As we have touched on before in our story here, the Rolex GMT-Master II Ref.126710 BLRO does actually live up to the hype. And while I would love to have one in my own watchbox, the two major hurdles of availability and cost can feel rather insurmountable. So how about the alternatives? Yes, there are some very good ones out there with their own takes on what is practically a separate watch genre. So let’s pop open a few different looking cans of Pepsi and have a taste of the sweet stuff with some fresh alternatives to the GMT-Master II.
You might find it hyped, ubiquitous and topped by a prohibitively long waiting list. But still, the GMT-Master II Ref.126710 BLRO is for many a proper grail watch and epitomises the Crown’s catalogue of sports watches. Within the confines of a sleek, comfortable 40mm case in the warmth of 904L steel alloy, the comfort is sublime. It will take you all of five seconds with it on your wrist to appreciate Rolex’s unique brand of horological evolution. This story, however, is about finding an alternative to this, no matter how (very, very) comfortable it sits on your wrist, and how almost liquid the cerachrom bezel makes the rich colours of day and night materialise.
Pepsi with a French twist: Baltic Aquascaphe GMT
It’s French, it’s fresh and on a slim beads of rice bracelet. As alternatives to the GMT-Master II go, I’m stretching the very notion of the American drink here, as the red on the Aquascaphe bezel is, well, orange. But what the heck, just have a look at the fresh pop it makes, surrounding a classic skindiver dial. Baltic have surged up the charts and dominate swathes of Instagram for a well-fitting reason. Here, the Baltic Aquascaphe has strayed from the usual Pepsi colour scheme and instead presents a delicate navy for the top half (night) of the bezel and a zingy orange for daytime. An intricately etched caseback helps you navigate the time zones of the globe.
The GMT hand is – like the Aquascaphe logo – delightfully matched to the orange GMT pointer, and the date window at 6 looks pretty darn perfect. Round, large indices, silver ringed and lumed, alternate with arrowheads at 6 and 9 that together with the modern 12 makes for a sharp, graphic impression. The case itself is a dress-watch slim 38mm, with the slight overhang on the sapphire bezel making it a slender 39mm. Get one with its Swiss Soprod movement for your first post-lockdown summer holiday, and take off. Price € 1,000
The tough guy: TAG Heuer Aquaracer Calibre 7 GMT
For those of you with more contemporary taste, the Swiss alternative from TAG Heuer is the boldly angular Aquaracer Calibre 7 GMT. This is a solid choice should the 60s give you granddad vibes, with a modern take on the pure red and blue of the GMT aluminium bezel, and a charming cyclops over the date. This, at 43mm is large, but the brawny vibe of a no-nonsense sports watch is as tangible as the watch sits well on even smaller wrists than mine.
The case is pure tool, brushed and polished and tough enough to laugh in the face of insignificant hairlines. The Oyster style bracelet is on the chunky side, so think more tank track than slinky jewellery, but that’s the charm. Even with its muscular posturing, the intricate details are there, from the horizontal stripes on the dial, to polished, applied indices and a bold handset that spells purpose. The case and bracelet might be classic in shape, but what I think makes the design is the bezel. A trademark Aquaracer bezel, it’s an intricate design with an angular edge, a polished bevel and small grip-friendly protrusions that make it unique. Add an easy-to-use GMT function and the dependable ETA-based Calibre 7 movement with a 46 hour power reserve, and it’s a contemporary choice with proper wrist presence to boot. Price: $4,450 AUD
The vintage purist’s choice: Lorier Hyperion GMT
Lorier Watches from New York is another microbrand, this time also with an even purer, ’50s skindiver vibe and posing immense value at less than $800 for a mechanical GMT. This might be the closest here to the original slim version of the GMT-Master, with its gilt dial, aluminium bezel, and svelte 39mm case. The pure brilliance of the Lorier first makes itself known in the best microbrand rendition of a flat link, brushed steel bracelet this side of a vintage Omega Seamaster 300. It does not have the tightness of a modern Oyster, but therein lies the charm. It is fully brushed and drapes perfectly, tapering from 20 to 16mm.
