Three time zones for under $2k

The Monta Skyquest Is A Quality GMT That Won’t Break The Bank


July 24, 2018 Reviews By Photo by Hunter D. Kelley
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Ahh, the venerable GMT watch – that most useful of complications for travelers. Ever since Rolex released the now-classic GMT Master Ref. 6542 in 1954 for Pan Am pilots and crew, both watch enthusiasts and laymen have embraced the idea of being able to track a second time zone on one’s wrist. Most watch enthusiasts seem to agree that Rolex does this particular complication best, and anything without the Crown on the dial seems to be grouped into a vague “other” category. Thankfully, in the past few years, a new crop of GMT watches has come into existence that manages to combine dual or triple-time zone functionality with ruggedness and aesthetic appeal. Most recently, American microbrand Monta, based in St. Louis, MO, has developed the Skyquest, a new GMT watch that checks all these boxes and more.

The Good: “Tool” GMTs are a tough category in that you often have to drop several thousand dollars in order to acquire a good one. Monta, who re-jiggered the pricing on one of their original watch models in response to feedback from customers, has kept the price accessible with the Skyquest (at least with respect to value) – for $1730 on bracelet or $1575 on rubber ($1925 after the pre-order is over), you’re getting a pretty damn well-made watch. The Skyquest features the Selitta SW330 (essentially a Swiss-made copy of the ETA 2893-2) with independently-adjustable GMT hand and date at 6 o’clock, a bi-directional 24-hour ceramic or steel bezel, a screw-down crown and case back offering 304m of water resistance, a choice of steel Oyster-style bracelet or a vulcanized rubber strap in black or blue (plus a NATO strap with either option), two dial colors, and a 42-hour power reserve. You also get a parallel flat sapphire crystal with a unique seven-layer anti-reflective coating applied on the inside, giving the watch a very manageable case depth that easily sneaks under a cuff. This is a watch that, while taking the inevitable aesthetic cues from the classics, clearly features its own distinct design language and looks great to boot.

Who They’re For: When Rolex developed the original GMT Master for Pan Am flight crews in the 1950s, jet travel was new and still relatively expensive, and flying was a novelty reserved for the wealthy – indeed, the original GMT Master was a precision instrument designed with a specific professional in mind. Nowadays, of course, many more people travel quite frequently, and so the appeal of a GMT watch is wide-ranging, and anyone who is frequently crossing time zones or has family in another country will appreciate the ability to track a second (or third) time zone. The Skyquest appeals to this person, and has the added benefit of appealing to a particular subset of this person who can’t necessarily afford to drop $10k+ on a Rolex GMT Master, new or vintage. And because the Skyquest features dive-watch like water resistance and comes in multiple dial and bezel combinations, its appeal is even wider.

Watch Out For: Really my only gripe with this watch is that I struggled to fit the rubber strap onto the case, which likely has more to do with my own incompetence than with a design flaw from Monta. The rubber straps are extremely comfortable and well-made – they’re produced by Monta sister-brand Everest, which makes aftermarket straps specifically for the Rolex market. The ends of the included straps are curved to fit the Skyquest case, much like many of the Everest straps that are designed specifically with a Rolex Submariner case in mind. They curve upward toward the lug ends (difficult to describe – you really have to hold one in your hand), and for whatever reason, I found it extremely difficult to seat the spring-bars once I got one end in the lug hole. Other than this trouble with the rubber strap, I really do believe that any other gripes with this watch would probably have to be aesthetic ones, and these are largely subjective and depend on the individual wearer (I’m not crazy about the crown guards on this case, for example, but they’re certainly functional and someone else might love them). The only (perhaps) legitimate gripe I can see someone formulating concerning the watch would be that the Selitta SW330 features an individually-adjustable GMT hand, rather than an hour hand, but if you want this feature, you really have to shell out for a Rolex or similarly-priced offering.

