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.