Jet set, go

Timothy Barber
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Whether you’re escaping to the sun or jetting off on business, a watch with a second time zone is a prized piece of kit for travellers. This year, attention is back on the daddy of globetrotter watches, Rolex’s GMT-Master II.

BACK in the early 1950s, the US airline Pan Am decided it wanted to help its pilots and crews by supplying them with a watch that could tell the time in two different time zones simultaneously. It turned, as one naturally would, to Rolex, who produced a model that had the innovation of a second hour hand completing a rotation every 24 hours, and a rotatable bezel with a 24-hour scale. Pilots could set the 24-hour hand to Greenwich Mean Time (the “zero” time zone that anchors flight planning and navigation globally), or to their home time zone as they hopped about the planet. Jet-setting passengers caught onto its usefulness too, and the GMT Master, famous for the half-blue, half-red “Pepsi” bezel (which provided instant day/night indication on the 24-hour scale) became one of Rolex’s biggest sellers, while the GMT complication became a standard function throughout the watch industry.

In the ‘80s Rolex launched an upgraded version, the GMT-Master II, and eventually discarded the two-tone bezel, along with much of the watch’s charm if you believe the purists. But it’s back. This year’s new steel version comes in blue and black; that bezel made of brutally hard ceramic for extra durability. It’s a ruggedly handsome new chapter for this executive classic.

Rolex wrote the rules on the GMT front, but almost every brand these days produces its own version. A trio of my favourite GMT newbies for 2013 are Montblanc’s TimeWalker Voyager UTC, which gives a crisply modern take on the format; a tremendously chic blue number from Hermès, perfect for lazy days sipping cocktails in St Tropez or Mustique; and the gorgeously simple Nomad from H Moser & Cie, a tiny company producing watches of top-tier quality with its own complex movements. When you’re at home, the Nomad’s red GMT hand neatly slots beneath the main hour hand, staying hidden until you next go away. Neat, nifty, and very handsome. Bon voyage.