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Time Travelers: The Patek Philippe World Time Watches

A great wristwatch is more than just a timepiece—it’s a lifestyle statement, offering subtle insight into the person wearing it. Perhaps no watch embodies this ideal more than the world timer. For the most rarefied of frequent fliers, a GMT just won’t cut it. Thankfully, for them, there is the world timer. Patek Philippe’s World Time, as its name would suggest, displays all of the world’s 24 primary time zones at a cursory glance. To use a world time watch like these examples from Patek Philippe, one sets the rotating bezel so that the local city name is at the 12 o’clock position. When arriving somewhere new, one simply clicks the push button at 10 o’clock one time for each time zone until they reach local time—this causes the hour hand to jump forward in one hour increments while also rotating the 24-hour ring and the city-name ring. 

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Want to check if it’s an appropriate hour to call home? Simply look where the 24-hour ring lines up with your home city, and there you have it—the hour of the day in that time zone. The dark vs. light shading on the 24-hour ring acts as an indicator of day vs. night. 

A classic, revisited

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The story of the world timer starts with watchmaker Louis Cottier. In the 1930s, Cottier developed and began producing world timers for Patek Phillipe, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex, and Agassiz. The earliest of these were pocket watches, but later in the ‘30s Cottier was able to shrink the movement for use in wristwatches. Patek’s ref. 1415 was a very early example, using a manually rotating bezel marked with the names of various cities. 

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The year 1953 saw the release of a 2-crown Patek Philippe World Time, the ref. 2523; the second crown allowed the user to quickly change the reference city during travel. At 35.5mm in diameter, the watch boasted sleek faceted lugs. This remarkable reference continued to be produced until Louis Cottier died in the late 1960s. These watches sell for astronomically-high prices at auction, with one example going for just shy of $9 million USD at Christie’s in 2019.

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The 5110, which launched in 2000, was a revival of these earlier world timers. Reference 5130 came out in 2006 and was itself eventually replaced by the 5230.

Two legendary takes on a classic

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Both the Patek Philippe World Time 5110R and 5130R are heavy-hitters in their own right, and enjoy cult status. The 37mm 5110R features a lovely silver guilloche center dial inside a modern Calatrava case, with elegant crown guards. Both watches have a push button at 10 o’clock, allowing for quick adjustment of the settable time zone discs; this button does away with the need for a second crown. The 5110 is powered by the much-loved, self-winding caliber 240. Inside is a 22-carat gold rotor and Spiromax balance spring. As you might expect, the movement is exquisitely hand-finished with perlage on the plate and chamfering and Geneva striping on the bridges. This is all visible through the transparent case back. 

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2006’s reference 5130R grew the case size to a more contemporary 39mm in diameter, as well as featuring some updates to its city names. There are also important time zone updates, such as the fact that Moscow moved to Baghdad’s time zone of GMT +3 in 2014. The dial boasts a silver sunburst textured guilloche. The ring-shaped hour hand harks back to Patek’s original World Time watches of the ‘30s and ‘40s. The reference 5130R remains powered by the 33-jewel Patek Caliber 240 HU, beating at 21,600 vph with a 48-hour power reserve.

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Both the Patek Philippe World Time 5110R and 5130R represent the pinnacle of form and function; they sit at the intersection between high luxury and purpose-built utility. Both seem to challenge the would-be buyer, daring him or her to live up to the intention behind these incredible timepieces. So, what do you think—are you ready to embrace the world timer lifestyle? I know I am.