The Rolex GMT Master is one of the most sought after GMT watches in the world. But with a cool $20,000 price tag, not many of us can, or are willing, to fork out that much.
That doesn’t mean to say that you can’t get a decent GMT watch for a much less eye watering price. In fact, I’ve been looking at some of the best GMT watches under $1000 and have been pleasantly surprised with what I’ve discovered.
There is a misconception that a GMT watch is something much more (or even less) than it is and I’ve seen lots of timepieces mistakenly labeled as GMT.
This term simply refers to a watch that has a 24 hour format which allows you to tell time in a second time zone. The GMT refers to Greenwich Mean Time which is more commonly called UTC these days.
The main purpose of a GMT watch is so that one hand is always synced to Greenwich Mean Time which makes it a lot easier to tell time in various time zones around the world. For example, GMT +1 is an hour ahead of GMT and this would be a lot easier to work out using one of these timepieces.
However, a lot of people also sync their GMT watches to various time zones alongside their own in accordance to their needs.
The most popular GMT watch was the Rolex GMT Master which was actually made for Pan Am Airlines whose pilots would use the watch for its red and blue bezel. These bezels actually earned the watch the nickname of the Pepsi bezel Rolex but this came at a cost to Pan Am, whose connection with the brand lost importance.
As I have just discussed, the most famous GMT watch was made by Rolex back in 1954. While this might be an incredibly well known timepiece, it certainly wasn’t the first GMT watch. In order to discover that we have to turn our attention to the Glycine Airman which was launched the previous year in 1953.
This watch sets itself apart from anything that came before it because of the dial that is divided not into 12 but into 24. This aids the wearer in determining whether it’s AM or PM thanks to the rotating external bezel. You can essentially set the watch to any local time while still taking other time zones into account.
But it was the Rolex GMT Master that introduced the second hand and made the design of the GMT watch a lot more sophisticated. In fact, it is this same system that we see in most modern GMT watches which is likely why so many people mistakenly think that Rolex was the pioneering brand. That said, the Airman is still produced with the original design so the brand must have done something right.
Some GMT watches are incredibly expensive but there are those that are a lot kinder on your bank balance. If you’re in the market for a good GMT watch but don’t want to pay any more than $1000, these are some of the best out there.
George Bamford founded his watch company in London just a few years back in 2016 yet the Bamford GMT is one of the most exquisite GMT watches under $1000. It features a 40 mm stainless steel case in sleek black giving it a modern yet classic look. The strap flows from this design and the all-black style means that this is a watch which is versatile and will go with any outfit.
The dial, also coming in black boasts a two tone GMT bezel that rotates smoothly and effortlessly. It goes without saying that this is something of an innovation for Bamford since the watch was marketed as ‘the next phase for the company’ who, up until this point, spent much of its focus on customizing the watches of other brands.
Bamford has been known for working with all the big names like Zenith, Tag Heuer, and Bulgari, to name a few.
Bamford London GMT Watch Video
Lorier Hyperion GMT – $799
Lorier is a US brand whose Hyperion GMT watch has been incredibly well received. I heard of a lot of people who were straight in line to get their hands on one of these bad boys when they were launched but they sold out so quickly, it was almost impossible.
One of the best things about this watch is how robust it is. The marine grade stainless steel case means that this is a watch built for the challenges of life. Measuring 39 mm, it’s also not an overly bulky watch so you can wear it everyday. It’s also water resistant up to 100 meters so is ideal for a more active lifestyle.
The red and blue bezel follows on from the original Rolex design, although you aren’t paying anywhere near as much. However, there are lots of other elements in the design that make this feel like a vintage piece and that’s something that really catches the eye.
If you’ve always wanted to own the Rolex Explorer II but have found the price tag to be a little too high then the Steinhart Ocean One Vintage is your next best bet. The company has designed this watch as an homage to Rolex’s fan favorite.
The watch comes in a stylish contemporary design that’s heavily based on the sports watches of the 1970s. It’s been given the nickname of the Steve McQueen and has one of the best examples of top notch workmanship in a budget watch. In fact, compared to many on this list, I’d say it was the best in terms of quality. That said, with only 38 hours of power reserve, it’s not quite on par with the previous two timepieces we have looked at.
I love that the Ocean One Vintage benefits from Swiss movement technology. If you’re after something that’s reliable down to the millisecond then this is it.
The watch also boasts a stainless steel casing that is on the larger side at 42 mm. This might not be suitable for those with a smaller wrist but it’ll certainly make a statement. Plus, the style is so versatile that this could easily become your new everyday watch and all for well under $1000!
Baltic Aquascaphe GMT – $1000
If you’re willing to spend right up to your limit then there aren’t many other GMT watches I would recommend over the Baltic Aquascaphe GMT. This watch has really earned a name for itself and YouTubers and social media influencers are going crazy over it.
The design of the watch has been inspired by the pilot watches back in the 1960s and 1970s so there’s a real vintage feel to it. However, the modern take on this design makes the watch suitable for wearers young and old.
I also really like the addition of the sapphire bezel that moves away from that classic ‘Pepsi’ look that so many other manufacturers are trying to mimic. You’ll also notice that this is a slightly smaller watch at 39mm so if you found the previous timepiece a little too bulky, this is a nice alternative. Plus, you get a 42 hour power reserve!
This is another relatively new brand, having only been launched in 2017 (in France) but the hype behind this watch shows some real promise. The brand was inspired by the family history of the founder so there’s a real passion in the production of these timepieces and that’s always a nice touch.
They have a beautifully done website to showcase the Aquascaphe GMT Collection here.
Baltic GMT Unboxing Video
The final watch on this list of GMT watches under $1000 is only just under budget. The Alpina brand has been around since 1883 so you know you’re getting a product that’s been crafted with the utmost experience and knowledge. Back in the day, the brand was known for its robust tool watches but today, they place their focus more on the sports watch.
One thing that has remained consistent is the durability of these timepieces which far out does anything else I’ve seen. They’re so durable and rugged that they’ve been favored by the military in many cases.
The Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage GMT is a large 42 mm watch with a stunning dial. Unlike other GMT watches, this one doesn’t have the standard GMT hand but instead has an inner disc and arrow which points to the 24 hour outer ring.
I should point out that this watch normally retails at $1,700 but there are always special offers on with various suppliers that knock the price down to less than $1000. You can buy this straight from Alpina (at full price) here.
Alpina Startimer Pilot Official Video
A GMT watch was once a very practical type of timepiece. While it still serves a practical purpose, a lot of people want them for their unique aesthetic value. However, the most expensive GMT watches can cost tens of thousands of dollars and I don’t know about you but I just simply cannot spare that much right now.
But there are so many excellent GMT watches under $1000 as we have seen in this guide. From sports watches to those that have a real vintage vibe, there’s truly something for everyone and you don’t need to break the bank.