The Complete History of Patek Philippe’s Glorious World Timers

I suppose there is a certain irony that I decided to write this sprawling 11,000-word story encompassing every World Time watch Patek Philippe has ever made, precisely when my country Singapore entered its second lockdown, bringing my plans for spending June in Europe to a crashing halt. I know I’m not alone in my burning desire to rediscover the world and all the cities in it that I love or to remake my bonds with the people in them that I miss so much. It’s funny but the moment that our new COVID measures came into effect, I found myself retrieving my Patek Philippe reference 5131 cloisonné enamel World Time watch. As if, somehow, by losing myself in the beautifully rendered map of the Americas, Africa and Europe, I could remember how interconnected this world once was and hopefully will be again. So, I began to see my World Timer as a chalice of renewed hope to once more live the glorious opiatic maelstrom of transcontinental travel, even if for the time being this is limited only to my imagination as I write these words.

Wei Koh’s Patek Philippe reference 5131 cloisonné enamel World Time watch (©Revolution)
Wei Koh’s Patek Philippe reference 5131 cloisonné enamel World Time watch (©Revolution)
For Wei, this World Timer watch has been a chalice of renewed hope to once more live the glorious opiatic maelstrom of transcontinental travel. (©Revolution)
The ref. 5131 has no real indexes beyond small applied gold dots at the cardinal points, so it alludes to the time with an old-world, gentlemanly elegance. (©Revolution)
The ref. 5131 has no real indexes beyond small applied gold dots at the cardinal points, so it alludes to the time with an old-world, gentlemanly elegance. (©Revolution)

A Longing for Travel

As I cast my eyes around the famous city disk that frames the 24-hour ring and enamel dial, a Proustian flood of memories came rushing back to me that was associated with these beautiful names: Paris, New York, Tokyo. I could almost smell the signature charcoal aburi otoro at Sawada Sushi in Ginza, or taste the boeuf bourguignon at Chez Fernand on Rue Christine. With them came a renewed surge of desire to once again venture to these extraordinary capitals, to feel each evening unfold with the promise of limitless adventures. And it dawned on me that my World Time reference 5131 is not just a watch in the time-telling sense, but since it has no real indexes beyond small applied gold dots at the cardinal points, it also alludes to the time with an old-world, gentlemanly elegance.

Wei Koh with Eleonor Picciotto, founder and editor of The Eye of Jewelry, at The Gritti Place in Venice.
Wei Koh with Eleonor Picciotto, founder and editor of The Eye of Jewelry, at The Gritti Place in Venice.

I feel that this is, and always has been, the spirit of the Patek Philippe World Timer. It has never been a watch that displays too much information, that shows daylight saving time or even zones with 30-minute discrepancies, a notable exception being the 1937 ref. 542 HU, which has a bezel that displays Honolulu with a red triangle as a half time zone, between Alaska and Samoa zones. Rather, it is a work of art; a majestic symbol of a world united by 24 time zones that transcends language, race, religion, and reminds us all that we live together on one planet. It is a watch that should be given to world leaders on the occasion of monumental peace accords or in moments of historic reunification. Mikhail Gorbachev deserves one for letting the Berlin Wall fall. F.W. de Klerk deserves one for freeing Nelson Mandela and effectively ending apartheid in South Africa. And Nelson Mandela deserves one for the 27 years he spent in captivity, and for forging a modern multicultural democracy.

Over its 85 years, the Patek Philippe World Time in both pocket watch format with the glorious reference 605 HU and across all 17 wristwatch iterations has been a resplendent playground for Patek’s signature artistry in case, dial and hand design. To me, this signals that from the very beginning, a Patek Philippe World Timer has approached travel from a stately and elegant manner, evoking bucolic equanimity. Even today, it is not a watch for anyone in a rush. For that purpose, for breakneck-speed business trips or non-stop transglobal kinetics, there are other watches that have more precise indicators and that accommodate factors like daylight saving time. No, a Patek Philippe World Time is a Grande Dame. She is a watch that epitomizes graceful repose; a watch you would have genuflected upon whilst smoking a soothing Hoyo de Monterrey on the upper deck of a cruise ship as you made the four-day journey from America to Europe in the 1930s. She is a watch to wear over your shirt sleeve as a totem of inimitable style onboard your private jet as was Gianni Agnelli’s practice with his Patek Philippe reference 1415. To me, my Patek Philippe World Time is best described by the refrain in Charles Baudelaire’s poem Invitation to Voyage, “Là, tout n’est qu’ordre et beauté, / Luxe, calme et volupté!” which can be translated as, “There — nothing but order and beauty dwell, / Abundance, calm, and sensuous delight.” Finally, this complication also represents a wonderful collaboration between the world’s most revered haute horlogerie maison and a watchmaker named Louis Cottier, who would become one of the 20th century’s most significant horological figures.

A Patek Philippe World Timer is a watch to wear over your shirt sleeve as a totem of inimitable style onboard your private jet as was Gianni Agnelli’s practice with his Patek Philippe reference 1415
A Patek Philippe World Timer is a watch to wear over your shirt sleeve as a totem of inimitable style onboard your private jet as was Gianni Agnelli’s practice with his Patek Philippe reference 1415

Before I get into the story proper, though, I want to thank the Patek Philippe team in Singapore, in particular its general manager, Deepa Chatrath, as it was their wonderful event, Le Voyage, celebrating the history of the World Time that was the inspiration for this article. And I also want to thank my buddy, Anh-Minh Nguyen with the Singapore Patek team, who was very generous with his time and knowledge for my research.

