Once upon a time the furthest man could travel in one day was 50 kilometers on foot or 80 kilometers in a horse-drawn carriage. Time-zone complications were just a twinkle in watchmakers’ eyes, as it would take a traveler at least three weeks of continuous trotting before he or she would even start to notice that the sun wasn’t exactly overhead at midday.

Trains, times and trouble
As travel gained speed with the arrival of the railway in the 1800s, however, discrepancies between different local times started to become evident and even problematic. Train scheduling became a mathematical nightmare as every station set its clocks in accordance with its own town sundial. So from the start of a train’s journey, to the end of the line, there could be time differences that sometimes differed by hours.

The logistics of time and travel were not only confusing, but also dangerous as accidents relating to these time differences started to become more frequent with the growing number of trains on the tracks and the impossible task of managing timetables with time disparities at every stop.

Different solutions were tried across the globe, from complex time-conversion tables to issuing railway personnel with pocket watches that would be synchronized at the beginning of the working day. But it was in England, the birthplace of the railway, that the idea of synchronizing local times came into effect.

Farewell to solar time
In 1840, England’s Great Western Railway installed an electric telegraph system that transmitted the exact time to all the station’s clocks, thus avoiding any timing issues on the tracks. The “railway time” was a success and although many towns continued to have two clocks—a town clock for solar time and a railway clock for traveling—communities eventually synchronized their town clocks with the railway clock, creating a national unified time.

Although the creation of a unified time had been relatively simple to apply in the United Kingdom due to the small size of the country, for larger countries such as Canada, China, Russia and the United States, the creation of a unified railway time was far more problematic. The United States alone had over 100 different railway times spanning a five-hour time difference.

But it wasn’t only the railway community that was trying to find solutions for a rapidly changing world and its timing needs, watchmakers had been experimenting with different world-time complications since the 1600s with pocket watches featuring numerous solar times across the globe. Distant cities were inscribed across the dials and cases, tempting explorers and adventurers to embark on voyages to faraway lands.

Dividing the globe
World time was to make a dramatic change in 1878 when a Scottish railway engineer living in Canada, Sir Sandford Fleming (1827-1915), devised a new system of 24 time zones that would replace the hundreds of different solar times. Fleming divided the time it takes the world to make one rotation (24 hours) by 360 degrees, resulting in 15 degrees of longitude for each hourly time zone. Fleming’s system was presented at the International Prime Meridian Conference in Washington, DC, in 1884 to standardize time around the world, and accepted by all major parties, changing the face of time forever.

Louis Cottier, Inventor of ingenious time-zone mechanisms
This new system of 24 hours meant that watchmakers had to rethink their world-time complications to show the new world-time system. In 1931, Louis Cottier (1894-1966), an independent watchmaker from Geneva’s Carouge district, invented an ingenious complication that allowed the wearer to view all 24 of the world’s time zones at a simple glance. This world-time complication was perfectly in tune with its time as air travel and international telecommunications were booming in the 1930s.

Fixed Discs — Ref. 515, Ref. 542 HU and Ref. 96 HU
Patek Philippe was one of the first brands to be seduced by Cottier’s invention and commissioned a number of mechanisms from him over the years. In 1937 Cottier created several World Time wristwatches for the brand with a fixed city disc and a 24-hour ring. This system was perfect for reading the different time zones around the world while at home, but wasn’t designed for use while traveling as once the hands were changed to indicate another time zone, the indications fell out of sync.

Rotational Bezels — Ref. 1415 and 1416
This was quickly remedied by Cottier with the invention of a turning bezel that featured the names of the cities engraved onto it. When the user was traveling, s/he could easily set the hands to the new time zone and then turn the bezel to put the local city at 12 o’clock, thus synchronizing all the time zones with one turn. The disadvantage of this version was that the change involved two operations, resulting in a slight loss of precision.

Twin Crowns — Refs. 2523 and 2523/1
In 1953, the World Time complication saw an important evolution with the arrival of a city disc featured directly on the dial of the timepiece. This disc could be activated by a second crown at nine o’clock, instead of the rotating bezel, creating a unique and interesting dial design that has become the signature of Patek Philippe World Time pieces today. These Refs. 2523 and 2523/1 are some of the most sought-after Patek Philippe models on the vintage market today, with prices often reaching six figures when they come up for auction.

Pusher System
By 1959, Cottier had joined the Patek Philippe team and together they patented a revolutionary Travel Time system that allowed the user to change the time zone via two pushers in the case: pressing the upper one made the hour hand advance by one-hour increments, or one time zone; pressing the lower pusher made the hour hand travel backwards one hour, without affecting the accurate progression of the minute hand. The local city could then be set on the turning disc via the crown at nine o’clock. The system was patented in 1959 with the first timepieces sold in 1962.

A New Revolution — Ref. 5110, Ref. 5130 and Ref. 5131
In 1996, 30 years after Cottier’s death, Patek Philippe decided to revisit the World Time complication with the arrival of a revolutionary new system allowing the user to change the time zone via a pusher at 10 o’clock that would not only advance the hour hand as before, but would synchronize the city disc and the 24-hour indicator at the same time, creating the simplest and most practical timepiece for the world’s globetrotters. Patented in 1999, this system has been at the heart of the World Time Collection for 16 years with numerous models decorated with guilloché and/or enameled dials, adding a further element of magic to these timepieces that make us dream of far-off places.

