The Top Five Alternatives To The Current Rolex GMT-Master II
Are there proper replacements for the watch world’s biggest icons? That’s a question that often has a personal answer. A little over two weeks ago, I tried answering the question of whether there are great alternatives for the good ol’ Rolex Datejust. Last week, Robert-Jan did the same for the Omega Speedmaster. In this article, we will be searching for five alternatives for the current Rolex GMT-Master II. The famous GMT-Master defined the category of GMT watches. Many of the watches in the same genre took inspiration from the original that started the legacy in 1954. So let’s see if there are true alternatives for the current GMT-Master II.
The original Rolex GMT-Master is one of the most iconic watches ever created. I love Rolex’s travel watch because it spawned an entire category of watches that came after it. On top of that, the Crown released quite a few brilliant versions of the GMT-Master. In the Buying Guide about the best Rolex watches from the 1950s, I explained the first GMT-Master ref. 6542 is my favorite vintage Rolex. And I still stand by that. Okay, maybe it has to share the spot with the Rolex Explorer II ref. 1655. But the general idea of a watch that portrays the adventures and glamorous world of travel is still magical even seven decades later.
The modern GMT-Master II
But what did change is the watch itself. I love a good vintage GMT-Master. I particularly love the watch because it handles wear-and-tear really well. It’s probably the only Rolex and one of the few watches overall I love seeing all beaten up, and it seems to only increase its charm. The one GMT-Master that I would go for is the ref. 1675. It embodies the vintage spirit of world travel that I love so much, which is why I would go for that. It’s this charm that I miss with the modern GMT-Master II ref. 126710.
Ever since Rolex updated its top travel watch and equipped it with the ceramic bezel, it has lost a lot of its original appeal. It has become a louder, flashier watch, and, honestly, I’m not too fond of the red and blue tones used for the ceramic bezel. Now, don’t get me wrong; it’s still an amazing watch with an amazing story. On top of that, Rolex has increased the quality of the materials and the movement to great levels.
But if you are going to spend a lot of money on a watch, you have to be sure that this is the watch for you. And as it stands, my money would either go to a vintage GMT-Master or an alternative. But is that even possible? Let’s find out if these five choices are real alternatives for the current Rolex GMT-Master II.
Grand Seiko SBGJ237
The first watch on this list is a watch that I love and, with me, many on the Fratello team. When the Grand Seiko SBGJ237 and SBGJ239 were dropped off at our offices for review, both watches made an immediate impression. The green-dial SBGJ239 is sophisticated and classy, and the SBGJ237 is the sportier one and a proper alternative for the GMT-Master II. As Robert-Jan explained in his review of the watch, specs-wise, the SBGJ237 is hard to beat. And even our own Mike Stockton, who is a fan of the “Pepsi”, confessed after seeing the Grand Seiko in the metal that it is a better watch than the Rolex. Coming from Mike, that means a lot.
The SBGJ237 is larger than the GMT-Master II at 44.2mm, but from experience, I can say that it doesn’t wear big. The watch comes on a comfortable bracelet with small polished links, but it is not necessarily my preferred style. I would have preferred a simpler Oyster-style bracelet. However, I do love the spectacular blue-and-white sapphire bezel that lights up spectacularly in the dark. A quirky detail that I like and others might hate about the bezel is that the daytime portion runs from 6.30 AM to 5.30 PM. Inside the case, Grand Seiko equipped the watch with the hi-beat caliber 9S86. This great movement has 37 jewels and a 55-hour power reserve. At €7,000, this is a great alternative for the Rolex GMT-Master II that delivers great quality. The movement is superior and the finishing is unmatched, making this a very tempting offer.
Omega Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M GMT
Omega does not have a big selection of GMT watches with a 24-hour bezel. Back in the late ’90s, the brand made a brilliant GMT version of the Seamaster Professional 300M known as the “Great White.” While the Great White had a white dial and a silver bezel, it also came in a black-dial version with a black-and-silver GMT bezel that you can pick up these days for a lot less. Omega decided to use a very similar color combo for this Seamaster Planet Ocean 600M GMT. The Planet Ocean is far from the most popular Omega collection. Honestly, I am also not the biggest fan. I liked seeing the Deep Black, and another stand-out model is this pick for the list because of its bidirectional black-and-white ceramic bezel.
As Rob explained in an article about GMT dive watches, “In real life, in natural light, however, the ceramic bezel, ceramic dial, polished indices, and arrow-tipped hands make for one hell of an impact piece.” The watch features a 43.5mm stainless steel case that is thick at 17.1mm. Despite its chunky character, the lug-to-lug is “only” 49.5mm, making it very wearable. The chunky case is water-resistant to 600 meters and comes equipped with a Helium Escape Valve. Omega equipped the watch with the 39-jewel Master Chronometer Co-Axial caliber 8906. It operates at 25,200vph, has a 60-hour power reserve, and can resist magnetic fields of at least 15,000 gauss. Overall, this is an impressive piece that is available for €7,900. It will serve you well traveling the skies of the world and the great depths of the oceans.
