Editor’s note: This article features a watch currently available in the HODINKEE Shop.
For a long time, I considered myself a chronograph guy. I’d time all manner of kitchen tasks, steaks on the grill, my lunch break, my commute. Only more recently, about three years ago, did I really learn to appreciate the more genteel pleasures of the GMT, a watch with the capacity to be every bit as useful as a chrono – perhaps not at this very moment, global circumstances being what they are – but that has to be enjoyed more or less passively. You might adjust on the occasion of having traveled to a new locale, or upon deciding it was time to call someone on the other side of the world. This is in contrast to the constant starting, stopping, and resetting of a chronograph.
Not all GMTs are created equal, though. Among current production GMTs, those featuring a jumping local hour connected to the date are, in my opinion, the most intuitive and easy-to-use travel watches out there. Landing in a new time-zone, one merely has to extend the crown and jump the hour however many time zones forward or backward he has traveled, and the work is done.
With the recently released Norqain Freedom 60 GMT, there is a new watch that uses this type of movement, while eschewing the rotating 24-hour bezel one finds on the watches many consider the leaders in the type – the Rolex GMT-Master II, and more recently, from Rolex’s sibling brand, Tudor, the Black Bay GMT.
Placing the 24-hour scale on the dial rather than on a rotating bezel allows for a legible and highly functional display of a second time-zone while maintaining a design that feels clean, even a bit dressy, though you do lose the ability to track a third time-zone. The Norqain Freedom 60’s feature set reminds me quite a bit of my Grand Seiko SBGM221, a watch that manages to bring much of the best of the GMT to bear without ever tip-toeing around tool-watch territory. It’s a dress watch; heck, I wore it to my own wedding.
I recently spent some hands-on time with two versions of the Norqain Freedom 60 GMT – one in stainless steel, the other a limited edition in bronze. Each felt solid and well built, with a design and construction that belied the fact that Norqain is a company launched fairly recently. I learned of it for the first time only about a year ago. To say the company’s ascent has been rapid feels like an understatement.
When Norqain announced that it would begin using movements made by Kenissi, the Tudor-owned movement maker, a lot of people stood up and started paying real attention. The most salient feature of Norqain’s new GMT is its NN20/2 GMT movement with 70 hours of power reserve, running rate of 28,800 vph, and jumping local hour feature. In terms of appearance and specs, this movement is similar to the Tudor cal. MT 5652, also made by Kenissi, which powers Tudor’s excellent and much-written-about Black Bay GMT. The finishing, decoration, and regulation, as well as the oscillating weight, are different in the Norqain caliber. And while the hairspring in the Kenissi-made Norqain movement you see here is Nivarox, the Tudor version features a hairspring in silicium.
The Norqain’s movement has nice industrial finishing and includes a branded rotor and a balance bridge traversing the balance wheel. Its more than ample power reserve means that this is a watch one can wear all week before switching to something different on the weekend and coming back to it on Monday. I’ve said it before, but power reserves of about three days or longer have made a difference in the way I tend to wear watches. It makes switching them out less of a chore. They can feel like a sign from a brand that they get it, you like watches, and this is not the only one you are going to be wearing. The fact that you can take the Freedom 60 GMT off for more than two days and come back to it without skipping a beat is a plus in my book.
Due to the use of the jumping hour GMT movement, one factor that Norqain had to navigate was the additional thickness of the watch. The Freedom 60 GMT measures 40mm in diameter, 14.5mm thick, and 49.2mm lug-to-lug. It’s not a thin or small watch by any stretch, but given its overall sporty design, I thought it looked really nice and felt very balanced on my wrist. Whether a watch will have that coveted balanced feel comes down to more than merely strict case dimensions. Of course, it also has to do with the shape and size of one’s wrist, the watch’s center of mass, and what role the lugs play in providing stability. On my seven-inch wrist, the Freedom 60 GMT in both steel and bronze, on the leather straps shown here, offered a very comfortable wearing experience. As we’ve seen in other Norqains, there is an engravable plate on the side of the caseband that offers a nice canvas for a personal touch.
Arguably, the most important facet of a watch’s design is the dial. It’s the interface, what you look at, after all, and a nice watch ought to be pleasing to the eye while also being legible. Do you glance down at your wrist just for a look at the dial, even if you don’t really care what time it is? With the right watch, of course you do. But is all the information right there where you need it at a glance? It should be. Striking such a balance can be a challenge, particularly when there are extra displays or complications to be factored in.
The Freedom 60 GMT takes a page from the vintage watch playbook with large applied markers and a GMT track located toward the center of the dial, divided into two easily distinguishable daytime and nighttime hemispheres. The 24-hour hand is tipped in bright red, making reading one’s home time along this track easy. The hours and the minutes come via vintage-inspired syringe hands. In the bronze limited edition, the dial is a warm brown, and the hand-applied markers in this version are actually themselves made of bronze too. In the steel version, you get markers matched with a slightly more noticeable fauxtina lume effect (owing to the greater contrast with dial and makers) set against a black dial.
As this is a GMT, a date display makes perfect sense, and in the Freedom 60, this function is controlled easily by jumping the local hour hand forward or back. While it’s pretty well integrated into the design overall, I found it personally to be less obtrusive in the steel variation, my favorite of the two Freedom 60 GMTs. I totally get the appeal of bronze, with its patination over time, and how one can forge a relationship with a bronze watch through this patination. Still, I think the steel version of the Freedom 60 GMT is simply a sharper-looking watch.
Both of the versions you see here are shown on Norlando leather straps, with twin peak “Norqain” stitches near the spring bars, which are meant to evoke mountain tops. The stitches lend the straps an artisanal look while reinforcing the Freedom 60 GMT’s overall vintage-inspired design. There is also an option for a stainless steel bracelet with the stainless steel version. As best seen in the photo of the steel version (above right), the doming of the sapphire crystal drives the vintage design codes home, as does the presence of the large crown, which makes for easy gripping, winding, and setting. The presence of the engravable plate on the opposite side of the case provides a measure of balance for this large crown too.
Which brings me to the matter of price. The Freedom 60 isn’t cheap at $ 3,590 in steel on a leather strap and $ 3,890 for the 300-piece bronze limited edition. That it has a high-quality jumping-local-hour GMT movement from Kenissi is a huge plus, and is something that can only be claimed, at this writing, by Norqain, by Fortis (in titanium with matching bracelet), and, of course, by Tudor (which, of the three, alone has the silicium hairspring). Each of these brands has a design that is very much its own and brings a different vibe to the GMT category. At present, Norqain offers the most affordable of these three options.
The Norqain Freedom 60 GMT. 40 x 14.5mm stainless steel or bronze case, with bronze limited to 300 pieces. 100 meters of water resistance. Sapphire crystal caseback. Movement: NN20/2 with jumping local hour (made by Kenissi) running in 28 jewels and vibrating at 28,800 vph with 70-hour power reserve. Dials with applied markers and “Old Radium” Super-LumiNova. Norlando leather strap or, in the case of the steel version, optional stainless steel bracelet. Price: $ 3,590 for steel as shown; $ 3,890 for bronze limited edition as shown.
All photos, Tiffany Wade.