I have a small confession to make: when I got into watches, the small brands that we cover every day here on Worn & Wound were pretty far removed from my radar, and it took some time to find them. I think this is true of a lot of collectors and enthusiasts when they are new to the hobby. There are certain household names that are your first point of interest, and depending on how deep you fall into the rabbit hole, you may or may not wind up at a site like this one. For me, as I got deeper and deeper into watches and learned that really interesting, unique, and affordable stuff could be found in far flung corners of the internet made by people who just really love watches, my taste started to take shape.
I think one of the reasons I connect with the Aloha Watches GMT 40 is that it’s exactly the kind of watch that would have caught my eye back then and led me down the path I eventually found anyway. It’s just a little offbeat, uses some classic styling cues, and is exceedingly well made for the asking price. It’s also a great example of how a brand’s story and vision contributes to our understanding and enjoyment of a watch.
Review: Aloha GMT 40
Yes, hands and hour markers
40 x 48mm
Spencer Leu started Aloha Watches after years of collecting high end Swiss pieces from some of the most highly regarded brands as a way to make the watch he always wanted to own if only he could design it himself. That concept alone, of course, is not particularly unique – it’s one of the driving forces of creativity behind the microbrand scene that we cover here. What makes Spencer’s brand different is its laser focus on his own values, which are backed up with charitable endeavors that are inextricably tied to Aloha watches. Again, lots of brands do things that are socially responsible, but with Aloha it’s fairly inescapable as you browse their website, and I found myself thinking about the mission of the brand while wearing the watch in a way that I just don’t with other watches.
We’ll get to all that, but first, let’s jump into the watch itself.
The GMT 40’s case is 40mm in diameter and made from 316L stainless steel. We’re in fairly typical modern sports watch territory here in terms of shape and dimensions. Where the GMT 40 excels is in the overall fit and finish – the brushing on the top of the lugs and caseband is really well executed, and the polished bevel running between them is thick and shiny, just as it should be. It’s not over the top, but you really notice the clean separation between finishing techniques when you get the watch into good natural light. The fixed and gently sloping bezel, also polished, provides further visual interest and aids in helping the Aloha GMT 40 achieve an overall sleek profile.
I found the GMT 40 to have a wide stance that made it feel substantial on my wrist, but the watch is only about 10mm thick, so I wouldn’t describe it as chunky at all. The lugs are thick and curve down to wrap against the wrist only slightly, which I’ve found to be fairly typical of contemporary watch design. It’s simple and straightforward, and seems designed to fit as many wrists without a major issue as possible, even if it’s not a perfect fit on most of those wrists. The overall thinness of the case helps a lot here, as I think most will find it genuinely easy to wear even if it doesn’t have that magical Goldilocks quality that many of us are in constant search of.
The watch feels heavy in a pleasing way, and I felt confident that the components used were all well sourced and top notch. The screw down crown is easy to manipulate and use to set the time, date, and GMT hand, and the sapphire crystal is subtly domed in proportion to the bezel, and given an anti-reflective coating only on the inside. This is my personal preference, as the inevitable scratches to A/R coating on the outside of the crystal tend to drive me batty, and seem to defeat the purpose of sapphire itself, insofar as it’s extremely difficult to put a mark on it that will last. In any case, the GMT 40’s crystal, like the rest of the components on this timepiece, has been well thought out and will likely not be a disappointment to anyone.
When it comes to watches, there are Dial Guys, and there are Case Guys, and as much as I love things like Zaratsu polishing, fancy lugs, and impressive water resistance, I tend to fall into the former camp, at least most of the time. (I suppose, on reflection, there are Movement Guys as well, but with apologies to the folks who have memorized every historic ETA and Valjoux movement number along with their jewel counts, power reserves, and Sellita equivalents, well, my brain simply doesn’t function like yours.) I don’t think there’s any question about it, the dial of the Aloha GMT 40 is the defining feature of the watch, and the thing that immediately draws you in.
There are three versions of the Aloha GMT 40: blue sunburst, black gilt, and a blue gradient variant, which is the one I was able to sample. I quite like the blue sunburst and black dial watches in photographs, but I’m glad I was sent the gradient example – it’s just a little bit more unusual, and in my opinion the most evocative of the three, and certainly the best match for the rest of the dial accents, which are all really well thought out.
This particular gradient dial moves from a deep, dark blue at the top of the dial to a lighter but still bold shade of blue toward 6:00. The dial has an appealing sheen and the shift in color from one point in the dial to the other is really brought home when lit up by the sun. In an indoor environment, I found that in some lighting conditions it’s almost not even apparent that the dial has a gradient effect. I actually like this quite a bit – it’s like a hidden feature of the watch, known only to the owner.