Alternatives: As I mentioned earlier, there are finally some “affordable” mechanical tool-watch GMT options out there on the market, though many of them are priced above the Skyquest (the Lander from British micro-brand Farer is a noticeable exception at $1425, though I wouldn’t necessarily put it in the same bracket as the Skyquest in terms of robustness and inspiration; another option may be the Airman 42 GL0064, a watch with a similar feature set from Glycine’s famous Airman line that generally seems to retail for roughly $750, but I havne’t yet had my hands on any of Glycine’s new offerings – hopefully we’ll be able to get our hands on one of these for a review in the future). There’s the Oris Big Crown Pilot Pro for $1,595, but it doesn’t feature a rotating bezel, so tracking a third time zone is out. For $2630 you can grab yourself a Sinn 857 UTC VFR, which is a watch designed for use in extreme environments (though it features a 60-minute rather than a 24-hour bezel, so again, you can’t as easily track a third time zone, though you can dive with it). Of course, if you want to really go all out, you can spring for any one of numerous Roelx GMT Masters released over the years (good luck picking up the newest iteration, released in 2018, however).

Review: While I didn’t have the opportunity to wear the Skyquest on a serious trip (though I did wear it for a long weekend at the Jersey shore – does that count?), I do generally keep track of three time zones: the time here in NYC, the time back in Israel where I lived until recently and still have many friends and family, and the time in LA, where my brother lives. I haven’t had a chance to wear a GMT recently that allows me to easily track all three time zones, and the Skyquest certainly made that a cinch.

I set the local time to EST, put Israel (7 hrs ahead of NYC) on the jumping GMT hand in conjunction with the inner 24-hr rehaut, and set the 24-hr. bezel to track California time by calculating the offset with the GMT hand (if you’ve never done this before on this type of GMT watch and are not mathematically inclined, this initially takes some mental gymnastics, but once you understand the concept and set the watch, you figure out how to read it fairly quickly). Having a bi-directional, chunky bezel with a solid click and a GMT hand with a lumed red arrow pointer make this much easier.

GMT functionality aside, let’s talk about the dial. While the Skyquest is available in two finishes, I opted to review the black variant, as gilt dials aren’t so much my thing. The hour indices are applied, and both indices and hands are coated in a generous amount of blue-variant Super Lumi-Nova BG W9 (“BlueMinova?” Anyone? Buehler?). Let me tell you – this lume is bright – like, really bright – it blew the lume on my go-to dive watch right out of the water. What with the applied indices and 24-hour scale on the rehaut, the dial actually has quite a bit of depth to it, and though I normally don’t like a date window anywhere but at 3 o’clock, I must say the 6 o’clock placement really didn’t bother me here – there’s something inherently pleasing about the symmetry of this dial.

The rhodium-plated sword hands are well-proportioned and easy to read, and there are also some red accents that lend a “vintage Sub”-type quality, including “Skyquest” written in red font, the aforementioned tip of the GMT hand, and the even numbers of the inner 24-hour rehaut, which take the form of red horizontal lines sitting nicely above the main indices. In short, I think this is an attractive dial and my supposition is that many people out there will agree with me.

The 40.7mm case on the Skyquest is polished (sides)/brushed (lug tops) 316L stainless steel and approximately 12mm thick, which is roughly comparable to my Sub. The two crown guards protect the chunky screw-down crown and the case back is transparent mineral crystal (while my review model was a prototype whose case back was devoid of writing, the final versions will be evidently be engraved with the MONTA name, “SWISS MADE”, depth rating, and the individual number; additionally, the movement rotor will be decorated with stripes and the MONTA logo in gold). The steel portion of the case back itself is also nicely engineered, with a 12-sided (Dodecahedron? Never thought I’d actually get to use that word), notched design. Beating inside is the Selita SW330, a 25-jewel, highly-tuned automatic Swiss movement with a 38-hour power reserve that’s accurate to +/- 5 seconds per day and features an independently-adjustable GMT hand. Both bezel options (steel or ceramic) feature illuminated pips and are 72-click bi-directional. This is a chunky bezel with good action, though the choice of 72 clicks is interesting – some quick math will tell you that the bezel is thus calibrated in 20-minute increments, and as certain time zones are displaced by GMT by an extra half-hour, you won’t be able to set the bezel to exactly line up with one of these. Still, though, most zones align with the hour, so this shouldn’t be a problem for the majority of users.

