Here’s a hard truth about mechanical watch complications: Most of them, frankly speaking, are not for the cold-eyed pragmatist. While complicated watches can be aesthetically stunning examples of human ingenuity in micromechanics, we have yet to meet anyone who refers to a moon-phase display, takes pulse rates using a pulsometer, or has a real need to know the difference between conventional time and true solar time (thanks, equation-of-time function).
Some complications, however, remain useful even in these digitally driven times. Among the handiest: the world-time function. A world-timer often has a city ring, usually featuring 24 major cities that each represent a different time zone. This is accompanied by a 24-hour ring that makes one revolution a day. The point where the 24-hour ring aligns with a specific time zone will reveal the hour of the day in that city and, by comparison, every other city as well.
It’s a clever mechanism that requires similarly keen design to keep the entire dial readable. So, we were pleased when it was recently reported that the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Geneve (GPHG) now has a “Travel Time” category. This new category focuses on world-timers, as well as dual-time watches, and other models that fall somewhere in between.
The world-time complication was invented by watchmaker and former Rolex restorer Louis Cottier in the early 1930s, and his design was so ingenious that, not only was it quickly picked up by top brands like Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe and Rolex, it remained relatively unchanged for over half a century.
Instead of changing the formula, modern watchmakers have instead built on the world time with other complications. Chronographs, tourbillons, repeaters and more have added utility and beauty to an already enchanting function, and daring watchmakers like De Bethune and Cartier have found a way to rework the design completely. We might live in an age where globetrotting is the norm, but it’s technology from a time long past that’s helping us see the world – wherever we are.
Time changes everything – even the cities chosen to represent different time zones.
While world-time watches were made to be useful to travellers, some of these timepieces never leave their winders, let alone the country. So, many users may not have noticed that the cities on the city ring aren’t standardised, especially when high-traffic metropolises like London and Paris are almost always present.
Special editions may bear the name of the city they are marketed in, a city may be replaced by another that has overtaken it in sociopolitical or economic standing, and yet others have been removed because their time zones have changed. Here’s a quick look at the movements you might have missed:
RIYADH — DUBAI
Dubai’s growing influence nudged out Riyadh in the Patek Philippe Ref. 5230 and 5930.
HONG KONG — CHINA
China’s rise in recent years is noticeable in world-time watches by IWC, Vacheron Constantin and Montblanc.
ABU DHABI — MOSCOW
In 2011, the Russian government declared that daylight saving time would be permanent, moving Moscow’s time zone from UTC+3 to UTC+4.
MOSCOW — DOHA
Patek Philippe made the switch for the Ref. 5110J, which was ordered by the Qatar government.
BERLIN — COMO
The Lange 1 Time Zone Como Edition is awarded to the winner of an annual vintage car competition held at Como.
THE LATEST AND GREATEST
Six exceptional recent models for tracking time around the globe.
“I’m always one time zone behind myself.”
– Eric Bana, Actor
WHEN WORLDS COLLIDE
They display global time zones – just not all at the same time. Mixing the qualities of world-time watches and dual-timers, these hybrid designs make intuitive companions for frequent fliers.