The World Divided into 24 Zones

It was the obscure Italian mathematician Quirico Filopanti who in his book, Miranda, published in 1858, first proposed 24 zones with prime meridian situated in Rome. Sadly, he was destined to remain shrouded in obscurity as very few people took notice of what turned out to be a profoundly pragmatic suggestion. Why? Because up until then, there was no such thing as standard time. It was up to every country, even every town in the world, to determine their own local time. Because most places wanted to maximize the daylight hours needed for farming and agriculture, the common practice was to define noon as the time when the sun was directly overhead. Which was to prove incredibly imprecise and which led to mass confusion, especially once vast stretches of land became interconnected through the railroad. It fell to Scottish-born Canadian railway engineer and inventor Sir Sandford Fleming to propose global standard time with the world divided into 24 zones. However, this was far from his only accomplishment. Fleming, a true Renaissance man, had already designed Canada’s first postage stamp and engineered the majority of the Canadian Pacific Railway and the Intercolonial Railway when he ran afoul of the challenges related to the lack of standard time. In 1879, after missing a train in Ireland because of the lack of a universal coordinated time, Fleming took it upon himself to evangelize for the formation of one standard time to rule them all.

He proposed this during a meeting at the Royal Canadian Institute and recommended for it to be used by all countries in the world. That’s right. He proposed a single universal 24-hour clock for the world. Amusingly, he proposed that England, specifically Greenwich, be the anti-meridian at 180 degrees. As this meridian is also the international date line, it would mean people could walk a few steps from one date to the next. By 1883, the heads of all the American railroads had agreed to use a common time. By the early 1900s, standard time would largely be adopted but now with the prime meridian running through the Royal Observatory in Greenwich, England. The world was then divided into 24 time zones, positioned every 15 degrees of longitude, each one hour’s difference from the next. If you’re curious, the 180th or anti-meridian now passes primarily through the Pacific Ocean, though it does bisect Russia, Fiji and Antarctica. By 1918, standard time was voted into law by the United States government, meaning even if you wanted to create your own polygamous enclave promoting obscure religious practices with your own time zone, you couldn’t. Well, OK, you could but you would still have to follow standardized time even during Rumspringa.

Throughout the early 20th century, leisure travel was the exclusive domain for the very wealthy — the elite. First class travelers on board ocean liners that took two weeks to cross the Atlantic expected rooms, service and food the equivalent of the very best five-star hotels. And they got it. The Hamburg American Line hired Charles Mewès, the designer of Paris’ mythical Ritz Hotel, and their line of ships so faithfully mimicked the uber luxury destination that they were nicknamed the “Ritzonias.” Columns and chandeliers were by Lalique, china by the Manufacture de Sèvres, and silverware by Christofle. Accordingly, women wore gowns, and men wore white-tie to dinner, all of which was packed in an armada of Louis Vuitton and Goyard trunks tended to by an army of servants.

His Father’s Son – Louis Cottier

The first Cottier to propose a World Time watch was not Louis but his father, Emmanuel, a noted specialist in watches and automatons based in Carouge, Geneva, which, incidentally, is the location of one of my favorite fondue restaurants, Au Vieux Carouge. In 1885, Emmanuel presented his “heures universelles” concept to the Société des Arts in Geneva and subsequently filed for a patent for his design. Unfortunately, his idea was received with very little interest, to say the least. As such, he went on to pursue other ventures without having built a working world timer It was, eventually, Louis his son who took Emmanuel’s concept and developed a working mechanism completely from scratch. Perhaps it was because he was born the same year his father made his presentation that Louis Cottier felt so deeply connected to the World Time complication. In 1931, at the age of 46, Cottier developed the fabled mechanism and filed a patent for it. The patented mechanism consisted of an inner dial with hands and 12 hour markers, a 24-hour ring and a second ring with cities printed on it. The way it worked was straightforward and highly intuitive. The 24-hour ring was synchronized to the central hour and minute hands. While the main hands turned clockwise, the 24-hour ring turned counterclockwise. Each of the 24 hours would align with the cities representing their respective time zones.

But the true genius of Cottier’s complication was that each time you traveled to a new city, you set your watch to local time ensuring that the 24-hour ring corresponded correctly to AM or PM hours. And then presto. You would be able to read the time in all 24 zones on the planet. To aid in clarity, Cottier would demarcate the day and night hours in different colored parts of the 24-hour ring and transform 12 noon into a sun icon and 12 midnight into a moon icon. Now, one could simply turn the bezel of the watch, which was either connected to the city ring as in the reference 605 HU or actually had the cities engraved on it as with the reference 1415, so that the city or zone one was in would be positioned at 12 o’clock. And just like that, the time in all the other cities in the remaining 23 zones would be correctly displayed.

A Note on Daylight Saving Time (DST)

What is daylight saving time? This is the practice of advancing the clock by one hour during spring and back one hour in fall to maximize daylight hours. As a result, there is a 23-hour day in warmer months, and a 25-hour day in cooler months. For 2021, daylight saving time is on March 14th and November 7th. Though it was initially proposed by Benjamin Franklin in 1784 for the very pragmatic intent of economizing on candles, the practice began in earnest in Germany in 1916 and spread through the rest of the world by 1966. Note that because of its intention to be a gentlemen’s watch, a Patek Philippe World Timer does not display DST. Which is not to say it could not, as there is a relatively easy solution in any World Time watch to compensate for DST. You just add an indication one hour to the left of any city that experiences it. Which means during daylight saving time, Paris would actually be in the zone for London. Unfortunately, you can’t simply turn the city ring one place to the left because there are other cities such as Hong Kong which are unaffected by daylight saving time. Including DST would mean a very cluttered city ring which to both Patek and Cottier was something that would mar the aesthetic perfection of their design. Personally, I would suggest all cities practicing it to abandon the uncouth banality of daylight saving time so as to align more perfectly with my Patek Philippe. I mean, we need to have priorities here.

