When Louis Cottier devised the first “world timer” pocket watch in 1931, globetrotting was the preserve of the one per cent. No commercial flights flew from Tokyo to London in 10 hours (for under £600!), and £29 tickets between two European destinations weren’t even among any socialist-cum-egalitarian’s wildest fantasies.

Cottier created a complication for a market so exclusive that one can appreciate why only 455 movements were produced by the time of his death in 1966. Unlike GMTs showing two zones, his world timers revealed the time in 24, nearly every one on the planet. I say “nearly” because some regions have time zones varying by a half- or quarter-hour.

Although not a simple device to construct, the genius of Cottier’s design was as much evident in the display as in the technology. Users of basic GMTs know that any watch with an hour and minute hand can show a different time zone if it is fitted with a rotating bezel that can align two different times, e.g. an hour hand pointing 10 o’clock in New York could also point to a number 3 on a rotating outer ring to show the time in London. Cottier wanted more.

Fitting an additional, 24-hour hand is a more demanding solution, as are 24-hour sub-dials and city names on moving concentric rings. Of late, miniature rotating globes provide truly three-dimensional impressions of the world’s rotation to augment the printed names with fascinating visuals.

Cottier inaugurated the use of the names of key cities in a moving chapter ring surrounding the dial, while Tissot’s Navigator of 1953 positioned the names radially from the centre. The move to more literal displays has enabled us to assemble the dozen watches seen here. They range from tiny rotating globes to stylised maps, varying in the degree of functionality relative to the basic act of showing all time zones at once.

For some, these representations of the earth are simply aesthetic, merely to accent the city ring. Colourful cloisonné maps, reminiscent of the exquisite Patek Philippe models of the late-1940s and through the 1950s, often show just the hemisphere of the owner’s home location, for example just the Americas, or the view from the North Pole. Those Pateks are now million-dollar-plus auction house favourites, while current map-endowed world-timers sell for a fraction of that.

Undoubtedly, the most in-your-face world-timers are those from Magellan and Think The Earth (the starting image and the image after this text block). These use a hemispherical section of the globe as their literal form, eschewing conventional planar dials which surely only satisfy those who feel that Columbus, Vespucci et al were wrong: the Flat Earth Society.

Magellan Watch had its debut in 2000 with a mechanical timepiece inspired by a ship’s compass. The Magellan 1521 Earth features a semi-spherical dial decorated like Planet Earth to evoke Magellan’s round-the-world voyage, with the necessary curved hands and sapphire dome. Its four hands include an independent 24-hour-hand charting the sun’s position, from a central pivot corresponding to the North Pole. The company now uses this same dome construction in models without world-timer functions, including one with the moon’s surface and others with assorted patterns, as if to out-Bubble Corum.

In a more complex vein are the sublime limited editions from Think The Earth made for them by Seiko Instruments, Inc. Think The Earth is a Tokyo-based “idea generation engine that offers the means to contribute to society through business”. With an approach reminiscent of the holistic, “blue-sky” philosophy of The Whole Earth Catalogue of the 1960s and 1970s, Think The Earth offered the WN-1 and WN-2, differing in materials, to provide a fresh take on timekeeping.

Here the globe represented either the Southern or Northern Hemisphere, rotating in real time exactly as does the Earth. Thanks to its clever modular design, it could act as a world timer wristwatch or a desk clock: each WN-1 and WN-2 was supplied with accessories including two interchangeable bezels, one showing day/night. With the watches now enjoying collector’s status, perhaps it’s time for Think the Earth to make a WN-3… but without limited production? I’d buy one in a second.

Lastly, one cannot talk about “literal” world timers without recalling the Ulysse Nardin Tellurium Johannes Kepler. This masterpiece by Ludwig Oechslin is part of his astronomical trilogy, a perpetual calendar with “rotating earth” as seen from above the North Pole.

His innovation included a flexible spring that bends to show (mechanically!) which segment of the Earth is lit by the Sun, to indicate the time and place of sunrise and sunset. Additionally, the moon rotates around the Earth, while a dragon-shaped hand indicates solar and lunar eclipses.

