Let’s face it. You are not going to be able to walk into a Rolex boutique, and walk out with any variant of the super-hyped GMT-Master II. Not likely anyway. To get one at full retail from an authorised dealer, you would have had to spend time, and money with other purchases, to build a relationship with said dealer. So what is one to do? Well, here is our pick of 6 excellent GMT watches which are alternatives.
Our pick of 6 excellent GMT watches which are great alternatives to the Rolex GMT-Master II
The Rolex GMT-Master II is a cornerstone in the Rolex sports watch universe. It is well built, well engineered. It is very robust, and capable of showing 2 timezones at a single glance. It is a great watch, if one which is a bit boring and unimaginative. Wearing a Rolex these days is almost passé. Though because of the hype, it is in super high demand. Even this year’s new destro GMT-Master II, which some have nicknamed Sprite is a uninspiring watch. The novelty is obtained with little effort other than to rotate the dial on the regular model. And yes, a new green and black bezel and date ring.
For the retail price SGD 14,840 for the Ref. 126710BLNR (the Destro is more expensive at SGD 15,240) is a relatively good value. Secondary prices for this standard offering model in SS with SS bracelet and ceramic bezel, however another story. A quick search on Chrono24 today, shows the market’s asking prices are hovering at about double of retail. Sure, these prices have seen some correction in recent months, but it is still at a huge premium over the authorised dealer price. And getting one from an authorised dealer is almost impossible. Rolex AD boutiques all the world show little signage below the models on display saying “Display models only” and these are not available for sale to walk ins. But more on this story for another day, and our thoughts on how to solve or relieve this problem later.
Of course, we appeal to you not to buy one from the secondary market at a premium. So our best advice is, unless you already have a good relationship with an AD, forget about the GMT-Master II, and look at other options. And as we began our survey, there are many. Here, is our suggestions for 6 alternatives, which are perhaps even better than the ultra hype Rolex GMT-Master II. Of course, in no particular order.
Tudor Black Bay GMT SGD 5,750
We start with the stable mate Tudor. We were half minded whether to include the Tudor Black Bay GMT as the model, as indeed most Black Bay models are also increasingly becoming difficult to procure without being put on a waitlist and its attendant relationship building requirements with the authorised dealer. But the Black Bay GMT is such a compelling alternative to the GMT-Master II, the list would seem incomplete without it.
It matches its big brother’s (or sister, as GMT-Master II with the Jubilee bracelet is nicknamed the Batgirl) point for point. In design, in build quality, in aesthetics. In fact the “Pepsi” BB GMT is so close to the Pepsi GMT-Master II, the linked article is indeed a comparative review.
Chopard L.U.C GMT One SGD 17,300
Our next recommendation is the Chopard. One from the L.U.C series, and launched in 2020 as part of the L.U.C anniversary celebrations. The watch is not entirely new, but the aesthetics and the case material is. The case is ceramised titanium – made by subjecting the surface layer of Grade 5 titanium to extreme temperatures, effectively oxidising it and giving it properties of corrosion resistance and increased hardness for the famously lightweight metal.
The movement is designed and finished to haute horlogerie standards. The Calibre L.U.C 01.10-L sports a finnisage worthy of a high end piece, with Geneva Waves across the bridges and winding rotor, polished screw heads, beveled and polished edges, and circular grained main plate. Very nice.
We were greatly impressed with the L.U.C GMT One Black in our review. This is a watch made for the modern-day traveler. It is clean, intuitive to read, rainproof, scratch resistant and lightweight – all the traits a sojourner could demand. Of course, there’s also the added perk of a handsome design, as well as the fine craftsmanship and finissage. While the L.U.C GMT One Black doesn’t shift any watchmaking paradigms, it is also far from being just another generic GMT watch. Full credit to Chopard for trying out a new design language and an exotic case material.
Bell & Ross BR05 GMT SGD 7,500
Bell & Ross joined the fray offering sporty steel watches with the launch of their BR05 collection. And out of this very beautiful collection springs the GMT. The BR05 GMT is available in two strap options, both equally compelling, but our pick is the steel bracelet over the rubber strap.
The BR05 GMT is a such a handsome watch, that the aesthetics are appealing enough to just go out to buy one. Unless you really dislike squares, the BR05 GMT hits the spot. The finishing and craftsmanship is well on point, especially considering the modest pricing it is targeted at. And that in itself is an advantage. When traveling, one does not want to attract attention with the recognizable Rolex on the wrist. And one would be heart broken if one scratches the Rolex, Nautilus, or Royal Oak during the hectic moments as one travels. The BR05 GMT is thus perfect. Stylish, but does not attract the attention of the shady types. And hardy to be able to take the rigors of travel, as well as modestly priced enough not to need handling with kid gloves. Nice balance for a travel watch. We think.