The Travel Watches of Patek Philippe Through the 20th Century

1937: Ref. 605 HU

What motivated Patek Philippe to create their first World Timers? Well, let’s look at this in the context of Patek Philippe’s history. The maison was acquired by the Stern Family and run by brothers Charles and Jean Stern in 1932. This marked the start point of Patek Philippe’s truly glorious era which stretches across the 20th century to this day. And it cannot be overstated how brilliantly creative Charles and Jean Stern were. Just nine years into their stewardship and in the throes of the Second World War, they launched two of the most important timepieces ever made — the 1518, the world’s first perpetual calendar chronograph, and the 1526, the world’s first perpetual calendar — and single-handedly introduced us to the era of complicated wristwatches. In 1935, Charles’ son, Henri Stern, brought Patek Philippe to the United States. Henri was a global gadabout like no other, fearlessly venturing to South America and other far-flung destinations to spread the gospel of Patek Philippe, now under the leadership of his father and uncle. What was clear was that the Sterns discussed the type of wristwatches the modern gentleman and, in particular, the American would like to wear. Their answer was clearly, “a watch made for the traveling man, a man of elegance who circumnavigates the earth in style.” Around this time, Louis Cottier had approached all of the major names in Geneva with his invention. The very first piece that he delivered was one made for Baszanger, which had a dial made by the Sterns. Serendipity would have Louis Cottier and the Sterns set out on one of the most magical and mutually beneficent collaborations that would bear fruit in the legendary World Time and Travel Time complications.

Interestingly, because it was a pocket watch, people often presume that the reference 605 HU preceded Patek Philippe’s other forays into World Time wristwatches. And it did for the first serially produced World Time wristwatch, the reference 1415. However, as the ref. 605’s production run stretched across three decades, it was definitely also made concurrently with the 1415, and as its production began in 1937, it was actually created the same year that Patek created its prototypical wristwatches, the reference 96 HU, the reference 542 HU and the reference 515HU. This means that Patek was developing a World Time pocket watch and wristwatch at the same time. Which begs the question: who chose the larger 44mm pocket watch over the smaller, more fashionable wristwatch? Well, again, as these watches were crafted as works of art with many bearing resplendent cloisonné enamel dials, and because in the bigger size the World Time complication was much easier to read, you could say quite a lot of people chose the pocket watch option. Around 90 pieces were eventually delivered, which was almost as many pieces as the 1415 and almost twice as many as the 2523.

The reference 605 is a glorious object. As mentioned above, it measures 44mm in diameter (the 605HU on the other hand measured 44.5mm in diameter). It features a center dial bearing the hour and minute hands and is surrounded by Cottier’s 24-hour ring and then the disk with the names of cities representing earth’s 24 time zones. One clever detail is that the bezel of the watch is decorated with an elegant fluting which also provides grip to manually align the correct local city so that it is at 12 o’clock. Now, by adjusting the watch to the correct time on the central hands, the 24-hour disk will display the correct time in all 24 zones. Early versions of the watch have a hand engraved sun and moon to represent 12 noon and 12 midnight, which is a charming touch. There is even a pre-series 605 at the Patek Philippe Museum (inv. P-1117), which had a center second, subsequent 605s only displayed hour and minutes. There are even ultra rare versions of the Patek Philippe 605 HU with center seconds displays.

Patek Philippe ref. 605 HU with a cloisonné enamel dial depicting a mythical Dragon (Image: Phillips)
Patek Philippe ref. 605 HU with a cloisonné enamel dial depicting a mythical Dragon (Image: Phillips)
A rare yellow gold world time ref. 605 HU with cloisonné enamel dial depicting North America(Image: Phillips)

You could say that the early Patek Philippe World Timers including the reference 605 HU were a demonstration of the successful collaborative effort between Patek Philippe and Louis Cottier. Watches would arrive unassembled and he would carefully fit his World Time module to the movement and then case the watch, which would often include a magnificent cloisonné enamel masterpiece as its center dial created by Stern Frères. Famously, Cottier would cut the hands for these watches himself; he was therefore responsible for the famous circular hour hand that was a popular option across these early World Timers and that was brought back by Patek Philippe with the reference 5130 in 2006. Much is sometimes made over the fact that Cottier’s World Time complication also appeared in watches for other maisons, but I overwhelmingly associate it with Patek Philippe.

1937 onwards, for a total of 20 years, Cottier created around 90 605 HU World Time pocket watch movements. The reference 605 HU consistently sells for staggering prices, which include CHF 965,000 paid for the “Star Dragon” at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: TWO in November 2015 and CHF 1.16 million for a reference 605 with a rare cloisonné enamel map featuring Africa, Europe and Asia, which sold at Phillips’ Geneva Watch Auction: XI in June 2020. The reference 605 was the first Patek Philippe to begin the tradition of cloisonné enamel dials, often bearing maps, that continues to this day. These watches are invariably valued higher than the World Timers with “regular” dials simply because of the extraordinary craftsmanship they represent. They were made using tiny thin gold wires which traced a pattern or shape such as the earth’s continents. These were then filled with enamel that was fired layer by layer and color by color. At each moment, the dials could discolor or even crack, meaning that they would have to be discarded. But once they were finished, they expressed a vibrancy of color that would endure for centuries and beyond.

1937: Refs. 96 HU, 515 HU and 542 HU

When those magical five syllables “Pa-Tek-World-Tim-er” are uttered, the two references that are conjured up are invariably the mythical reference 1415 with its stunning teardrop shaped lugs and rotating bezel with 28 cities engraved on it or the magnificent reference 2523 with its ravishing faceted lugs and two crown setup, with the one on the left, of course, activating the inner rotating disk bearing the names of the cities upon it. But, in fact, Patek Philippe made three experimental references in 1937. To me, these were part of Patek’s process of defining and refining their design for their World Timers. One of the more interesting of these early watches, and I would even go so far as to call them prototypes, was a World Time version of their famous reference 96 Calatrava. The reference 96 was one of the first truly successful round wristwatches for Patek Philippe and, in the context of the 1930s, was its icon. So, it made sense when they decided to create two early prototypes to incorporate Louis Cottier’s wonderful World Time complication into the Calatrava’s beautiful, smooth, pebble-like case. One of these watches was owned by the legendary Jean-Claude Biver and auctioned by Phillips in Geneva Watch Auction: XI.

