Dual Time vs. GMT Watches – What’s the Difference?

set of men's watches

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If you want to keep track of more than one timezone simultaneously, whether you are traveling, doing business, or living overseas, there are two types of watches that can help you. Step in GMT and Dual Time watches, both have the capability of showing you two time zones but function in different ways.
Dual Time and GMT watches are confusing terms for many people. A Dual Time watch does exactly what the name describes –  it displays two times at once. GMT watches display the time in two different time zones.  GMT watches have a 24-hour bezel that can be used to sync the time in the second time zone. 
Understandably people that are new to the watch world often confuse these two types of watches but they are actually quite different. To understand which is better for you we are going to take a look at each one, then their differences. Let us get started.

What is a Dual Time Watch?

Citizen Nighthawk Dual Time Watch

A Dual Time watch does exactly what it says in the name, it’s a watch that displays two times at once, you may have even seen this type of watch before and not really noticed what it is for.
With most Dual Time watches the second time zone is on a smaller sub-dial that typically has 12-hour time frames. Although some have minutes dials too, Dual Time watches often only use the hours due to most time zones being on hour intervals.
The most frequent use for Dual Time watches is for travel where people will set the main watch hands to the local time, and their sub-dials to their home timezone.
It is a fairly simple way to keep track of the time difference without having to count the hours on your hand, of which we are all guilty of at one time or another!
Charles-Hubert Dual-Time Watch

Some dual-time watches, such as this one, literally have two dials that are the same size rather than a smaller subdial.

What is a GMT Watch?

Grand Seiko Limited Edition GMT Watch

As you may or may not know GMT is the anagram for Greenwich Mean Time, which is the way we define the world’s time zones. GMT is set in Greenwich in London and is defined as zero and each timezone west is -1 and to the east is +1.
For example, EST (New York) is GMT-5, which is typically 5 hours behind the UK time (GMT), when daylight savings is in effect it is 4 hours behind.
So putting this information into context, GMT watches have a 24-hour bezel that can be used to sync up the time with a second time zone. This is often used by people traveling, for international business, or pilots.
A lot of the iconic Rolex watches have these bezels, especially the two-tone models such as the informally known Rolex Pepsi with its iconic blue and red color scheme.
It is believed that this was originally designed for Pan Am but quickly became linked to the popular carbonated drinks.

Differences Between Dual Time and GMT Watches

NOMOS Glashutte Zurich World Time

Below we are going to look at just a few differences between Dual Time and GMT watches, this is not a definitive list, just a handful of examples to help determine which is which, and maybe help identify your preference too.

12-Hour vs 24-Hour

One of the major differences between these two types of watches is the way they present the second time zone.
A Dual Time watch normally will have a 12-hour sub-dial, which presents complications and limited usability due to the lack of a clear AM/PM distinction.
This has been addressed and most models will have a subtle AM/PM indication, it is certainly not as clear or as simple as the GMT counterparts.
The GMT models, on the other hand, have 24-hour bezels typically, meaning you will have quicker access to the second timezone’s time.


One of the easiest ways to distinguish these two types of watches is their actual looks. They typically look broadly different from each other.
Dual Time watches will have at least one sub-dial, the additional ones are typically surplus to requirements as MOST time zones are in hour increments.
Some time zones are 30 and even 45-minutes offsets, but these are much less common, so are often not accounted for.
GMT on the other hand has the more iconic look, and when people see a watch of this style, they typically associate them with the more expensive and luxury models such as a Rolex.


Breitling Bentley GMT

Some watchmakers focus more predominantly on one of the two timezone watch styles. For instance, Tag Heuer, Breitling, and Rolex all are more associated with making GMT watches.
This might be how you determine which watch you want to buy. Each style has its favored brands, but it is important to note, most watch companies have a wide range of models and styles, so you will have plenty of options.
So, you might have a preferred brand or style, either will help you decide which watch is the one for you.


TAG Heuer Grand Carrera Grand Date GMT

With a GMT watch, the face is not cluttered with the addition of the sub-dials, which creates a much more subtle, understated, and polished-looking watch.
This does not take away from the appeal and design of the watch, with the bezel being off the face of the watch, keeping it looking clean.
However, some Dual Time watches use an ‘invisible’ hour hand, which typically has a smaller hour hand that can be moved independently to be set to the second timezone.
The term invisible is a little misleading, but ‘less visible’ hour hand does not have the same appeal.

Is a Dual Time or GMT Watch Better?

Rolex GMT-Master II”Pepsi”

The short answer? It is entirely up to you. Although some people would argue they have a preference for a GMT model, the two do both allow you to tell the time in two places simultaneously.
The major difference, as we alluded to above, is the actual looks of the timepieces. They each have a majorly different look to each other, so that will probably be the deciding factor for you when you are buying one.
With this being said, GMT-style watches are much more popular and common, so you are likely to come across these more frequently.
Other factors you might consider are the price point, colors, brand, fit, and size. Finding a watch that is perfect for you is down to one person, and that’s you.
So, find a watch you like that has the features you need, regardless of whether it is GMT or Dual Time. There are so many different types of watches out there, you would struggle to find one that you do not like, so happy hunting!

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