Bvlgari Octo Finissimo S Chronograph GMT SGD 24,700
Another non-round watch in this list. The Bvlgari Octo Finissimo S Chronograph GMT, as the name implies incorporates a ultra thin, column wheel controlled two counter chronograph combined with the GMT function making this a very capable travel watch. The movement is designed and manufactured in-house and is well finished with the innovative use a peripheral rotor which does its winding duties without obstructing one’s view from the gawk-worthy aesthetics of the movement through the case back.
Here, we feel the Bvlgari Octo Finissimo S Chronograph S ticks all the right boxes and makes the heart race faster. The faceted case with faceted indices and hands, each with alternative bright polished surfaces with textured brushed ones catches the light in fascinating ways. Totally mesmerising, and made one to just stare at one’s wrist while making small twisting gestures just for the pleasure of it. This is a seriously beautiful watch.
Grand Seiko SBGM221 USD 4,600 (approx SGD 6.500)
An iconic Grand Seiko. We reviewed the earlier double signed version – the SBGM003 in detail in 2019, pictured below. Other than the original model having both the Grand Seiko and Seiko signature on the dial, the two are identical. The current model has less clutter at the bottom after the brand decided to move Grand Seiko logo to replace the Seiko logo at the 12 position. Apart from that no significant changes were made.
The original SBGM003 was one of the watches which launched Grand Seiko on to the world stage. The design values of the exceptional case design and finishing and hands and indices are the hallmarks which established Grand Seiko as a heavyweight in today’s marketplace. The Caliber 9S66 is superbly well thought out, and is a robust movement with a higher level of finishing than absolutely required for engineering purposes. The result is a movement which is well finished, and nice to look at. Not super high end finishing, but neither is the asking price at retail. The intrinsic value of a Grand Seiko is in the finishing of the case, dial, hands, and indices. These are exceptionally executed, with high quality zaratsu finishing applied to the surfaces.
This is a classic GS, that has been in production for 2 decades and will likely stay in production for several more to come.
Greubel Forsey GMT Sport CHF 480,000
Last but certainly by no means the least of this list is this Greubel Forsey GMTSport. It has by far the highest price tag. We say this with absolutely no inference that this is an expensive watch, although there is no denying that the retail price is a huge sum of money. But a price tag which we think is highly deserved by Greubel Forsey for the excellence it represents. And our reason for including it in this list is to show that it is indeed possible to think outside the box for a GMT watch, and arrive at a watch which is a product of passion and intelligence.
The GMT Sport is innovative in the design, the spectacular layout on the dial and even the shape of the case work is an example of how one should apply one’s intellect to an age old problem. And the finishing. Wow! At the very top, top of the charts in any measurement of any kind about movement finishing, we will find Greubel Forseys. And the GMT Sport is right up there. Impeccable.
As we said in our original review, the Greubel Forsey GMT Sport is going to polarise. Some are going to love the unique shape from the get go. Some will grow to love it with familiarisation (like us!), And others will hate it. But all watch lovers who revel in finishing have no option but to love the finnisage. Absolute tops.
The GMT-Master is a remarkable watch, but is by no means perfect. And though a grail for many, our opinion is that this is not a watch which deserves exaltation. True, the model is steeped in history with its origins from Rolex working with PanAm for use by pilots on trans-continental flights. True, the engineering to manufacture is state of the art for a serially produced watch. Quality control is at an extremely high level. Rolex Chronometer specifications specify +/- 1s a day of deviation. But Rolex is not haute horlogerie. The finishing is at a high engineering level at best. No decoration or passionate plea of high craftsmanship is evident in the product. There is little innovation or original thinking other than to solve engineering problems. And being a very basic 3 handed automatic movement with date and a separate 24 hour hand for GMT, is almost as simple as it gets.
Other than stable mate Tudor Black Bay GMT, all the other watches beat the GMT-Master II in terms of innovation of the design, the movement and most importantly the finishing. The other 5 on our list all provide a convincing plea that the watch is a product of passion and pride. And also, due to the lack of hype, these models are easier to attain than the Rolex. With perhaps the exception of the Greubel Forsey. Not because of the hype. But because it is a limited edition of only 11 pieces and all are spoken for.
What are your alternatives to the GMT-Master II?