The brushed, bevelled case itself has an unfeasibly slender profile of 8.7mm plus the domed crystal, making for a 10.7mm total. That’s pretty damn impressive for an automatic GMT and with its 47mm case length it is as comfortable as a dress watch. The movement is an automatic Swiss-made Soprod C125 with an independent GMT hand, charming roulette date wheel and gilt print and hands. What’s not to love? With the addition of pitch-perfect vintage indices and markings on the black dial, the BGW9 + C3 Super-Luminova has legibility covered, and you have the scratchable but warm reflections of an acrylic crystal and bezel. The Lorier Hyperion is a lot more than the sum of its vintage-pure parts, explaining why these are continuously sold out. Price: $799 USD.
Keeping it in the family: Tudor Black Bay GMT
Is this the most obvious choice? It’s no secret that Tudor has built a massive following ever since their burgundy bezelled Black Bay debut that feels like many years ago, and we have forgotten what a huge turnaround this was for the brand. From the poor man’s Rolex to having close-to-Rolex waiting lists for the Black Bay 58, their Black Bay GMT almost feels like a Rolex with another name. As an aside, I have had both a 58 and the OG Black Bay, and this 41mm case that also houses the GMT is from many angles more balanced. I do love the chunky lugs, where the most perfect bevel cuts a visceral picture with the merest hint of light along the side and, while it’s not a slim case, the finishing is no less perfect than a GMT from the Crown-beset parent company.
But, this is a more quietly spoken tool watch, with an emphasis on brushed surfaces, so smooth that you have a satin sheen, with striations only visible very close up. The dial is monochrome perfection with its rhodium-framed indices, and while polarising, I love the baton-sized snowflake hands, the design being repeated in a ultra-legible thick red GMT hand with pure white Super-Luminova. Tudor’s clasp and Oyster-style bracelet (come on, it is one, minutely tweaked) are intricately finished and as taut as any steel bracelet could dream to become. I might say that this is a perfect mix of grail and solid everyday wearer, and by no means deserving of the shadow of the Black Bay 58. The movement is Tudor’s own MT5652 in-house calibre, which means a legit GMT function worthy of a great travel watch, functionality virtually identical to the GMT-Master II, with the ability to isolate the local time while setting it using the first pull-out position of the screw-in crown. The thickness of 15mm to the top of the crystal makes it a substantial wrist-buddy, but equally puts you at ease through a solidity only underlined by the tight tolerances of the bracelet. The COSC-certified manufacture movement would be a pure joy to behold if there was a sapphire caseback, but just trust me on this, the 70-hour power reserve and functionality makes the aluminium-bezelled Black Bay GMT a top contender. Price: $4,670 AUD
The stealth ceramic choice: Omega Planet Ocean 600M Co-Axial Master Chronometer GMT “ETNZ” Deep Black
Let’s be frank here, this is not the first time a proposition for Pepsi alternatives has been written, but it is an ever tantalising combination of time-travelling practicality and fresh colours. On that note, with this final alternative I want to stretch your imagination, and widen the term “Pepsi” to encompass a stealth warrior from Omega. What am I thinking here – this is neither brushed and polished steel, nor does it have a full red and blue bezel, or even a bracelet. Now I have your attention, hear me out. With a stealth black ceramic case, this Omega is a pure, futuristic high-tech take on the Pepsi, with several delicious twists.
The classic red and blue day and night circle is here on a slim, rotating inner chapter ring, encircling the pure black dial of a tool watch. But what makes this so entrancing is the delightful pops of colour, from the red and white lume inlays on the classic Omega hands to the red tip on the seconds hand and blue GMT arrow. The design is cohesive in its fresh approach to the genre. The brushed black bezel has the classic 10-minute yacht-timer indication included in the same red and blue. With its 45.5mm, this is a big boy, but deceptively light with the black ceramic, further enhanced by the tri-coloured rubber strap. As a METAS-approved chronometer, we have the Omega 8906 Co-Axial calibre as an intricate heart, with a solid 60 hours of power reserve. You’d struggle to find a more bullet-proof GMT Pepsi alternative while a helium escape valve and full 600 metre depth rating means this is equally suited for longer journeys into the deep blue ocean depths. Price: $18,600 AUD