Finally, An Affordable “True” GMT Hits the Market

Finally, An Affordable “True” GMT Hits the Market

Back in June, we recorded a podcast in which the Worn & Wound editorial team answered a question from a listener concerning our “dream” watch movements. Basically, if we could design the perfect movement, what features would we incorporate. Unsurprisingly, yours truly suggested an affordable, local hour jumping GMT movement, a feature set that I’ve long enjoyed and wished would make its way into timepieces of the more affordable variety. The other option, a GMT with an independently set 24-hour hand, is simply not as useful in my estimation, and while movements with this setup are featured in some very nice watches, they just don’t have the same utility as a “true” GMT. 

Now, just months later, we’re greeted by the new Mido Ocean Star GMT. A quick look at the watch reveals a nice but somewhat pedestrian sports watch. It has a black dial, a blue (or black) ceramic bezel with a dive timer, and has a stainless steel case with a mix of satin finishing and highly polished surfaces. It’s definitely sporty, with a sail cloth style strap, big lumed hour markers, and 200 meters of water resistance. The GMT functionality conjures a sense of travel, adventure, and leisure. It’s also 44mm in diameter, a size that is likely to keep hardcore enthusiasts at a distance.

The Ocean Star GMT is attractive, but not remarkable. Simple and functional but not breaking any new ground, at least on the surface. And that’s fine – not every watch has to be an Instagram sensation. There’s plenty of room in the hobby for an Ocean Star GMT, which is surely well made and of an objectively high quality, as Swatch Group products tend to be. 

A look through the specs, though, had us wondering what exactly was up with this thing. The spec sheet lists the movement as the Mido Caliber 80, which is based on an ETA C07.661 caliber, part of the next generation of ETA movements with extended power reserves (this one goes up to 80 hours on a full wind). We had heard rumblings of a new GMT movement that ETA would be introducing with a jumping local hour hand, and suspected this might be it. Leave it to a worldwide pandemic to prevent us from getting one to go hands on with to prove it (and the Mido provided press material didn’t explicitly state whether or not this was a feature of the watch). 

Luckily, our friend Felix Scholz, Executive Editor of Revolution AU, and host of the wonderful OT podcast, had one in hand, and was able to confirm that, yes, the local hour hand jumps while the big 24 hour hand stays put. This is a “true” GMT, in a Swiss watch that’s not a Rolex or Omega, priced at a little over $ 1,000.

To some of us, this is a very big deal. So why wasn’t this news splashed across the top of every watch related website earlier this summer when the Ocean Star GMT was initially announced? If we’d seen this at Swatch Group’s big watch fair that had been planned for the Spring but, like everything else, was put on hold once the pandemic hit, would the coverage have been different? Is it possible that your faithful Worn & Wound editors have an interest in this type of thing that’s all out of proportion with the rest of the watch loving public? Some of these questions we can answer, and some we can’t. But first, let’s take stock of the GMT landscape pre C07.661.

A handful of brands, most of which sit firmly in the luxury watch category, offer GMT watches with a local hour hand that can be set independently. This functionality is pretty easily understood. Let’s say you’re in New York, and you fly to Los Angeles. Your Rolex GMT is reading New York time twice when you land – once on the 24 hour hand, once on the main display. On this Rolex ( and similar watches from the likes of Grand Seiko, Omega, Patek Philippe, and some truly rare independents), you can adjust the main hour hand back three hours without interrupting timekeeping by moving the crown to position one, and “jumping” it back in time. Each turn moves the hour hand, and only the hour hand, which is a perfect solution for travelers. The 24 hour hand still reads New York time, so at a glance it’s easy to read the time in two time zones, and it remains so as you travel around the globe. 

The Rolex Explorer II, complete with a local jumping hour hand

Grand Seiko GMTs have long featured independently adjustable local hour hands in both fully mechanical….