Rolex Explorer II ref. 226570
You could call the current Rolex Explorer II a lazy pick. Technically, it’s very similar to the GMT-Master II, and on top of that, it suffers from the same cloak of unattainability. But I did not want to leave it out because I currently would pick the Explorer II over the GMT-Master II. The reason is simple: it has not changed too drastically in its appearance, and therefore, it hasn’t lost its charm. No ceramic bezels here that have changed the overall aesthetic, while the technical improvements are completely on par with the GMT-Master II. Last year, some people labeled it a rather boring update, but I loved seeing the new Explorer II. Sometimes small steps will do the trick.
The watch features an updated 42mm case that is significantly more elegant than the previous case. On top of that, the Explorer II has the latest-generation Oyster bracelet, which, as Dave explained, is a significant update in quality and practicality with its Easylink comfort extension. Lastly, Rolex updated the movement to the caliber 3285. The movement has a 70-hour power reserve, a blue Parachrom hairspring and Paraflex shock absorbers, and an accuracy of ±2 seconds per day. At €9,000, it theoretically is €1,000 cheaper than the GMT-Master II. And practically, the Explorer II is one of the lesser-hyped Rolex timepieces. The black-dial version, which I prefer over the white, is actually “within reach” of its list price.
Tudor Black Bay GMT
In all honesty, I generally do not believe that you will settle for a Tudor if you are looking for a Rolex. While Tudor definitely has upped its game greatly over the years, Rolex is simply in a different league regarding the overall brand appeal. Having said that, the Black Bay GMT perfectly captures that vintage spirit that made the original GMT-Master such an iconic timepiece. This is the watch that has the Pan Am charm of the past. The watch was introduced at Baselworld 2018 to much critical acclaim. Mike even went as far as calling it “the Baselworld 2018 shocker” in his introduction article.
It features the 41mm case that we know from the regular Black Bay models. It has a domed crystal, a screw-down crown, and a water resistance of 200 meters. While Tudor tried convincing us the colors were tracing back to Tudor models from the past, it’s definitely not what people think about when seeing the blue and red aluminum bezel. Inside the case, Tudor uses the chronometer-certified MT5652 automatic movement. The movement operates at 28,800vph and has 26 jewels and a 70-hour power reserve. With a list price of €3,920, a great movement, and equally attractive looks, it’s hard to deny the Tudor a spot on this list. Because there aren’t many great alternatives for the GMT-Master, this could be a great pick.
Grand Seiko SBGJ201
Overall, it’s safe to say that Grand Seiko has claimed the world of the GMT. As Lex explained not too long ago, the European Grand Seiko website shows a whopping total of 37 different GMT watches in the current Grand Seiko collection. While the first pick for this list is visually closer to the Rolex GMT-Master II, this will probably be a more popular pick when looking for a Grand Seiko GMT. I perfectly understand why. Fratello’s own Robert-Jan owns a Grand Seiko SBGJ201 Mt. Iwate, and from seeing and wearing the watch, I can say this is an impressive timepiece. While it is less sporty and more formal in its appearance than the GMT-Master II, it does fit a great number of different situations and makes for a great travel watch.
The SBGJ201 features a 40mm stainless steel case that is 14mm thick. It’s the famous 44GS-style case created with Tanaka’s Grammar Of Design in mind. Inside, Grand Seiko uses the same caliber 9S86 as in the sportier SBGJ237, which is at the number-one spot on this list. The hi-beat movement is a joy to see in action with its 36,000vph operation frequency. It has a 55-hour power reserve and a date window at 3 o’clock, which is preferred over the SBGJ237’s crown and date at 4 o’clock. The iconic design, the incredible movement, the immaculate finishing, and the great versatility make this a great GMT and a possible alternative for many out there. I would not pick the white-dial Mt. Iwate, but I’d go for something more colorful like the SBGJ021. But at €6,500, this is a great last option for this list.
After researching the options and writing the article, it is safe to say that it’s hard to come up with five proper alternatives for the current Rolex GMT-Master II. There are plenty of GMT watches out there, but there aren’t that many great timepieces that replace the iconic design and great story of Rolex’s iconic travel watch. Some honorable mentions for this list are the Panerai Luminor GMT PAM 0188, the Chopard L.U.C. GMT One, and the Breitling Navitimer GMT 46. But while they are great watches, I do not consider them better alternatives than the five picks on the list, let alone great alternatives to the GMT-Master.
In my opinion, it’s incredibly hard to find an alternative for the current Rolex GMT-Master II. The only better alternative for me would be a vintage GMT-Master, so a ref. 1675 stays on my list as the only way to go. But it’s over to you guys. What do you think? Are the five options I mentioned really the best options that are currently available? Please tell us your alternatives for the current GMT-Master II in the comments section.
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