can be set to a second time zone through its Swiss-made Ronda movement. “At Nixon we believe in functional products with timeless style,” says Adi Kipping, European product coordinator. “Watches that are designed for travel and perform an activity are the heart of our travel segment. At Nixon, our team perform unconventional sports like skateboarding, snowboarding and surfing so the performance demands of our watches are custom made to our lifestyle needs.”

Among the latest Breitling for Bentley launches is the Bentley B04 GMT with its dual-time zone system. To adjust the main hour hand to local time, the user can simply pull out the crown and turn it in either direction in one-hour increments. Meanwhile, the red-tipped hand continues to show home time in 24-hour mode.

There is also the Bentley B05 Unitime, a world time chronograph powered by a Breitling movement with a patented mechanism. A double-disc system enables instant reading at any given moment of the time in all 24 time zones. The 24-city bezel comprises indications serving to take account of “summer” or Daylight Saving Time (DST). The black or matt white dial is adorned with an artistically sculpted globe accentuating the travel theme.

In recent years, Nomos Glashütte has also introduced three travel watch models into its portfolio, which are in keeping with the company emphasis on legibility and easy usability. The three Nomos models: Zürich Weltzeit, Tangomat GMT, and Tangomat GMT Plus, are based on the Nomos Glashütte in-house built calibre Xi. The brand turned the classic world timer arrangement upside down for optimal legibility, with the travel time indicated on the regular face with the regular hands, rather than the traditional approach of using a secondary smaller index for this purpose.

“With life being very much global these days, a travel watch is a great tool – even for those who do not travel often themselves,” says Paul Kustow, UK sales agent for Nomos Glashütte. “Knowing what time it is at your business partner’s office, or when to reach a loved one, who may be living or travelling some hours away, is an essential part of daily life for many people.”

Rolex, of course has a rich heritage in travel-friendly watches, with its Rolex GMT Master setting the standards from as far back as 1955. Its most recent contribution to the genre is the latest GMT Master II, released at BaselWorld this year. Meanwhile, the Rolex Oyster Perpetual Sky-Dweller released last year and featuring an annual calendar and calibre 9001 movement is arguably the most significant dual time zone watch from the watchmaker. With 14 patents – five of which are new – the dual time zone piece allows the user to read the local time via centre hands and a reference time display in 24-hour format read via a rotating off-centre disc visible on the dial. A rotatable ring command bezel allows the wearer to easily select the watch’s different functions via an interface between the movement and case. The bezel can be turned to any one of three positions to choose the function to be set, from date, local time or reference time.

Another brand that continues to evolve its world timer offering is Tissot. Celebrating its 160th Anniversary, the brand has launched the Tissot Heritage Navigator, which is a replica of the Tissot Navigator, first launched in 1953 for the centenary. The original Tissot Navigator watch from 1953 featured 24 time zones, as does the new generation model.

While many established brands recognise the importance of having a watch that tracks multiple time zones in their portfolio of models, fledgling brands, such as Axion, have also noted the increasing popularity of travel-friendly pieces. “A dual time zone watch is a vital addition to a brand’s portfolio of executions,” confirms Glynn Barker, founder and owner of Axion. “It tends only to be the established brands who offer such pieces due to the complications of the movement but at Axion we think it is a benefit that will be attractive to people who would not be interested in the haute horology brands. Providing the feature in the sub £500 mark opens up the feature to a wider audience. Consumers are far more knowledgeable now about brands, styles and functions so offering these executions within a range is very important for
brand reinforcement.”

Barker also points out that consumers have huge choice when it comes to GMT models. “I think being able to choose your choice of not only brand but range of watch, and then find a GMT version in that specific range, is a testament to the technical advances by manufacturers over the last few years and highlights the importance of travel watches to the manufacturers,” he says.

The consumer awareness of travel-friendly functionality in watches has encouraged a wide range of brands and watchmakers to invest their skills in creating travel-friendly watches, even those that have not naturally previously taken that direction.

Rado has recognised the popularity of watches that track more than one time zone and has chosen the useful function as its complication of choice. At this year’s BaselWorld it launched the Rado HyperChrome UTC. UTC is the revised term for GMT and the watch has a second-hour hand to display a second time zone. “A second time zone on a Rado watch is a rare feature,” says Matthias Breschan, Rado CEO. “It is a complication that has only appeared on some multifunction watches and on one watch from the 1960s. The UTC movement used in the newest models of the Rado HyperChrome marks a rare foray into complications for us.”
For other brands, the popularity of world timers has encouraged them to extend their collections from featuring GMT models to welcoming world timers. “World timers added a new level to the genre of travel watches, enriching the watch tradition as a whole,” says Thilo Muehle, CEO of Mühle-Glashütte, which includes the Marinus GMT and the Seebataillon GMT in its dual-time zone line up. He adds: “Still today, world timers are fascinating instruments of time. Therefore, we are planning to launch this type of watch ourselves in the next years. Unlike our sporty watches with a second time zone, the world timer will come in one of our families of classical timepieces.”

Tracking more than one time zone has long been a sought after watch function and as global travel becomes increasingly prolific, the presence of GMT watches, dual time zone watches and world timers on the market is likely to grow. It is a useful and desirable complication, which means that the watch brands and makers lining up to launch their take on the theme is extensive. Combine this popularity with advances in technology and prepare yourself for some imminent and long-term developments in the travel-friendly watch family in what promises to be an interesting journey.

This article first appeared in the October edition of WatchPro. To read the full digital issue, click here

Tags : dual time zonegmtwatchwatchesworld timers
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