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hands/on: GMT watches from Girard-Perregaux over the decades

Travelling to different timezones always provides the challenge to the Traveller to know the time back home. It’s not appreciated if you call the wife back home at 2am to find out that you mixed up the time difference. Being able to show a second timezone on your watch can therefore be extremely helpful.

There are different approaches to solve that problem. Flight attendants often use a watch with two separate dials of time. More sophisticated are true World Timers that provide a rotating disc to read the hour in every time zone. The most classic way however is a GMT watch. A GMT watch basically displays besides the local time, one other timezone, typically your home timezone when you’re travelling.

The most classic GMT, the Rolex GMT Master

But even GMT watches have different approaches to display a second timezone. The most classic approach comes from the Rolex GMT Master, deploying a 24 hour hand and a rotating bezel. Other approaches include a second hour hand that can be set forward and backward, like you have on the Patek Aquanaut Traveller. Further, I know of rotating hour discs that display home time in a window or a separate small dial with 24 hours and a little GMT hand. And there might be more.

Surprisingly, Girard-Perregaux had a number of true GMT watches in its collection over the years (I’m not considering the World Timers here) and they have used all different approaches for displaying GMT time. You can argue that this lacks consistency but then it could also mean that GP mastered the technology in all variations.

We will start in the late 1980s and with a classic GMT hand with rotating bezel, the Girard-Perregaux Traveller 7200 GMT:

Traveller GMT 72046A.0.11.604

Basically, this is GPs take on a GMT Master. Same layout, same functionality. The GMT hand has a nice broad arrow and revolves once in 24 hours. The rotating bezel on the Traveller 7200 had different styles, there was a Pepsi version and a black insert and as on my watch a polished steel insert with Roman numbers for AM and Arabic numbers for PM. While the case is a child of its time, it’s a cool little GMT watch that deploys the most classic mechanism.

Jumping a good 10 years forward to the end of the 90s, Girard-Perregaux released the successor, the Traveller II.

Traveller II, 49350.0.11.817

The Reference 4940 came out first with a 38mm case and was replaced shortly after with Ref 4935 in a larger 40mm case. The Traveller II has been fully loaded with features any traveller would like to have. Not only a date but also an alarm has been added. The GMT function is realised with a rotating 24 hour disc and an arch shaped cut out displaying 3 hours at the same time while only even numbers are printed. The GMT hour jumps at the full hour and does not gradually rotate. The setting all works through one of the crowns that sets both the date (clockwise rotation) and the second time zone (counter clockwise), a very clever and efficient mechanism.

I personally find the Traveller II, 4935 perfectly balanced wit the date at six and the cut out window of the GMT hour plus the alarm function. Pretty much all you’ll ever practically need in a wristwatch.

For a number of years, GP did not have a Traveller watch in its collection and only when the new Traveller line arrived, this gap was closed. This is actually not 100% correct as there was a Vintage 1945 Chronograph GMT (Ref. 25975) in the collection, but I will get back to that watch separately.

New Traveller 49655-52-133-BBBA

The new Traveller line introduced in 2013 broke with a number of traditions. The case had grown to a very big 44mm and features like a large date and a moon phase were added. Not only this, some Traveller models had no GMT function at all while there was also a World Timer available continuing from the WW.TC collection. I think it is fair to say that the new Traveller wasn’t exactly a huge success and soon disappeared from the collection again. I still like the Steel GMT with while dial a lot and the version with the semi-transparent sapphire dial is equally interesting.

As I had already hinted in the introduction, the new Traveller line took yet again a new approach to GMT display, by adding a pusher operated small 24 hour dial. But why stop here and why not bring on another way of GMT or dual time zone display, like in the 1966 Dual Time.

1996 Dual Time 49544-52-131-BBB0

Double hour hand, the home zone hand is distinguishing it with a red colour and an inner 24 hour ring. However, to me, this makes not exactly perfect sense. If I add a second hour hand, I would like to read time as on a normal 12 hour watch, as on the photo above, my home time I would like to read as 9 passed 4 and not 9 passed 8. I never got warm with the 1966 Dual Time for that reason and for a few others, like the small seconds eating into the 24 hour ring. On the other side, I do like the double Chronograph style pushers that allow the home zone hand to be moved in both directions.

So till to date, the Traveller II is hard to beat in my view. Not only has it a very convenient and easy to read GMT function but also adds an alarm and date perfectly integrated into the dial design. And it does not compete in looks with the Rolex GMT Master which you cannot compete with anyways without looking like a (cheap) copy.

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