6 of the Best Travel Watches Around Right Now

Whether you call them GMTs or worldtimers, these watches will be back on active duty in 2022.

If nothing else, the last year or so has made foreign travel an adventure again, at least for those who enjoy navigating their way through vaccination regimes and test requirements. It feels long ago when instead the burning question was whether it’s cocktail hour at the destination yet.

For the well-prepared traveler, the answer is on your wrist, as one of the few really useful complications watchmakers offer is the ability to show two or more time zones at a glance. Simply put, a “complication” in watch parlance is any function on a timepiece other than showing the time, such as a stopwatch or moon-phase display. Of course, you can do it in your head or use a world-time app on your phone, but a GMT or worldtimer saves you the bother and looks considerably more stylish. 

However, as easy as it is for you to decipher, showing multiple time zones is a significant challenge for both the watchmakers and the designer, as there’s always a tradeoff between simplicity and utility. How do you want the second time zone to be set? Should it link to the date? Do the time zones need to be named? How do you make sure the “travel” time is sufficiently distinct from the “home” time? What about places with just 30-minute differences? 

Here is our edit of some of the best mechanical worldtimers you can get right now, from entry level to high-end. All should serve you well, wherever your travels—once they begin again in earnest—may take you.

Rolex Explorer II
Photograph: Rolex

The standard approach to a GMT watch is exemplified by the Explorer II from Rolex, which has a second hour in bright orange that runs on a 24-hour cycle: set this 24-hour hand for your second time zone, then read the hour off the bezel scale, and minutes as normal. 

The design is built entirely around the presence of the extra hand and the bezel, with the contrast between hour and GMT hands being a feature rather than a hindrance (whether that’s a good thing is a straightforward matter of taste).

It’s simple, effective, and, as it’s a Rolex, bomb-proof. And even if you’re not traveling across time zones, Rolex points out that it might be useful for distinguishing day from night, should you emerge from a storm in an Arctic high summer.

This new version retains the signature 42mm sizing (want a larger case? Look to the brand's rugged 43mm Sea-Dweller and 44mm Deepsea). Inside is the in-house caliber 3285 power plant, new in the Explorer II, and the same currently found in the GMT-Master II. 

The really good news is this 3285 automatic movement—powered by the natural movement of the body as you wear it—packs in the best that Rolex currently offers: Chronergy escapement, 70 hours of power reserve, blue Parachrom balance spring and Paraflex shock absorbers. What does all this mean? A much more accurate, efficient, and robust piece that keeps running much longer after you've stopped wearing it. 

Price:  £7,550 | Watches of Switzerland | Goldsmiths

Bell & Ross BR03-93 GMT
Photograph: Bell & Ross

The same solution seen in the Rolex is behind Bell & Ross’s BR03-93 GMT, but the design makes the GMT more subservient to the watch design, obviously derived from the modular format of cockpit instruments, an aviation-inspired look that Bell & Ross has come to dominate over its 30-year history. 

One difference here is that the bezel can be turned, giving the watch more flexibility in terms of the extra time zone (the bezel is rotated however many hours difference between home time and the third zone to see the time in that destination without having to set the watch). Some will welcome that, others will see it as a complication too far, but it’s a smart watch that delivers a design presence that Rolex doesn’t look for. Speaking of which, the popular colorways of red and black—the "Coke" look as opposed to the red and blue "Pepsi" style—will justifiably draw attention.

The sturdy 42mm watch also has 100-meter water resistance, a 42-hour power reserve, curved anti-reflective sapphire crystal, and a small, subtle rounded date window towards the 4:30 position. Yes, you get a black calfskin leather strap, but we prefer this ultra-resilient synthetic fabric option.

Price:  £3,550 | Selfridges

Breitling Chronomat UTC
Photograph: Breitling

Breitling’s Chronomat UTC offers a brutally effective, if not especially subtle, solution to the demand for worldtimer watches: fit a completely separate mini, quartz-powered watch into the strap

It helps that the Chronomat is a hefty piece of kit to begin with—44mm by 14.45mm, so the extra bulk shouldn’t be an issue. The mechanical movement has 70 hours of power reserve, which is the length of time it continues to tick once you have removed the Chronomat from your wrist. It's also water-resistant up to 200 meters.

The “UTC" name references Coordinated Universal Time, or UTC, the primary time standard by which the world regulates clocks and time and is not adjusted for daylight saving, making it effectively a successor to Greenwich Mean Time, or GMT, which is where worldtimers derive their alternative moniker from.

The Chronomat was inspired by the Frecce Tricolori watch that Breitling created for the Italian Air Force’s aerobatic fleet back in 1983, and is very much an all-purpose sports watch, which explains why the second time zone function was incorporated into the strap and not the watch itself.

Price: £7,990 | Jura

Chopard L.U.C Time Traveler One Black
Photograph: Chopard

There’s an alternative solution that can be seen in Chopard’s latest travel watch, the L.U.C Time Traveler One Black, which is to show time everywhere in the world at once, via an arrangement of counter-rotating discs on the edge of the dial. 

Amazingly, it’s almost suspiciously easy to read—the number below the city is the time there—but it needs a sensitive designer to manage the hierarchy of information delivered. Going monotone, as Chopard’s watch shows, is a beautifully effective way of doing just that. 

It's actually based on the Time Traveler One launched back in 2016, but now with an added dose of modernity thanks to that monochrome color palette that extends to the 42mm ceramised titanium case (which has a hardness of 700 Vickers when 316L stainless steel has a hardness of 150 to 200 Vickers). On closer inspection, it's not black but myriad subtle shades of gray. This is the secret to the watch's legibility. 

One the outside of the dial is a city disc, marked with 24 locations around the globe. The crown at 4 o’clock lets the user rotate this city disc. When the chosen city for the local time is set at the 12 o’clock position, you can determine the prevailing hour in all of those 24 locations simultaneously.

Price: £13,600 | Chopard

TAG Heuer GMT Autavia
Photograph: TAG Heuer

TAG Heuer has just dropped three new 2022 Autavia models comprising two new chronograph models and this, a three-hand GMT model—a first for TAG's Autavia collection to mark the line's 60th year.

Fitted with an automatic movement that will keep running up to 50 hours after you've taken the watch off, the piece focuses on simplicity and legibility: numerals and hands coated with glow-in-the-dark Super-LumiNova on an uncluttered blue dial contained in a 42mm steel case that's water-resistant to 100 meters. 

The addition of easily interchangeable straps is another boon, with traditional stainless-steel or  leather straps as well as on-trend woven NATO bands, too.

Price: £3,500 | Watches of Switzerland | Goldsmiths

Christopher Ward C63 Sealander GMT
Photograph: Christopher Ward

Not all globe-trotting GMT watches cost the Earth. Christopher Ward's C63 Sealander GMT has a pleasingly classic style yet costs a fraction of the other pieces here. You get a round stainless steel 39mm case secure to 150 meters, a power reserve that extends to 56 hours, and this piece is the first from the brand to use its new automatic movement that not only adds the display of a second time zone (indicated by the large orange hand), but also allows for a slightly more precise GMT setting than the previous version. 

It is available in black, white, green or blue polished lacquer dials, boasts an anti-shock system and is compatible with a range quick-change straps that includes this options made from recycled ocean plastic.

In the past, a criticism levied at Christopher Ward has been a tendency to add unnecessary information and clutter to its dials, as it did with its 2014 C900 Worldtimer, but here there are no such issues. It's smart and simple. 

Price: $950 | Christopher Ward

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