The two known versions of the World Time Calatrava, both in yellow gold, are shown here. The former watch is currently believed to be in the Patek Philippe Museum, while the latter was the watch from Jean-Claude Biver’s collection auctioned by Phillips in 2020.

It should be noted that as reference 96 HU did not feature the Patek Philippe signature on its dial. Patek Philippe is in possession of one example of the 96 HU and confirms that the watch was not created, as some might have speculated, a “Frankenwatch.” Amusingly, the 96 HU that is in the Patek Philippe Museum has the city ring imprecisely positioned between Buenos Aires and Rio de Janeiro, as if the watchmaker switching the ring had made a mistake but then the owner decided to just leave it. What we can tell from this stunning shaped watch is that Patek’s intention was to make an object of sublime beauty rather than a technical instrument. With the third reference, they would integrate a higher level of function by using a rotating bezel with the names of the cities engraved on it.

Reference 515 HU features a surprising and super elegant rose gold shaped rectangular case. As far as I know, only one example has ever surfaced in the secondary market and it was auctioned by Antiquorum in April 1994, fetching a price of CHF 550,000. The auction notes state that the watch was made for an American client but the reference city is London/Paris, which shared the same zone in the context of 1937. Interestingly, Paris and London shared the same time zone before the Second World War. Paris was commanded to switch to Central European Time in 1940 while under German Occupation, but the prevailing belief was that they would switch back to Greenwich Mean Time when the Allies won the war. So, Patek kept the two cities in the same zone in a beautiful act of faith that good would eventually triumph over evil. The irony was that following the Second World War, Paris remained at Central European Time, meaning that many World Time watches displayed their time incorrectly.

The 1937 Patek Philippe 542 HU is an incredibly important watch in that it forged the genetic blueprint for the first serially produced Patek Philippe World Timer wristwatch, the stunning reference 1415. The 542 HU is absolutely stunning to look at with a small 27mm case, Cottier’s hour hand with a bisected circle design and its incredible long lugs. Cased in yellow gold, it is also special in that it is the very first Patek Philippe World Time wristwatch where noon and midnight are shown using a sun and a moon in the 24-hour ring. The genius of the 542 HU relates to the use of a large rotating bezel that bears the names of 31 locations for the earth’s 24 zones, meaning that you can easily switch the name of your local city. According to Sotheby’s, it was made in five examples.

1939 – c. 1952: Ref. 1415

Rather than have me tell you that the 1415 is one of the most beautiful timepieces ever created, let me instead point out that it was the watch of choice for none other than L’Avvocato himself, the man considered be the most rakish individual of the 20th century, Gianni Agnelli. Here is the famous photograph of him wearing his Patek Philippe ref. 1415 around his shirt cuff as was his custom, ensconced in the comfort of his headquarters in Turin, from which he was said to employ 3.1 percent of Italy’s industrial workforce and control 4.4 percent of the nation’s GDP in his role as the leader of Fiat. As the consummate world traveler and leading figure in the jet set — the post Second World War community of transcendently glamorous transglobal vagabonds — Agnelli understood the practicality of checking the time in all 24 zones simultaneously with a glance at his wrist.

For me, Agnelli is the consummate 1415 customer who spends one night in the smoky boîtes of Paris romancing the haut monde’s most desired demoiselles, the next in a Piedmont hunting lodge, the third driving his beloved Ferrari 166 MM from La Leopolda to his legendary home in Cap Ferrat. As fashion designer Diane Von Furstenberg once declared, “Every woman in the world was in love with him and every man in the world wanted to be him.” An aesthete of the highest dan, he considered every detail of his bella figura, from his double-breasted Caraceni suits, to his Brooks Brothers buttondown shirts always worn with the collar unbuttoned, to his hunting boots that he used to pair with tailoring to create a delicious sartorial dichotomy. And while he was seen with other timepieces such as an Omega Seamaster Ploprof, it was the 1415 that was the dress watch he appeared with the most often.

The rationale for this was simple. The Patek Philippe reference 1415 was a masterpiece of style and function. The case made for Patek by Wenger was 31mm in diameter and featured stunning teardrop shaped soldered lugs. The bezel was carried over from the reference 542 and bore the names of 30 cities (later models showed the names of 41 cities). From what we know, watches were sent unassembled to Louis Cottier who would then add the World Time module to the base caliber and assemble the watches himself, which, to me, adds to their mythical quality, like a Stradivarius violin crafted by the hands of the master himself. One thing that Cottier had a passion for was watch hand design and crafting. He loved them and designed some truly ornate and beautiful ones for the 1415. According to lore, it was Cottier who cut these hands himself. Some of the most distinct are Cottier’s circular or fleur-de-lys hour hand usually combined with a sword shaped minute hand. Indexes could be Roman, Arabic or even Breguet. Surrounding the inner dial is the 24-hour ring that is further demarcated into day and night hours and features either a small sun and moon icon or two applied gold dots for noon and midnight. Inside the watch is the Patek caliber 12-120 HU. The watch was made in around 115 pieces and various types of dials. In one instance, the watches came with either gold or silver colored dials, while the second version came with stunning cloisonné enamel dials depicting maps crafted by famous enamelers such as Nelly Richard and Marguerite Koch of Stern Frères, who were two of the most brilliant artisans of this métier.

Most of the references 1415 with cloisonné enamel dials feature the European continent with only two known examples featuring a Euro-Asian or “Eurasia” map. Note that the enamel dial watches could also feature a fleur-de-lys hour hand or other symbols such as the sun — a testament to Cottier’s creativity. One of the most famous 1415 watches is the single platinum silver dial example, which sold at an Antiquorum auction in April 2002 for CHF 6.6 million. Part of the reason for the staggering price was a heated bidding between an Asian tycoon and Philippe Stern himself, who wanted the watch for the Patek museum. This unicorn watch was owned by Italian mega dealer Davide Parmegiani from the ’90s until he decided to place it up for auction. To this day, he considers this one of his biggest results. But life is not without its bittersweet moments. This same watch was placed for auction by the tycoon’s family at the latest Christie’s Hong Kong auction in May. Though Parmegiani tried to win it, he missed out despite the watch being hammered for a mere HKD 14.6 million (approximately CHF 1.6 million), which is considerably undervalued. By all accounts, he was rather dejected by this.

