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Contrary to what countless internet lists would have you believe, there’s not really such thing as a “travel watch,” per se. There are watches that are more optimized for traveling than others, of course, like GMTs and World Timers, which allow you to keep track of time in multiple time zones at once. But beyond those, there are merely watches that, for less concrete reasons, make good travel companions.
So what are the characteristics of said type of watch? Well, there are many, and it’s up to you to decide which feels most important. Some work well because of their versatility: i.e., their ability to look good in a wide range of social situations. Others work because they’re solid performers but won’t draw a lot of attention your way — a good thing if you’re traveling through any questionable areas. And then there are some with features that, for reasons made clear below, make them especially optimal for skipping through time zones, dashing through airports and the like.3
But above all, the goal should be to find a watch that works for your travel particulars and predilections. And among the eight watches enumerated below, you’ll surely find it.
IWC Big Pilot
Watch nerds who spend a lot of time on the internet (as if there’s any other kind) have most likely come across footage of John Mayer extolling the virtues of the Big Pilot. Among them, he argues, is that because of the oversized crown, changing the time is extremely easy, making it ideal for, say, a jetsetting musician who goes from New York to L.A. like I go across the street to get coffee. He also notes that because of its substantial dial size (46mm), it functions as a clock when placed on a hotel nightstand.
Tudor Black Bay GMT
One of the most talked about and sought after watches of 2018 (good luck finding one), the Tudor Black Bay GMT is a direct competitor to another watch that was released this year, the newest version of Rolex’s GMT Master II “Pepsi.” The Tudor comes in at around $6,000 cheaper than the Rolex, and is comparable in nearly every quantifiable way. If we were dead set on getting a Pepsi GMT, we’d without question get the Tudor and spend our savings on another watch, like, say …
Coming in at just around $6,000, the Explorer is one of the more affordable Rolexes you can buy new. It also happens to be one of the most versatile watches on the planet. Whether you find yourself in a business meeting, out for a quick bite or taking in the sights, the Explorer is definitely the only watch you’ll have to pack.
We’re big fans of this British heritage brand, and not just because — in the United States, anyway — you’re unlikely to spot one of them every 15 minutes. Bremont makes clean, elegant and insanely durable watches in a range of styles. This one, the MBII, is a fancied-up pilot watch that’s super easy to read but still understated.
Nomos Zurich World Time
So here’s the thing about World Timers: because their primary function is to tell time in 24 f*cking time zones at once, their dials tend to be a little… busy. So much so that a lot of them even include actual maps of the world, which is often not a great look. To the surprise of exactly no one who knows anything about Nomos, though, their version is remarkably clean while still being fully functional as a world timer. For our money, you can’t beat the blue dial version on a black strap.
Here’s another example of a watch that could easily serve as your one and only watch, whether you’re traveling or not. The Sinn 556a is a classic pilot watch that’s so tastefully designed it can truly go anywhere. And Sinn is a hugely respected brand that makes watches whose quality rival those four times their price.
Longines Avigation Big Eye Chronograph
The Avigation Big Eye is a 2018 release that earned Longines the attention of serious watch folks everywhere. It’s a watch that boasts a combination of features that’s damn near impossible to find at its price point of right around $2,500. First of all, it’s a 41mm chronograph, which alone is hard enough to find. Add to that its vintage good looks, and you’ve got the most appealing Longines to be released in quite some time (since the Heritage Diver, probably).
Nothing about the Olympos is specifically geared toward travelers, but in my mind, anyway, it fits the bill insofar as it has an old-timey feel to it that I associate with air travel. Like, if you’re the kind of person who believes you should get dressed up to fly, this watch will suit you perfectly.