While many apps exist to do the same as a world-timer, one likes to think that apps lack the appeal of that rapidly disappearing navigator’s tool and learning device: an actual globe. Miniaturising globes to fit one’s wrist and to rotate? Now that’s a revolution, literally and figuratively.

Ulysse Nardin Tellurium Johannes Kepler (christies.com)

Ball Trainmaster World Time

Ball Watch uses the term “Official Standard” below its logo with full entitlement: the company was a pivotal player in establishing the need for universally accepted global time zones. Ball’s multiple-time zone watches thus possess a level of credibility in the world-timer genre equivalent to IWC’s among pilot watches.

Webb C. Ball was the first watchmaker to use time signals, after Standard Time was adopted in the USA in 1883. In 1891, as Chief Inspector for the US lines, he created an inspection system to serve 75 per cent of the railroads in the USA, Mexico and Canada. A massive train crash earlier that year due to a conductor’s watch being four minutes out had established the need for accurate timekeeping. Ball’s watches became the standard.

Ball’s Trainmaster World Time uses the most pure representation of the globe imaginable: the grid formed of the lines of latitude and longitude. It dresses the dial of a 41mm stainless-steel cased watch, water-resistant to 50m, powered by the Ball RR1501-C automatic calibre with COSC chronometer certification.

In addition to hours, minutes, sweep seconds, day and date, it features the classic World Time display with cities representing the 24 zones arranged around the dial. This being a Ball watch, the Trainmaster World Time employs 15 “micro gas tubes” on the hour, minute and second hands and dial indices for night reading capability.

Ball Trainmaster World Time

Breguet Classique Hora Mundi Ref. 5717

Abraham-Louis Breguet invented more complications than anyone else, but world-timers were not one of his interests: time zones per se had yet to be established or required. The brand bearing his name, however, is ideally placed to provide one, especially as its clientele includes precisely those who were once called jet-setters.

Hora Mundi bears all the design pointers and functions de rigueur for watches in the genre, yet it could come only from Breguet: guilloché details, Breguet-style hands, secret signature. And there, smack in the middle of the dial, sits a gorgeous map.

Offered in rose gold or platinum, the 43mm diameter Hora Mundi contains a self-winding Calibre 77F0 movement with 55-hour power reserve, visible through the caseback. The dial shows an instant-jump time-zone display, synchronised date and day/night indication. Its cities ring is hidden, each name shown through an aperture at 6 o’clock, while the date appears at 12 o’clock. In the lower right hand quadrant is a moonphase display with a charming engraving of a cloud blowing a gust of wind across it.

Modernity is addressed with a balance spring, lever and escape wheel in silicon. To personalise the dial, the chosen map can be either the American continents, Europe-Africa or Asia-Oceania. The engraved gold land masses are undertaken by hand while a rose engine creates the “wave” motif coated with translucent lacquer.

Breguet Classique Hora Mundi Ref. 5717

Cartier Tortue XXL Multiple Time Zone Ref. W1580050

Not interested in a round-cased world-timer, despite the shape’s obvious relationship to a globe? Cartier has used its “tortue” – or “turtle-shaped” – case designed in 1912 to provide an alternative to the circular default. “XXL” refers to a case, offered in pink or white gold, that measures an impressive 51mm long, 45.6mm wide and 17.2mm thick, so this rubs shoulders with Panerais and IWC Portuguiesers.

This design may bear the obligatory map, but Cartier opted for minimalism to enhance legibility. The 9914 MC automatic movement, with 48-hour power reserve, drives a lateral disc with the hours marked for the zones, blued-steel Breguet-style hour-and-minute hands and a 24-hour day/night hand reading the lateral disc for home-time, with automatic adjustment for summer and winter time.

Unusually, the lateral disc doesn’t carry city names on the dial-side, only the times. It is the most recessed part of the multi-level dial; its world map has the seas cut out of the lower half, to use the 24-hour disc’s blue segment to represent the oceans. The ultra-cool feature is an aperture on the side of the case, at 9 o’clock: a small window shows the city names.