What I think makes the Aloha GMT 40 in the gradient blue variant a little bit special is the somewhat whimsical nature of the other dial components. The GMT hand – short, arrow tipped, and about the same length as the hour hand – points to an inner 24 hour scale marked by small Arabic numerals every fourth hour, with small dots at hours where the numerals don’t appear. At the top of the scale is a crescent moon, and at the bottom a small likeness of the sun, both in a contrasting yellow. This makes sense on a GMT, with the sun in the bottom half, or daylight portion, of the dial, and the moon opposite. Of course, the impact is accentuated by the shifting color of the dial – it’s dark at night, brilliant blue during the day.
This is a really well executed dial that works on multiple levels. It’s legible and easy to read at a glance, has a pleasing color scheme, and has an almost poetic playfulness to its layout. While this last point will simply not matter to some, as a watch lover who prizes originality and creativity in watch design, I appreciate the effort, attention to detail, and commitment on Spencer’s part to be somewhat ambitious in using the dial of his first watch to tell a story.
The Aloha GMT 40 is powered by an ETA 2893-2 movement. This caliber should be familiar to anyone with a passing interest in GMT watches at this price point, as it’s fairly ubiquitous and has become a favorite of brands during the GMT boom of the last few years. This type of GMT movement is often referred to as a “caller” GMT, because the GMT hand, which moves around the dial once every 24 hours, can be independently set, making it easy to track a timezone in another location somewhere in the world, should you need to call them. This feature is less convenient if you want a GMT for use as a frequent traveler, in which case it’s helpful if the movement can jump the local hour hand.
I’ve found that watches with these movements work well for “everyday” wear for the same reasons the ETA 2824 is so revered. They’re capable of great accuracy, extremely reliable, and built to be somewhat tough, in that they can withstand some abuse. Even if you’re not traveling or keeping touch with someone on the other side of the world, having a 24 hour hand, if it’s well executed and doesn’t impact overall legibility, is a bonus. I think in the case of the Aloha GMT 40 that the dial and handset are sufficiently free of clutter, making this watch a decent choice even if you never have a need to use the movement for its original intent.
Straps and Wearability
The blue sunburst and black gilt variants of the Aloha GMT 40 both ship with brown leather straps, but the gradient blue that I was able to sample came on a Milanese style mesh bracelet with an Aloha signed buckle. This is a really solid looking combination and I found the mesh to be comfortable and easy to wear. The bracelet is fitted with quick release spring bars in straight end links, which makes changing straps a breeze, and the straight links are a great vintage inspired look that I wish would be adopted by more brands.
Other straps work well with the gradient blue dial and case shape of the GMT 40, including a black rally strap that I had lying around, and a light brown suede that is one of my go-to cold weather straps. The dark tones of the dial make the Aloha GMT 40 pretty versatile.
Regardless of the strap or bracelet that was mounted to the watch, I found it comfortable. This isn’t a lightweight watch, but has a presence on the wrist that I found pleasing throughout a day of wear, and the watch stays planted on the wrist without issue.
I really enjoyed my time with the Aloha GMT 40. As a fun, contemporary sports watch, it has a lot to offer in terms of value for money in case finishing, dial work, and the overall feature set. But beyond its attributes as a watch, which clearly stand on their own and are subject to individual taste when it comes to aesthetics, the Aloha GMT 40 is the kind of watch that has the potential to bring new enthusiasts to the scene in a meaningful way, and fortify connections with those of us who have been involved in the hobby for a long time. Let me explain.
It’s easy to get jaded when you spend a lot of time in any hobby. We see a lot of the same products over and over again, and deal with static on all fronts. It’s not uncommon to lose sight, from time to time, of why we’re interested in watches in the first place. With Aloha’s entrance on the scene, we’re asked to consider the community we’re a part of in a very real sense every time we strap on the watch. Spencer Leu’s commitment to using his brand to help support charitable endeavors is admirable, and a great reminder of the good that can be done in this hobby, something very worthy of remembering at this particular moment in time, and whenever we might feel bogged down in endless, fruitless, comparisons of trinkets we don’t really need, but unabashedly love.
Imagine having this watch, and this aspect of the micro brand scene, being your introduction to the hobby. There are certain scenarios that are recipes for a positive introduction to watches, just as there are cases where a first experience can sour someone for years. It’s hard to think of a better way to enter into this hobby, and this community, than with a watch from a brand with a social conscience like Aloha’s.
At the end of the day, the Aloha GMT 40 is an extremely solid first effort for the brand, and a great option for an enthusiast looking to add a new GMT to the mix with a dial that is a little less than traditional. I’m looking forward not only to seeing what Aloha comes up with next, but how the brand continues to make good on its very worthwhile charitable mission.