If you want to read the full fantastic story on the platinum reference 1415 watch, please check it out here.

1939: Ref. 1416

One of the truly entertaining things about vintage Pateks is there are always some oddball watches that make things interesting. Accordingly, in 1939, at the same time as the 1415, Patek Philippe also launched the 1416 in three known examples — a watch which looks almost exactly like the 1415 except for its straight lugs, the only difference really being that the 1416 had an inner bezel that was slightly larger, 20.8mm vs 20.5mm.

1940: Ref. 1415-1 World Time Chronograph Pulsometer Pièce Unique

When I am asked what is the one World Timer I would want to own, it would be the 1415-1 pièce unique made for Dr. P. Schmidt, which is an incredible World Timer with pulsometer chronograph and the precursor to the reference 5930 World Time Chronograph. I have no idea who P. Schmidt is but what an amazing individual he must have been to order this pièce unique which required a complete redesign of the existing case and dial. You can see that although it is still a 1415, in particular, related to its teardrop shaped lugs, the bezel engraved with the cities is much thinner. That is so as to accommodate the pulsometer scale which is nestled in a ring between the bezel and the 24-hour ring. The movement driving this watch is, of course, the caliber 13” CH HU which is featured in Patek Philippe’s iconic reference 130 chronograph and later in the famous 1518. But note that the minute subdial has been omitted so as to keep the central dial clear and legible (and very possibly because the pinion of that counter would have conflicted with the 24-hour ring). This means that this chronograph is only useful as a pulsometer, an instrument used by doctors to rapidly measure your heart rate, in this case, within 15 beats.

Dr. P. Schmidt would have started his 1415-1 the moment he detected the first pulse on your wrist and stopped it on the 15th beat, and the chronograph hand would display your heart rate. This amazing timepiece is made even more absurdly awesome by the use of an unusual sunray motif hour hand where the center of the sun contains luminous material (radium). The minute hand and dots around the inner dial are also luminous. And if that isn’t enough, the watch also features Breguet numerals, which have graced the dials of the most elegant Pateks.

1953: Ref. 2523

Introduced in 1953, the ref. 2523 features a round 35.5mm case, a significant increase in size from the 31mm ref. 1415. Its faceted lugs create a strong sense of visual dramatics. (Image: Christie’s)

One of Louis Cottier’s most admirable qualities was his desire to improve and evolve his complications. While the initial Patek Philippe World Timers featured engraved bezels which were manually turned to any new local city, in 1953, Cottier and Patek unveiled a stunning watch featuring the all-new caliber 12-400 HU, with a second smaller crown that turned an inner rotating city disk. The watch this new complication came in was an absolute masterwork of design and featured stunning faceted lugs that were made for Patek by Gerlach. Yet, strangely, despite its unique beauty, the reference 2523 didn’t sell particularly well and, as a result, were made in very small quantities. The number of watches made is a topic of debate but the total for the 2523 and 2523/1, according to Patek Philippe, can be placed at less than 40 in yellow gold, more than 10 in rose gold and just one in white gold.

The 2523 is simply a beautiful watch. It features a round 35.5mm case, a significant increase in size from the 31mm ref. 1415. Its faceted lugs create a strong sense of visual dramatics. They are faceted across two axes, both horizontally and vertically. While the crown on the right used for winding and time setting is large, a more diminutive crown appears on the left to operate the city disk that now appears for the first time inside the case of the World Timer wristwatch. As with its predecessors the 24-hour ring framing the periphery of the inner dial is demarcated into night and day hours and is permanently synchronized to the time on the central hands. As before, the hour hands of these watches come in a rich variety of ornate motifs expressing Cottier’s creativity with design. It is not clear why the 2523 didn’t do well commercially. If I were to hazard a guess, I would say it was because the world at the time was swept up in jet age modernism. The first civilian jet flights were made available in 1952 on the de Havilland Comet which flew from London to Johannesburg. The ’50s saw a massive upheaval and dynamic shift from the old world to the new. Probably watches like the Rolex GMT-Master 6542 created at the behest of Pan Am pilots, that would be launched a year later and that allowed for the rapid selection of time in a secondary zone, were more symbolic of the age of rock and roll, Abstract Expressionism, commercial jet flights and ’50s modernism. Conversely, the 2523 seemed charmingly old-world with its enamel or guilloché dial. Probably as an actual utilitarian device, it suffered from the fact that from March to November, it did not accurately depict the time in cities with daylight saving.

This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)
This ref. 2523 with a stunning double-signed dial with blue enamel at the center was sold by Christie’s in 2019 for a staggering USD 9 million. (Image: Christie’s)

All these charmingly anachronistic elements which, today, in an era where we are constantly bombarded by information overload, are soothing to us were precisely what prevented the reference 2523 from being perceived as adequately modern enough. In the age of the jet, the 2523 still felt like a watch for that first class cruise ship passenger basking in the sun smoking his cigar or traveling by rail dressed in black-tie for dinner. It symbolized the end of an era of ultimate elegance in travel but one that we would rediscover decades later when the model was revived in 2000 as the reference 5110, at a time when travel had become far too commonplace and even somewhat uncivilized and we needed the dream the World Timer represented more than ever.

The 2523, like its predecessor, the 1415, came in cloisonné enamel dial variations, with five featuring the North American map, three featuring the South American map and another three featuring the Europe and Asia map. There were also two known examples that were made with stunning blue enamel at the center of the dial. One of these famously featured the second signature of Gobbi Milano, the Italian retailer. This watch was sold in November 2019 at an auction held by Christie’s for a staggering USD 9 million. As an amusing aside, the European gentleman that purchased the watch was in attendance at Patek Philippe’s Singapore Watch Art Grand Exhibition and was spotted wearing this legendary timepiece.