Oh, is this a looker! Faceted crown set with a faceted sapphire, silvered open-work grid with sunray effect, black alligator strap – it’s not just the case shape that makes this stand out in the world-timer crowd.

Frederique Constant Manufacture World Timer

Any assumption that world-timers – let alone those with manufacture movements – need to cost the earth is shattered by Frederique Constant. The company unhesitatingly tells you that the World Timer ref. FC-718NWM4H6 is “fully conceived, developed, produced, assembled, adjusted and encased in our workshops in Plan-les-Ouates, Switzerland”. With the Manufacture World Timer, the company has a model that looks like Girard-Perregaux world-timers costing many times more.

It’s that dark blue dial with white lettering and indices which makes the FC so expensive-looking, though there is a less-distinctive white alternative, versions with rose-gold-plated cases and – for those who prefer the anodyne – the choice of no world map. Which would be a pity, because in grey against the blue, the sculpted world map looks sensational.

This is pure Cottier, with the city names encircling the dial and an inner chapter ring in black-and-white to show the second time zone, as well as night-and-day. The calendar is handled by a subdial at 6 o’clock, with a guilloché pattern in the centre. Inside is the FC-718 26 jewel automatic movement operating at 28,000 beats per hour and featuring a 42-hour power reserve. With a 42mm stainless-steel case, convex sapphire crystal and a crown with two “O”-rings, this dressy traveller is also secure against moisture to 5 ATM.

Impressive looks, manufacture movement and a sane price? It’s as good as flying First Class – with air miles.

Frederique Constant Manufacture World Timer

Girard-Perregaux World Wide Time Control John Harrison

Girard-Perregaux has produced the ww.tc for some years, and we’re big fans of it, for it is one of the very best world-timers on the market. This 41mm, white-gold timepiece uses the classic Cottier format, with the cities in a white outer ring, the 24-hour ring shows night and day indication, two crowns control the lot, and the automatic movement has a 46-hour power reserve. So far, so normal.

What lifts this above the norm is the dedication to John Harrison – again, a rare acknowledgement of an explorer, though that was incidental to his primary function as the watchmaker in search of longitude. The clever souls at Girard-Perregaux used delicious details to complement the straightforward honorific engraved on rotor and caseback: “1761-1762 John Harrison’s H4 First Trial” and “Tribute to John Harrison”.

For this edition, a dial-filling map has been added. Hand-painted, using cloisonné, it shows the Atlantic Ocean, the Americas, Europe and Africa. It is so delightfully executed that you might think it’s enough. But no: close examination reveals, in white dashes, the route of Harrison’s voyage from Portsmouth, England, to Port Royal, Jamaica, to test the H-4. More subtle still, to remind us of the Harrison homage, the usual “London” and “New York” designations on the cities ring scale are replaced with “Portsmouth” and “Port Royal” in royal blue. This is divine.

Girard-Perregaux World Wide Time Control John Harrison

Greubel Forsey GMT

Robert Greubel and Stephen Forsey, the tourbillon kings, never do anything conventionally, and their GMT is so far removed from the simple purity of Rolex’s ur-GMT-Master of 1953 that only the name connects the two within the genre. Yes, this ultra-complex piece, like the Girard-Perregaux in this group, shows only two time zones at once, but it takes the “literal representation” to its pinnacle.

Dominating the lower left segment – it bulges outside the case – is an utterly and staggeringly beautiful, jewel-like mini-globe that rotates anti-clockwise, as does this planet, within a 24-hour ring to show you the time wherever you may be on the planet. Main time is displayed on the larger dial at 2 o’clock, to the left of which is a second 12-hour dial, with a small seconds dial just above the crown, a 72-hour power-reserve indicator (thanks to two barrels) below it and the 24-second tourbillon with 25° inclination at 6 o’clock. The effect is almost that of an orrery.

