The logic of design
Louis Cottier was born on 28 September 1894 in Carouge, the son of a watchmaker specializing in watches and automata; he was surrounded by horology from the day he was born. The natural talents that he developed, coming in part from the influence of his early environment, led him to the Geneva school of horology under the instruction of famed Genevan watchmaker, Henry Hess.
After graduating and working in a series of local factories, he decided to go into business for himself, starting a little atelier where he specialized in making clocks and watches for sale to private clients, and also developing new ideas in the process.
History does not record the journey that Cottier took to come up with his Worldtimer design, but a clue exists that might point the way. Earlier on in his career, he had worked on wristwatches without hands, and jumping-hour complications, so we know that he was interested in alternative ways to tell the time.
Cottier probably worked on the problem with an intuitive understanding that the ingredients for what he wanted to achieve were already in existence. One of these, the global world-time standard of GMT, had already been agreed upon by many of the world’s nations in 1884, with the earth divided up by longitude into 24 separate time zones. It was not too far of a leap from this to have a rotating 24-hour ring, perhaps connected to the hour wheel of a normal movement, but slowed down to half the speed. This ring moving along in the duration of a day could then be used to tell the time against an outer ring, marked to representative cities in different time zones around the world.
The idea, when it emerged, was at once elegant and utilitarian, solving the problem of cramming lots of information into the space of a watch dial, yet remained intuitive and easy to use. It was as they say, a sensible solution that really only needed a perceptive individual to connect the dots to realize and to bring to fruition in a watch. Indeed, such was the brilliant logic behind his method of world-time display that one wonders why it had not appeared before.
When Louis Cottier came up with the first pocket watch in 1931 showcasing this design, it was right in the middle of the accelerating developments in aviation, which would allow man to find better and faster ways to move across multiple time zones easily. The design of this pocket watch was thus perfectly tailored to meet the needs of early travelers, who, in realizing the possibilities of its utility, seized upon it for the benefits it presented.
The advantages are obvious when you look at the design, and respond to the way that its information is delivered. So clear is its function that one requires no instruction as to how it works.
Furthermore, add to the basic design, a bi-colored 24-hour ring, with the hours between 18 to 6 in a darker tone, and those between 6 to 18 in a lighter tone, and one is able to quickly assess whether it is day or night in a specific time zone at a glance.
The benefits of the design are something that even we can feel to this day, for no other type of complication is as unique as the Worldtimer in being able to display the time in all the time zones around the world at a glance. As an instrument of utility, it is unparalleled, yet it possesses another hidden talent: an ability to unlock the whimsical feelings that come in our relationship to one of life’s greatest pleasures — travel.
In this way, the key to the Worldtimer’s appeal comes from its design, for while the names of the cities on the dial relate to the various time zones they represent, they can, for most people, stand for the places that one might travel to in the future.
On the wrist, as the watch accompanies you every day, the names of these cities stand like a daily reminder to the places that one can aspire to visiting, akin to the departure signboard that we see at airports. Indeed, the very names of these foreign places can inspire a wanderlust that is overwhelming.
In addition, as one goes along the journey of being a watch collector, there is a point in time when world-time watches are considered for purchase precisely for their function. It’s easy to see why since many of life’s pleasures that we partake in, involve going to new places and novel experiences.
What other watch, aside from a world-timer, can provide that shot of inspiration by its proximity, prompting a quick run to the airport to go somewhere far away?
Indeed, Patek Philippe have realized the potential for whimsy as well, helped in part by the efficient use of space that the Worldtimer design affords, where most of the work of its complication is done at the outer edges of the dial. Here, the space that resides in the middle of the dial is an ideal canvas for an additional shot of wanderlust. Think of the special versions of the Worldtimer with cloisonné-enamel dials that have come from the collection since 2008, with the ref. 5131. The special cloisonné technique, which utilizes fine gold wire less than 0.5mm in diameter is bent to form a design, and fixed to a baseplate coated with a ground layer of enamel. The addition of compartments, or “cloisons”, is meant to separate the different elements of the design and allow them to remain visible in the finished piece.
What has been depicted on such watches but the very places that we want to go or that are special to us? The first versions featured miniature maps of Asia and America in rose gold, and there has even been a pièce unique depicting Geneva Harbour. The possibilities in this regard are endless, but certainly those that have been created show the power of travel to inspire the depictions on these watches.
Look at any world-time watch today and you see Louis Cottier’s imprint all over it. Why? Because the design is essentially perfect. With the world on one’s wrist and the ability to induce feelings of pleasure, this is a complication that is unequalled in its emotional power.
Credit then to Patek Philippe who safeguarded an icon for the world, continuing in its tradition and refreshing it every now and then to become stronger than ever. As one of the several brands that first recognized the genius of Louis Cottier, the design, function and use of the subsequent Worldtimers since have been strongly linked to this heritage and now, when we trace the lineage of the World Time Chronograph and the two new Worldtimers that we have this year, the path leads us back directly to Louis Cottier himself.