In 2021, at Phillip’s May auction in Geneva, a previously unknown 2523 “Eurasia” in yellow gold was sold for CHF 7 million. What is interesting, though, is that this has now been acknowledged to be the earliest made 2523 with a Euro-Asian map. This watch was unknown until Phillips announced its auction catalog this year. It is believed that only three of these watches exist, one of which resides in the Patek Philippe Museum.

In 2021, at Phillip’s May auction in Geneva, a previously unknown 2523 “Eurasia” in yellow gold was sold for CHF 7 million. (Image: Phillips)
In 2021, at Phillip’s May auction in Geneva, a previously unknown 2523 “Eurasia” in yellow gold was sold for CHF 7 million. (Image: Phillips)

The 2523 watches also came in an extremely beautiful guilloché version. These watches are important in that they form the aesthetic blueprint for the modern-day World Timers such as the 5110 which, when launched in 2000, featured a beautiful guilloché pattern similar to that of the 2523 which radiated out from the center of the dial. While we often understandably focus on the cloisonné enamel dials because of the romance and craft they express, we should certainly not overlook the beauty of the guilloché that was initiated in this reference and that featured beautifully in the modern World Timers — references 5110, 5130 and 5230. What is also important to understand is that the guilloché found on the dials of these models was applied using guilloché à main. This is a remarkable manually guided technique where a rose engine uses gear reduction to take a large scale pattern and trace it with infinite precision on the tiny area of a watch dial.

An 18k pink gold version of the beautiful ref. 2523 (Image: Sothebys)
Ref. 2523 with a cloisonné enamel dial depicting the North American continent (image: Christie’s)
Ref. 2523 with a cloisonné enamel dial depicting the North American continent (Image: Christie’s)
A ref. 2523 in yellow gold from 1953 (Image: Phillips)

The rarity of the 2523 has, as a result, made it one of the most desired Patek Philippe watches. In the ’90s, auctioneers like Oswaldo Patrizzi identified these as the grails and masterworks of beauty and craft evocating the golden age of elegant global circumnavigation, and after creating the correct historical justification and promoting these watches in their auctions and private sales, enamel dial versions of the 2523 regularly sold for well over a million dollars. Today, they are still considered amongst the most desirable Patek Philippe watches of all time.

1957: Ref. 2523-1

As a sort of last swansong to the resplendent bucolic repose of the Cottier World Timer, in 1962, Patek Philippe modified the 2523 into the 2523-1 which are both 35.5mm in diameter and differ in the shape of their lugs. The watch was made over the late 1950s and ’60s in 20 examples, all of which featured guilloché or smooth dials. In 1966, with the passing of Louis Cottier, the era of the vintage Patek World Timer came to an end.

A Note on the Patek Philippe Travel Time

Patek Philippe was clearly aware that while the World Timer was, in some ways, going out of fashion, there was definitely a demand for a rapidly adjustable travel-specific watch. By 1958, Henri Stern who had set up Patek Philippe’s agency in the United States would become the president of the maison. He was an inveterate traveler and clearly understood the type of watch that someone with his type of life could benefit from. As he had spent his formative years in the United States, he had witnessed the surging spirit of American modernism. The same year he ascended to his place as the head of Patek, the big news was that the first commercial flights between London and New York had begun. He and his team approached Louis Cottier to design the Travel Time. This was a timepiece that had all the elegance and charm of Patek’s famous Calatrava line but that allowed rapid setting in either direction of the hour hand to a new zone. In the late 1950s, Patek Philippe unveiled that watch known initially as the Cross Country. Reference 2597 featured two pushers subtly integrated into the left of the case that would advance the hour hand either backwards or forwards with a single jump without affecting the underlying timing accuracy of the watch.

Interestingly, the movement selected was a modified 12-400, the 12-400 HS (Heures Sautantes or Jumping Hours). Quickly after the release of the first 2597, a version with a two hour hand was introduced that ran imposed on top of each other when you were not traveling. But as soon as you reached a new zone, the hour hand could be decoupled from the other hands and made to jump so as to tell time in a new zone, leaving the second hour hand to provide the time in your home city. The Travel Time would go on to be one of Patek Philippe’s most successful watches with that complication finding its way into other models, including the much sought after Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph and the Aquanaut Travel Time. It also must have shown Cottier the practicality and appeal of a pusher system that controlled an instantaneous jumping function. According to Patek lore, this gave him the idea to update and improve his World Time watch so that the hands, the 24-hour ring and the city disk all jumped to the correct position with the single depression of a pusher. Patek Philippe even registered a patent for this mechanism. But that movement would not see the light of day for another 40 years as Cottier passed away in 1966.

1970s-1990s: A Renewed Commitment to Mechanical Watchmaking

During the ensuing four decades that the Patek Philippe World Timer disappeared from its catalogs, the world went through its most seismic changes. It had weathered many storms, including the Great Depression and Second World War, and each time reacted dynamically and overcame adversity through increased creativity. Patek was a shining example of a brand that overcame myriad challenges, launching its most revered watches, the 1518 and the 1526, in the middle of the Second World War. But the Quartz Crisis which began in 1969 with the release of the Seiko Astron would soon decimate Switzerland for the next two decades. Amid the onslaught of far cheaper and far more accurate electronic watches from Japan, the Swiss watch industry rapidly lost faith in the future of mechanical watchmaking. From 1970 to 1983, the number of Swiss watchmakers fell from 1,600 to 600 and employment in the watch industry fell from 90,000 to 28,000. Brands panicked and began selling mechanical movements by the weight and throwing away the machines needed to make them while trying to adapt to quartz technology. And while Patek Philippe did make forays into quartz, it also stood steadfast in its support of the mechanical watch. This was expressed by the Gérald Genta designed Nautilus created in 1976 — the brand’s first sports chic steel watch. Also, Patek continued to support the Golden Ellipse, which it had introduced in 1968. In fact, in the midst of the Quartz Crisis, Patek doubled down on the Golden Ellipse and, in 1977, introduced a new automatic movement inside the unique case — the magnificent caliber 240, an ultra thin micro-rotor movement of unsurpassed beauty. That same year, a new president came to power to guide Patek Philippe through the most challenging period it would face. Fortunately, that man would come to be known as very possibly the greatest leader the Swiss watch industry has ever known.