As is the norm for Greubel Forsey, the GMT, in a 43.5mm-wide, 950 platinum case, features assorted decorative techniques, including frosting, hand-bevelling, hand-polishing, lapping, straight graining and flat black polished finishes to create the ever-fascinating look. The domed crystal, caseback and lateral window are made from sapphire crystal, all the better to let you gaze upon its technical brilliance.

Greubel Forsey GMT

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Unique Travel Time ref. 606352J

With jumping hours long overdue for a comeback to match the now-coveted dead-beat seconds, this detail adds another talking point to the Jaeger-LeCoultre 42mm white gold Duomètre Unique Travel Time, a watch so rich with features that the complication is almost lost in the list of functions. This beauty from the company that gave us the Géographique is another design that manages to combine a surfeit of information with disarming legibility, the main, or reference time proudly and clearly nestling at 2 o’clock.

To the left of the main dial is the second time zone shown by a digital jumping hour in a small window, at the top of a dial of the same diameter as the main time’s, using a conventional hand to show the minutes. Technically, then, this is a GMT rather than a world-timer. The company’s Dual Wing technology, consisting of two separate watch mechanisms connected by shared regulation, ensures rapid and accurate time setting when changing zones – to the nearest minute. Each has its own power reserve indicator charting 50 hours, necessary in a manual-wind watch.

What gives it the whiff of world-timer status is the colourful globe at 6 o’clock, which shows the 24 time zones with day/night indication. A sapphire back reveals the movement, but you never need to turn it over: the front offers captivation a’plenty.

Jaeger-LeCoultre Duomètre Unique Travel Time ref. 606352J

Laurent Ferrier Galet Traveller Globe “Night Blue”

We at Revolution do not hide our admiration for Laurent Ferrier, one of the classiest of auteur watch brands because of its tastefulness and technical excellence. The Galet Traveller Globe – Night Blue is a model of clarity that uses the full dial for local time, with a window at 3 o’clock for the date and another at 9 o’clock for the home time with 24-hour indication. Indeed, in its basic form you’d be hard-pressed to know at a glance that it’s a proper GMT.

What thrust it into this roundup is its magnificent champlevé map of the world. Where it differs from others is the astonishing execution, eschewing mere primary colours. The map shows the five continents in white gold, surrounded by blue enamel, the oceans hollowed out from the material before the enamel is applied. To reinforce a 3D effect, the artisans depict the view of the world with the cities as seen by night, using gold leaf-adorned dots that enhance the contrast with the land and the oceans.

Two push buttons on the left-hand side of the case move the local time shown by the central hand either forwards or backward. The date changes automatically at midnight. Power comes from the self-winding manufacture calibre LF230.01 with micro-rotor, and chronometer-certification from the Besançon observatory, adapted to deal with dual-time capability. Simply stunning.

Laurent Ferrier Galet Traveller Globe “Night Blue”

Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Worldtimer

Another watch that won’t break the bank, Maurice Lacroix’s 42mm Masterpiece Worldtimer also adheres to the Cottier methodology. This four-hander enjoys a dial with an eye-catching map, offered with a choice of Asia or Europe. This is encircled by a 24-hour chapter ring and an outer ring with city names.

For Europe, the map features guilloché with a Clous de Paris motif, highlighted in blue to match the hands and hour-markers. The Asian edition is fitted with a silvered dial, sun-brushed satin-finished continents, opaline oceans, pink gold numerals and hands and blue seconds hand.

Powered by the ML164 automatic mechanical movement, the Masterpiece Worldtimer features day/night (or AM/PM, if you prefer) mini-dial indication at 9 o’clock, with the date shown at 6 o’clock. The 24-hour outer ring also reinforces the day/night indication with light and dark sections, so only a complete (or inebriated) putz would call home at 3am from Kamchatka or Kathmandu.

Ease of use is assured by using the 24-hour hand for home time, while pressing the push-button enables the user to adjust the 12-hour hand to show the time in the current location. Power reserve is a useful 40 hours, and the watch is available with either a black or brown crocodile-leather strap, lined with black calfskin and black over-stitching, or a five-row metal bracelet with both polished and brushed surfaces.