…and Spring Drive movements

The Tudor Black Bay GMT, featuring – you guessed it – local jumping hours

Over the last several years, as multi time zone watches have shot up in popularity, we’ve seen a number of watches using the ETA 2893-2 and Sellita SW330-1. These watches have the same basic layout of the Rolex described above, but instead of being able to set the local time without hacking the movement, you’re only able to independently adjust the 24 hour hand. This is less than useful if you’re traveling, as it forces you to either clumsily stop the movement and readjust two time zones, or read the local time through the 24 hour hand, which might not be intuitive if you’re used to watches with a 12 hour scale.

Many in the watch community have longed for a movement with Rolex functionality at 2893-2 prices for years. And it should be noted, there are options for the budget minded traveler seeking local jumping capabilities. The Alpina Startimer Pilot Heritage collection uses a modified Sellita movement that the brand has developed in house to give the user local hour jumping. The dial layout is a bit different here, borrowing heavily from alarm watches of the past, with an inner rotating disc keeping track of the 24 hour time. Alpina makes a really nice watch, but this is a somewhat niche design. If you don’t love it, you don’t exactly have a ton of options in this price range. 

An unsung hero: Alpina’s Star Timer GMT uses a modified Sellita movement with local jumping hours

And that’s why the introduction of the C07.661 is so interesting. While it’s unlikely that small brands will get a hold of this new caliber anytime soon, it seems to be almost a sure thing that other Swatch Group brands will have access to it. Imagine the possibilities of true GMTs from the likes of Hamilton, and Logines, and you start to see that the C07.661 could be a game changer for the enthusiasts who have made 2893-2 and SW330-1 watches so popular these last few years. By some reports, these movements are so widely used that they’ve become genuinely scarce (comparatively speaking), driving up the price of watches equipped with these calibers. 

As of right now, the C07.661 movement is used in a handful of watches produced by Mido, Tissot, and Certina. Certina, in the United States, is truly the forgotten brand in the Swatch realm, as they don’t currently have distribution here (the DS Action GMT, which uses this movement, has been available overseas since 2019). Mido, while still technically having a presence in the US, has historically been more important to Swatch’s international markets. Tissot has broad reach, but the watches using this movement under the Tissot banner have aesthetic links with old fashioned dress watches come in 42mm cases. Not exactly a recipe for success with enthusiasts in 2020. When you consider the global nature of the watch business, it starts to make sense why a movement like this, in watches that are hard for us to see, or simply not very appealing, wouldn’t exactly light a fire under watch bloggers. 

TISSOT CHEMIN DES TOURELLES POWERMATIC 80 GMT WITH C07.661 MOVEMENT

It’s also fascinating to consider Swatch’s own awareness of what it is they’re holding in the C07.661. Watch brands, particularly the very old and very Swiss watch brands, are often accused of not being on the pulse of what their consumers want. This is the draw of the small brands that we cover, who are in regular and direct contact with their customers, and able to react nimbly to trends. If this movement were to find its way into, for example, the next Monta, or Farer release, it’s quite likely that it’s local hour jumping feature would be in the first paragraph of the press release. For the Ocean Star GMT, it took weeks to confirm the movement’s basic functionality.

This is not an indictment against the Swatch Group. They, after all, created the movement, and should be applauded for developing a caliber that’s truly useful for so many at an affordable price point. But it’s an interesting commentary about what we value, as enthusiasts, versus what’s important to much larger, more commercial brands and the behemoth groups, and underlines the importance of the continuous community discussion we, and many others, try to foster here, and on social media, and on watch forums, where these watches were recently discussed, beating the American press to the punch by more than a week. 

And then again, it’s completely within the realm of possibility, as I suggested at the top of this piece, that we’ve over romanticized the notion of this type of GMT watch. It’s quite possible that it’s not a game changer at all – that for me and a handful of others it’s genuinely exciting and feels like an important development, but could be met with a chorus of “meh” from the watch community. I, for one, am confident you’ll tell us in the comments and on Instagram if our notion about the importance of this movement was spot on, or a bit misguided. For now, we’re looking forward to seeing where the C07.661 pops up next, and how it reads in the community. Mido

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