Philippe Stern, one of the most influential and important innovators the Swiss watch industry has ever known

We now recognize Philippe Stern to be one of, if not THE most influential and important, innovator the Swiss watch industry has ever known. He began to show this ability at the young age of 39 when he took over the reins of Patek Philippe, becoming its managing director in 1977 at the height of the Quartz Crisis. Throughout this period, Stern renewed his commitment to mechanical watchmaking, in particular, with the perpetual calendar references 3450, 3940 as well as the perpetual calendar chronograph references 3970 and 5004. He would go on to oversee the creation of the incredible caliber 89 which celebrated the return of complicated watchmaking. He would create the most brilliant watch advertisement of all time, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” He would also build the Patek Philippe Museum, the world’s greatest horological historic resource, and the brand’s manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates. He would co-curate Patek thematic auctions that would send the prices of its vintage watches soaring to the stratosphere. He created the application system where certain watches would only be sold to approved clients such were their value on the secondary market. It would be Philippe Stern that elevated the mythology of Patek to a level that it transcended its own genre and became the stuff of legends.

During the Quartz Crisis, Philippe Stern renewed his commitment to mechanical watchmaking with the creation of watches like the ref. 3450 (left) and ref. 3970 (right)
During the Quartz Crisis, Philippe Stern renewed his commitment to mechanical watchmaking with the creation of watches like the ref. 3450 (left) and ref. 3970 (right)

At some point, Stern must have been looking through Patek Philippe’s most iconic vintage watches when he came across the World Timers, the 1415 and the 2523. What he correctly understood was that in an era where we had become over-inundated with information, with electronic devices incessantly blinking, broadcasting or chirping at us, mechanical watchmaking served a vastly different purpose. It was our escape from the technology reality and gave us the same pleasure that sailing a yacht would. The purpose of a mechanical watch was no longer to be as accurate as possible, as it had in the pre-electronic era. Its raison d’être now was to give us emotion, to make us dream. He correctly understood that the very anachronistic nature of mechanical timekeeping was what guaranteed it’s immortality because a great watch no longer gave time… it gave pleasure. So he began to stage the return of the watch that was the ultimate symbol of dreams, romance and transglobal travel — the famous Louis Cottier World Timer. But as was his nature, Stern always sought to improve and make his watches more functional. So, he had the Patek Philippe team pick up from where Cottier left off on the patent for a World Timer where the main hour, 24-hour ring and city ring would all jump to forward with the push of a single button. Then he mated this new mechanism to a movement that was truly meaningful to him. The stunning thin, micro-rotor caliber that was introduced the same year he became president of Patek Philippe — the mythical caliber 240.

The Travel Watches of Patek Philippe in the 21st Century

2000: Ref. 5110

The reference 5110, introduced at the Baselworld fair in 2000, was an instant sensation. It was the first World Time watch that the world had seen in almost half a century and because the audience of the new millennium appreciated it not as a technical instrument but as a repository for beauty and art, it soon became one of Patek Philippe’s most sought after models. In terms of design, the watch was magnificent. Its Calatrava case, which was a subtle nod to the reference 96 HU, measured 37mm in diameter making it just 1.5mm larger than the last serially produced World Timer, the 2523-1. Interestingly, it was the first World Timer to feature crown guards, adding a touch of sporty élan. The dial was a combination of old and new elements. The hands were an all-new lozenge shape combined with fixed baton markers on the inner dial, which received a stunning swirling guilloché pattern inspired by the guilloché dial reference 2523 watches.

The most important improvement was, of course, the practicality offered by the new caliber 240 HU. By activating the pusher at 10 o’clock, you could set the city disk to the correct time zone. Then, you pulled out the crown to first position and turned it to set your local time. Simultaneously, the 24-hour disk turning counterclockwise would jump forward by one hour to display the time in all 24 of the world’s time zones. This method made the 5110 one of the easiest and most intuitive watches to use. Honestly, there was no real need to open the instruction book; it was that user-friendly. Over its lifespan from 2000 to 2006, the 5110 was made in white, yellow and rose gold as well as platinum. The platinum watch with its attractive blue gray dial was one of the most beautiful modern World Timers ever created. To my mind, however, the ultimate 5110 is perhaps the 25-piece platinum watch made for the 25th anniversary of The Hour Glass in 2004, with “Singapore” printed in red on the inner city disk for the legendary retailer.

2006: Ref. 5130

OK, this is going to sound biased, but I think you know this is going to be inevitable as the cloisonné enamel dial version of this reference is the one Patek Philippe World Timer that I own. To me, the 5130 is the perfect execution of Louis Cottier’s complication. Why? Well, first, it’s got the sublime pebble smooth Calatrava case that was designed by Philippe Stern to house the return of this seminal complication. To me, this is a subtle nod to the fact that the very first World Timer reference 96 HU appeared in Calatrava-styled cases. But by adding the crown guards to the design, Stern has given the watch an element of sporty virility. At 39.5mm, it is a full 2.5mm larger than the 5110, which aids massively in visibility; in particular, regarding the city disk, this watch feels very elegant, which comes down to a complete redesign in the proportions of the city ring, 24-hour ring and inner dial. In the 5130, the size of the inner dial is actually proportionally smaller relative to the case than the 5110, making much more space for the city ring. This allows Patek to create some pleasing negative space between the names of the cities and the overall effect is a more calming, tranquil and legible experience when reading the World Time indicator. In addition, by subtly altering the proportions to make the inner dial a soupçon smaller, the watch now feels much more spiritually connected to the reference 2523. One thing that I find very charming about the 5130 is that it is very clearly a watch created by the father and son team of Philippe and Thierry Stern. I can almost imagine the dinner table conversations between the legendary Philippe Stern now paving the way for his son Thierry Stern, the fourth generation in his family to helm this iconic brand. So, there was no question that they would put everything into creating what they felt would be the ultimate execution of the World Timer wristwatch.