Maurice Lacroix Masterpiece Worldtimer

Montblanc Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique GeosphÈres Vasco da Gama Limited Edition

One would have anticipated more world-timers dedicated to explorers, eh? Alongside Magellan honouring its eponymous muse, Montblanc’s red gold Collection Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique Geosphères Vasco da Gama (what a mouthful…) offers homage too with a staggering timepiece limited to 18 examples. And for those of you attracted by 3D globes, this gives you two. And a tourbillon, just in case the globes weren’t dazzling enough. Oh, and it’s 47mm in diameter. This is one that will certainly get you noticed.

Inside is the Montblanc Manufacture Calibre MB M68.40 with one-minute tourbillon. Below it is the central hour and minute hands used to display local time. Below them, and reminiscent of the circular arrays on the company’s Nicolas Rieussec chronographs, are the double world-time indicators. Montblanc explains that the representation of the Northern and Southern hemispheres make reference to da Gama’s journey to India, when he crossed from one to the other.

On the two globes are engraved and hand-painted seas and continents, with day/night indications, while separate 24 time zones revolve simultaneously around the two fixed globes. Two sapphire crystal spheres protect the globes, adding to the watch’s physical presence. Despite the complexity, local time, home time and world time are all set together via the crown, and local time can be adjusted with a pusher at 8 o’clock.

Montblanc Villeret Tourbillon Cylindrique GeosphÈres Vasco da Gama Limited Edition

Patek Philippe Ref. 5131R

Aah, the daddy! With the company’s early links to Cottier, and a history of producing dials bearing cloisonné maps dating back to the 1940s, Patek Philippe is the go-to maison for traditional world-timers. The company even patented Cottier’s design in 1959. But if the £1m-plus (on up to several million for a super-rare platinum version) as now commanded by vintage examples is out of your reach, the current 39.5mm ref. 5131R-001 in rose gold may better suit your needs.

This is textbook Cottier: the cloisonné world map is shown with Asia and the Americas, the map is surrounded by the 24-hour ring with night/day colour indication, and the outer ring contains the city names. Inside is the self-winding Calibre 240 HU movement with a “minimum” 48-hour power reserve. A pusher at 10 o’clock moves the hour hand in a counter-clockwise direction in one-hour increments without upsetting the minutes – the modus operandi of all world-timers and GMTs post-Cottier, elaborated by the rotating 24-hour time-zone ring.

One cannot over-emphasise the status of Patek Philippe’s world-timer for its role in defining the genre. Little touches like moon and sun symbols on the 24-hour ring, the mildly eccentric choice of cities to designate each time zone, the Art Deco hour hand – this timepiece is as completely a “classic” as ever the term has been applied to, or deserved by a watch.

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time

If any house can challenge Patek Philippe’s pioneer status vis-a-vis Cottier watches, it’s Vacheron Constantin. Which house – Patek, Vacheron, Agassiz or Rolex – lays claim to the first is moot. Suffice it to say, Vacheron was among the earliest to recognise the brilliance of Cottier’s work.

With the Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time, Vacheron Constantin offers a by-the-book Cottier world-timer, but with a host of modern touches. Not least is its ability to show all of the world’s time zones, including those varying by a half- or quarter-hour. For example, it shows the correct time for Caracas, after Venezuela chose to switch from a full time zone to a half-time zone (GMT-4:30) in 2007.

Vacheron produces the 42.5mm Traditionnelle World Time in either white or pink gold, with a gold map showing the world from the North Pole in the centre of the dial. Inside is the in-house Calibre 2460 WT with 40-hour power reserve, a patented self-winding movement “distinguished by its capacity to indicate 37 world’s time zones”. All operations are undertaken by a single crown.

Vacheron Constantin’s first Cottier timepieces appeared in 1932. It showed the time in 31 cities. It was followed by table clocks, a model with a 41-city dial and a day-night division of the mobile 24-hour disc. The word “Traditionelle” in this model’s name, then,  is well and truly justified.

Vacheron Constantin Patrimony Traditionnelle World Time