NEW YORK - The early to middle decades of the last century saw the advent of air travel, and with it, the globalization of societies on a much larger scale than ever before. A nascent “jet-set” society required easy time-telling for different time zones. Globalization, travel and time-keeping have long been linked. Indeed, the discovery of longitude depended on the accuracy of John Harrison’s marine chronometers tested on seafaring expeditions in the mid-eighteenth century. Fast forward about two centuries to the early 1930s, and the world of horology saw another luminary, Louis Cottier, introduce his brilliant World Time mechanism.
Like any great design, it was then and remains now a remarkably simple and elegant approach to a complex issue. His solution was to render a global map or listing of world cities and its 24 time zones on the space of a wrist or pocket watch, and to make it interactive. The wearer could simply rotate the crown or bezel to read the local time, and also keep track of time in the home time zone and internationally. The incomparable legibility of this invention cannot be overstated. Take, for example, the iPhone ‘World Clock’ – the product of arguably the greatest technical minds of today, and the cities are not even listed sequentially!
(LEFT) PATEK PHILIPPE. A RARE 18K PINK GOLD WORLD TIME WRISTWATCH 1946 REF 1415 MVT 928200 CASE 644145. SOLD FOR 188,500 CHF. (RIGHT) PATEK PHILIPPE. A WHITE GOLD AUTOMATIC WORLD TIME WRISTWATCH REF 5110 MVT 3206576 CASE 4102978 MADE IN 2000. TO BE OFFERED IN THE 11 JUNE IMPORTANT WATCHES SALE. ESTIMATE $15,000–20,000.
A glance at Cottier’s inventions and their modern reinterpretations shows the design’s genius. A 1946 example of the Patek Philippe Ref. 1415, using Cottier’s rotating bezel is remarkably similar to a 2000 example of their Ref. 5110. The latter example is from Patek Philippe’s first re-introduction of the Cottier World Time function since its last usage in the middle of the last century, and replaces the rotating bezel with a simple push-button for adjustment.
LOT 253. PATEK PHILIPPE, A FINE AND RARE PINK GOLD OPEN-FACED WORLD TIME WATCH WITH ENAMEL DIAL DEPICTING NORTH AMERICA REF 605HU MVT 931074 CASE 683465 MADE IN 1951. ESTIMATE $200,000–400,000.
Aesthetically, the clean layout is a blank canvas for customization. The back cover lot of the June 11th New York auction stuns with its exquisitely painted enamel dial of North America. Collectors’ perennial fascination with enamel has inspired Patek Philippe to revisit this theme with modern world-time wristwatches, such as the Ref. 5131. The cities listed, too, can be customized in a nod to collectors. In a vintage world time, a reference to Peking, or even more rare, the short-lived alternate spelling of ‘Peiping’ are enormously sought-after by collectors, as the modern models frequently replace this city with Hong Kong. At the request of a modern collector, Patek Philippe created a probably unique example of the Ref. 5110 with the cities all listed as airport codes, and ‘Doha’ written in red in 2000. The thoroughly global appeal of the design is demonstrated by the range of the cities highlighted in limited-edition series: from Mecca to Munster, and beyond.
Advertisements for the first world time wristwatches noted, “For men of international interests, it is indispensible.” A valid endorsement, indeed, but a slightly limited scope. It may have taken a few decades, but with the introduction of the lady’s world time, Ref. 7130, the playing field is now more even.
In today’s world, it may be an understatement to say that jet-setting may have lost some of its glamour. A look through world time watches from Patek Philippe, past and present, easily restores an appreciation for a jaunt across time zones – literal or figurative.