One of the best value-adds on the Skyqeust is quite frankly the included bracelet. From his work with sister company Everest straps, Michael DiMartini is clearly a bracelet and strap guru and used that expertise when he and his team designed the watch’s Oyster-style offering. The links are brushed with polished sides and form a nice continuous surface when they integrate with the case at the 20mm lugs, and the smaller links feature set screws for easy size adjustment (there are also four levels of micro-adjustment available within the clasp). The bracelet tapers to a slimmer clasp that itself feels extremely solid with a satisfying click when closed and features the Monta logo. By virtue of being an Oyster-style bracelet, of course, the design of the links is inherently derivative, but so many brands out there have adopted this style that I’m not inclined to call Monta out on it, and this particular example is particularly well-made.

As I mentioned before, the included vulcanized rubber strap (there are black and blue options available) is also incredibly well-made and comfortable, though I wouldn’t expect less from Everest straps. The curved ends help fit the strap precisely to the curvature of the case and feature Rolex-style heavy spring bars, and a heavy-duty steel buckle rounds out an already impressive feature set. I went for a run on an extremely hot day and barely noticed the watch affixed to my wrist when using the rubber strap, though as I said I had a particularly tough time mounting it on the watch. The Nato option was similarly comfortable and features the heavy-duty hardware of its rubber cousin, though I personally would have preferred a slightly longer option in order to wrap the excess beneath the keepers and keep the end out of the way, ensuring it will eventually fray less quickly (again, this is a personal preference and will not likely bother most people).

I’d be remiss here in my duties if I didn’t mention the watch’s packaging. I received the Skyquest in an outer cardboard box printed with the Monta logo, inside of which was a gorgeous inner presentation box complete with the watch on a pillow, a leather travel pouch, rubber and Nato straps, strap-changing tool and mini flat-head screwdriver, and instruction manual. Having worked briefly in vintage and pre-owned watch sales and having seen a fair amount of presentation boxes from various brands, I can safely say that this sort of packaging competes with watches whose price tags are higher than that of the Skyquest by factors of ten. This, of course, isn’t a reason to buy the watch, but it’s certainly a very nice touch, and shows that the guys at Monta are thoughtful about the presentation of their products. Overall, very impressive.

Verdict: I’ve really enjoyed my time with the Skyquest. There’s something inherently romantic about the GMT complication about which we watch nerds like to wax poetic – you wear one, and because you’re constantly referencing the time in another place (or two other places), you can’t help but dream of those places. It’s true that while today you can indeed find sub-$1k GMT offerings, very few (none?) will offer the kind of robust, no-nonsense build quality and attention to detail in its accessories and presentation that you will get for your money with the Skyquest. There are other offerings (see above) that cost slightly more than the Skyquest and offer similar feature sets, but if you’re comfortable with the aesthetics of this watch, why spend more? What you’re getting here is a diver-style GMT watch with multiple bracelet/strap options for under $2k that looks great and is available in several dial and bezel options – to my mind, Monta is filling a niche here in the GMT market, and they’re doing it with an attention to detail that typically costs much, much more.

What Others Are Saying:

• “My take with Monta Watches, and this certainly applies for the Skyquest, is that these watches need to be seen in person to be fully appreciated. The passerby glance might dismiss the Skyquest as a watch that’s similar to the GMT-Master but, again, a closer look reveals differentiating details and thoughtful design.” — Michael Stockton, Fratello Watches

• “The Monta Skyquest is a display of what microbrands can be capable of when they really seek something better. While many microbrands relegate themselves to the under-$1,000 price point, Monta has shown that microbrands can produce a really high-quality watch complete with the finer details we would expect on a higher-end Swiss piece.” — Russel Nanney, A Blog To Watch

Key Specs

Movement: Selitta SW330
Winding: Automatic
Case Diameter: 40.7mm
Case Thickness: 12mm
Water Resistance: 304m (1000ft)
Unique Features: GMT hand, 3 time zone tracking, several bracelet/strap options

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