Time for a New World Time — Ref. 5230 and Ref. 5930
This year marks a new chapter in the Patek Philippe World Time with the unveiling of two new references to the World Time legend—the Ref. 5230 and the Ref. 5930. Starting with Ref. 5230, this new model will replace all previous World Time models for men. One of the reasons for the change was that several of the time-zone cities have changed over the years (Dubai now replaces Riyadh, Buenos Aires takes the place of Rio, and Moscow has switched time zones from UTC+4 to UTC+3), giving the Geneva manufacture the perfect opportunity to update the collection with the new globally valid city names, and also refine some of the design details to offer a more contemporary and distinctive look.

The 38.50mm Calatrava case is now fitted with winglet-style lugs and a narrower, smoother polished bezel, which comes in a choice of 18-karat white gold (Ref: 5230G), or 18-karat rose gold 5N (Ref. 5230R). The hands have also been updated with the hour hand featuring an unusual cut-out shape in the form of the Southern Cross constellation, and the minute hand sporting a lozenge-shaped contour. The center of the dial also catches the eye thanks to a filigreed woven pattern that resembles a basket-weave motif. The inspiration for this hand-guilloché design came from a pocket watch in the Patek Philippe Museum, and yet the overall look is extremely modern against the gold hands and applied indexes.

The movement is the brand’s famous caliber 240 HU, an ultra-thin self-winding mechanical movement with a winding rotor that is fully integrated into the level of the movement bridges. Crafted out of 22-karat gold, the weight and compact nature of the rotor enable it to generate ample winding power with a total power reserve of 48 hours. The caliber has been constantly updated and modified over the years, and now includes the brand’s patented Spiromax® balance spring and Patek Philippe Seal certification.

World Time Chronograph — Ref. 5930
Returning for a moment to the history of the Patek Philippe World Time, one historical piece that hasn’t been mentioned so far is a unique timepiece from 1940, the Ref. 1415-1, which was specially made for a certain Dr. Schmidt. This one-of-a-kind timepiece combined the World Time mechanism with the multi-scale, one-minute chronograph caliber 13’’’130 HU. It featured a pulsation scale for measuring a patient’s pulse, and another scale for measuring respiration, a perfect combination to assist Dr. Schmidt in his medical duties. Now part of the Patek Philippe Museum Collection, it surely played an inspirational role in the new Patek Philippe World Time Chronograph that stole the limelight at the recent Baselworld show.

Although similar in its horological concept, the new version—Ref. 5930—is altogether a different timepiece. Combining a patented World Time mechanism with the manufacture’s self-winding flyback chronograph, the caliber CH 28-520, the result is both the smallest and thinnest World Time chronograph on the market today, something that is an important part of the Patek Philippe philosophy for any new development.

Housed in an 18-karat white gold case, the timepiece has a diameter of 39.5mm and a height of 12.86mm. For design reasons, the chronograph scale, which would usually run around the outside of the dial in a traditional chronograph, has been incorporated between the 24-hour scale and the 24-city disc. As this chronograph scale has a smaller diameter than a normal one, it has been modified to feature the quarter of a second, rather than the fifth of a second, making it much easier to read.

The chronograph movement has also been adapted to bring the minute counter closer to the center to leave space for the city and 24-hour rings. The World Time complication has also been reworked in this new model for a total movement size of 33mm x 7.97mm. To achieve this record-breaking size, Patek Philippe has made the dial and the city disc into fully functional components, keeping the movement as thin as possible.

The display follows the same layout as previous World Time models, with the hours and minutes in the center, a circular hand-guilloché pattern, the city disc on the outside of the dial and the 24-hour ring on the inside. For the chronograph readings, there is a 30-minute chronograph counter at six o’clock, and the chronograph seconds hand is positioned in the center. The chronograph hand can be left running if desired, so it can be used as a regular seconds indicator, without any risk of excessive wear and tear on the movement.

Like with the previous generations of World Time wristwatches, activating the world time couldn’t be simpler. On arrival in a different time zone, the user presses on the pusher at 10 o’clock until the local-time city is in the 12 o’clock position. The hours jump forward in one-hour increments, the minutes continue unaffected by any manipulations of the watch, and the city disc and the 24-hour zone are instantly synchronized so the modern traveler can continue on his adventures, never losing track of the time at home, or anywhere else in the world for that matter.

From Louis Cottier’s first timepieces and the grand explorers of the past century, to the fast-paced businessmen and women of today, much has changed. And yet our love for travel and horology has never left us, as Patek Philippe’s new World Time complications prove so eloquently.

Photographer: Sidney Teo
Fashion Stylist: Marie Lee
Fashion Assistant: Carissa Marie Lim
Hairstyling: Keith Bryant Lee @fac3inc using Dior & Kevin Murphy
Model: Konstantin / Mannequin

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