AN EXCEPTIONALLY RARE AND HISTORICALLY IMPORTANT 18K YELLOW GOLD WORLD TIME WRISTWATCH
1937 REF 96 HU "HEURE UNIVERSELLE" MVT 176230 CASE 294861
Accompanied by an Extract from the Archives confirming the movement was made in 1913 and the watch was cased and completed in 1937. The Extract from Archives the original date of sale as September 24th, 1937.
Previously unknown to the market, this Ref. 96 HU World Time wristwatch redefines the current scholarship on Patek Philippe world time wristwatches from the late 1930s. As one of the first world time watches ever made by Louis Cottier, the recently discovered timepiece is one of the earliest and rarest world time watches known to exist. Preserved in unrestored condition, this Ref. 96 HU is the ultimate expression of Patek Philippe's forward-looking commitment to horological innovation. Produced two decades before the dawn of the jet-age, early world time wristwatches are the opening chapter of 20th century complicated wristwatch production. The presently offered Ref. 96 HU is among the very first examples from this exciting period in the history of watchmaking.
The First Patek Philippe World Time Watches from 1937
The rectangular Ref. 515 HU world time is recognized as the earliest Patek Philippe world time. At least three examples are known to exist, and of those, only one has come to auction. That piece was made in 1937 with movement number 811161 and case number 294862, the Ref. 515 was sold to an American client in 1937. The presently offered 96 HU has a case number 294861, one digit earlier the 515 HU, and it was also sold to a client in 1937, on September 24th on that year. It is stamped twice with an owl, the French import mark, indicating it was retailed in France, perhaps at Guillermin.
It is quite possible that this 96 HU is one of the first two Patek Philippe World Time watches ever sold and the first world time in a Calatrava case ever to be sold. The other known version of the 96 HU, with a later case number 294923, was not sold until one year later than the present example, on September 14th, 1938. Both examples, possibly prototype designs, feature dials without the Patek Philippe signature. The present example is distinguished by its salmon 24-hour dial and the bullet-shaped indexes.
With regard to the movements of these early world time watches, some interesting conclusions can be drawn regarding the development of these timepieces. The rectangular Ref. 515 HU mentioned above, and sold at Antiquorum in October 1994, has a movement number of 811161, with a 10''' HU movement to fit its rectangular case. The presently offered lot for the 96 HU has a larger 12''' movement. These early 12'' movements were made from older LeCoultre ebauches that were likely originally destined for Gondolo & Labouriau, Patek Philippe's major customer in Brazil. Since all of the movements specially made for Gondolo & Labouriau were not cased and sold to them as originally planned, the remaining movements were kept behind at Patek Philippe hidden away for decades before they were called to duty. Complete with gold wheels, moustache lever escapements, and swan-neck regulators, these movements were the perfect size and quality for Cottier to develop his novel world time concept.
The Mind of a Genius: Louis Cottier
Louis Cottier (1894-1966) was born in Carouge and attended the Horological School of Geneva before going to work for his father and horological mentor Emmanuel Cottier (1858-1930). Like his father, Cottier was very talented mechanical genius and went on to develop numerous patents that changed the face of watchmaking. Reacting to the realities of the Great Depression, Cottier saw a niche in high-end watchmaking and focused his talents on the development of complicated watches for Patek Philippe, Agassiz, Rolex, and Vacheron Constantin.
Foremost among these discoveries was his development of the world time mechanism in the 1930s. With the earliest world time watches, Cottier personally finished the ebauches supplied by Patek Philippe, integrated the world time mechanism, and made the gold hands. The hands he produced in 1937, as seen with the present lot, feature a circular cut sector hour hand and a dagger-form minute hand.
Patek Philippe World Time Wristwatches
The world time wristwatches that Patek Philippe offered from 1937-1965 include the following references:
• Ref. 96 HU
Round yellow gold 'Calatrava' cases with 12'''HU movements, made in 2 examples in 1937, fixed bezel with 28 or 29 cities on dial. The present lot is the earliest known Ref. 96 HU to be sold, and is distinguished by its salmon 24-hour dial and the bullet-shaped indexes.
• Ref. 515 HU
Rectangular rose gold case with 10''' HU movement, made in at least 3 examples in 1937, fixed bezel with 28 cities on dial.
• Ref. 542 HU
Round yellow and rose gold cases with 10'''HU movement, made in 5 examples in 1937 and 1938, 30 cities on dial.
• Ref. 1416 HU
Round yellow gold cases with 12''' HU movements, made in 1939, rotating bezel with names of 30 cities, regions, or countries.
• Ref. 1415 HU
Round yellow gold cases with 12''' HU and later 12-120 HU movements, made in 100-150 examples from 1940-1953, rotating bezel with 30 cities on dial. Few examples in rose gold, one in platinum, some with cloisonné enamel center.
• Ref. 2523 HU and 2523-1 HU
Round yellow gold, few in rose and white gold with 12-400 caliber, made from 1953-1965, rotating disk with 41 cities, large sized two-crown.
Sparked by the interest in world times and designs of the 1930s-1960s, in 2000, Patek Philippe reintroduced the world time watch with the Ref. 5110, followed by the Ref 5130 in 2007, and most recently the Ref. 5131 featuring an enamel map centered on the dial.
For more examples of Cottier world time watches, see:
Huber, M. & Banbery, A., Patek Philippe Wristwatches, Second Edition, pp. 240-247.
Patrizzi, O., Louis Cottier, A Watchmaking Genius Ahead of his Time, Vox, Antiquorum Editions, Fall 2002.
Roony, D., Le Temps Universel, Patek Philippe Magazine, Vol. II, No. 4, pp. 42-47.
Reardon, J. Patek Philippe in America, 2008, p. 96, 112-113, 161.