What Exactly Is A Dual Time Watch?

It’s a small world after all- and no, I’m not talking about the kinda lame Disney attraction. Think about how easy it is for us to travel around the world these days- I can wake up on the east coast of the US and have dinner in Europe the same day.

The world is more connected now than ever and it’s becoming increasingly common for people to travel outside of their local time zone for work and pleasure.

With all this travel, how’s one supposed to keep track of local times and the time back home (at the same time?).

Well, a dual time watch is one way this can be done.

In this guide, we’ll go over what dual time watches are and how they function. We’ll also talk about how they’re different from GMT watches, which are similar, but a little different.

After reading, not only will you know what dual watches and GMT watches are, but you’ll have a better idea as to which (if either) one is the best fit for your wrist.

What Is A Dual Time Watch?

This is a pretty self-explanatory definition, but a dual time watch is simply a watch that has 2 time functions on it. This is usually accomplished with the use of a sub-dial.

Sub-dials can be used for many different functions (or complications). One of the most common is found on chronograph watches that use sub-dials for the seconds and minutes of the timer.

Well, on dual time watches, a sub-dial is used to keep time.

This time function sub-dial is usually in the 12-hr format (something that discerns it from a GMT watch) and it usually only shows the hour hand (although some may display minutes as well).

Of course, when we’re talking different time zones, the hours is really the only thing we need to worry about- the minutes don’t change from one time zone to another.

On dual time watches, most people use the main or large dial to display the local time where they currently are- this makes it easy for you to instantly look down and see what time it is.

And they use the sub-dial time to see what time it is in their home time zone.

So, for example: if I was vacationing in London, I would set the main dial to London’s local time and I would set the sub-dial to eastern daylight time for the U.S (where I call home).

This way, I could instantly tell time in 2 different time zones without having to do any math.

Dual time watches can come with other functions as well. This function can be paired with a chronograph and many will also have a date function.

Dual time watches sometimes come with AM/PM indicators to let ya know whether it’s morning or night in the second time zone.

Rolex’s Cellini Dual Time is a great example of a simple dual time watch that has no other complications.

I should mention that not all dual time watches use a sub-dial to display the second time zone- there are other ways to do it.

Some will use a 3rd hour hand to display the hour of the second time zone. Others will use a simple window that displays the hour number (in 24 hr format).

Dual Time vs GMT

Ok dual time watches are pretty easy to understand, they simply have 2 dials to keep time in 2 places at once. GMT watches are very similar, but instead of using a sub-dial with a 12-hr format time function, they often use a bezel with a 24-hr format.

By the way, GMT stands for “Greenwich Mean Time”, which is the standard time we use to figure out what time it is around the world.

GMT is the “zero” we start at in terms of timezones, and every other time zone around the world is GMT ‘+’ or ‘-‘ a certain number of hours.

Unlike the dual time watch that instantly shows you what time it is in the second time zone, with a GMT watch you have to do a little adjusting to determine the second time.

Most GMT watches have a rotating bezel and a 3rd, distinguished hand that is used for reading the second time zone.

To figure out what time it is, you have to know how many hours ahead or behind the second time zone is. You rotate the bezel this many hours (rotate forward if the second time is ahead, backwards if the second time is behind) and then use the 3rd hand to read the time on the bezel.

The bezel will display the hour of the second time zone.

It might sound complicated, but it really isn’t. The second time zone will be read using the bezel and it will be in the 24-hr format. If you’re not used to that format, it won’t take long to get the hand of it (just add or subtract 12).

Rolex’s GMT Master II is a perfect example of a traditional GMT watch.

So, dual time watches use a sub-dial with a 12-hr format and GMT watches uses a bezel, a 3rd hand, and a 24-hr format.

Final Thoughts

There are plenty of watches out there that are mislabeled as being a GMT watch. Dual time watches are often mislabeled as GMT, either for marketing reasons or because somebody doesn’t know the difference.

Luckily, now you know exactly what a dual time watch is how it differs from a GMT watch.

If you’re a little concerned about messing with the bezel and trying to read the 24-hr format, a dual watch is probably the best bet for ya.

Dual time watches are very straightforward and easy to use. You simply set the times and off ya go.

GMT watches are great tools because you can rapidly switch between time zone by adjusting the bezel, but you have to be comfortable reading the 24-hr format to use them effectively.

Either way you go, both watches can be very useful and stylish. There are tons of options to choose from in both categories, so keeping it dapper shouldn’t be an issue.

Check out our guide on the best dual time watches to see some great examples.


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