What I also like about the 5130 is the beautiful sunray guilloché à main pattern that emanates from the center of the inner dial. This is composed of 12 thicker lines that broaden at the perimeter of the inner dial. Between each of these lines is an additional eight lines. The overall effect is a dial that feels inhabited by a sense of dynamic velocity and shimmering energy. But the master design stroke here is the Sterns’ use of the famous Louis Cottier designed O-shaped “Observatory” hour hand complemented by the sword shaped minute hand. As before, the movement for the 5130 is the magnificent reference caliber 240 HU, based on the caliber 240 launched in 1977 in the first automatic version of the Golden Ellipse. One of the nicest production versions of the 5130 is the 5130/1R-001 launched in 2012, which features a brown dial combined with a rose gold brick bracelet.

The 5130 is also made in some incredible limited editions. These include the 5130 “Mecca” in platinum with a green dial, the 5130 “Shanghai” to commemorate the opening of Maison Patek Philippe in this city in 2012, and the 5130 “Munich Grand Exhibition” in 25 pieces with a Bavarian flag motif guilloché on the dial. What is the ultimate 5130? To me, it is the 5130P “Mecca,” with a dial that is just stunning and a color that changes slightly with the play of light across its surface. You can see these watches below. Then, there are the gem-set Patek Philippe World Timers such as this watch that features its own reference number — the 5130/12R with 44 baguette-cut rubies in its bezel:

2008: Ref. 5131

Wei Koh’s Patek Philippe reference 5131 cloisonné enamel World Time watch (©Revolution)
Wei Koh’s Patek Philippe reference 5131 cloisonné enamel World Time watch (©Revolution)

In 2008, one year before he officially became president of Patek Philippe but already very much at the company’s reins, Thierry Stern set the hearts of collectors into ecstatic palpitations with the unveiling of the reference 5131, which marked the return of the Patek Philippe World Time cloisonné enamel dials. The charm of the 5131 is that it transcendently reconnects the Patek Philippe World Timer — with all respect to the lovely guilloché à main dial watches — to being a true object d’art, something you can marvel at for endless hours. The stunning brilliant-hued map on the dial perfectly expresses how interconnected we are on this planet. It is definitely a watch for romantics. Because of its link to the ultra high value grail-like cloisonné enamel dial timepieces — the references 605 HU, 1415 HU and 2523 HU — the 5131 is a key watch to have in any collection. Though the cloisonné enamel dial adds a roughly USD 30,000 premium to a modern Patek Philippe World Timer, from the perspective of someone that owns one, this is the path to go. That is, of course, if you can find one. The 5131 was initially introduced in two stunning versions, a yellow gold watch with a map of North and South America, Europe and Africa, and a white gold version with a map of Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia.

The 5131 was initially introduced in two stunning versions, a yellow gold watch with a map of North and South America, Europe and Africa, and a white gold version with a map of Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. (Images: Patek Philippe)
The 5131 was initially introduced in two stunning versions, a yellow gold watch with a map of North and South America, Europe and Africa, and a white gold version with a map of Africa, Europe, Asia and Australia. (Images: Patek Philippe)

OK, one thing I want to mention is that I’ve heard it said that all the American/European maps are made in-house at Patek, while the Euro-Asian maps are made at Anita Porchet’s studio. So, which should you choose? Well, from a vintage watch perspective, Euro-Asian maps are more rare, as is white gold, but as this is a modern watch, I would put the desirability of both watches at about equal. When they were launched, these watches immediately became the object of cult collectibility. What would be the ultimate 5131? In 2018, to mark the end of series for this beautiful watch, Patek Philippe launched the epic platinum version of the watch, with platinum “Eric Clapton” style brick bracelet, that featured an enamel map of the Northern Hemisphere, including the North Pole. Patek called this the “North View” and it was magnificent to behold. One story about the 5131 is that when Thierry Stern was designing the watch, he took a look at the round “Observatory” hour hand and tried placing a loupe in its center to act as a magnifying glass for the ethereal enamel surface. Unfortunately, the detail never quite made it to production, probably because it was simply too heavy, but how cool it would have been!

2011: Ref. 7130 Ladies’ Watch

In 2011, following up on the beautiful 5130, Patek Philippe launched a 36mm women’s version of the World Timer. While it strikes me that a woman could wear pretty much any World Timer ever created as they have never been particularly big watches, with the 1415 measuring 31mm in diameter, it was also nice that Patek saw fit to create a complicated watch specifically for women. That having been said, I also think that at its size and with a diamond-set bezel it could easily be worn by a man with a smaller wrist and a penchant for bling. To each their own. Unlike the 5130’s “Observatory” hour hand, the 7130 made use of the lozenge shaped hand introduced in the 5110. The first version of this watch was created with a rose gold case, an ivory hand-guilloché dial and a warm brown 24-hour ring and matching brown print on the city disk.

In 2017, a new version of the 7130 was created, this time in white gold with a truly stunning guilloché pattern on its inner dial, which had been galvanized a resplendent gray blue color. This pattern is subtly and gracefully echoed by the soft sunray brushing of the blue colored city ring, which leads your eye to the bezel set with 62 diamonds. The watch also features 27 diamonds on its buckle.

2014: Refs. 5575 and 7175 World Time Moon

How else do you celebrate your 175th anniversary in 2014, other than to unveil beautiful expressions of your mastery of every iconic complication, including the 5575 and 7175 World Timers with hyper realistic moonphases? As with all of Patek Philippe’s World Timers, the new references came with stunning and original cases characterized by beautiful and inventive lug design. While the 39.8mm in diameter white gold 5575 might at first look to have a smooth Calatrava-like case, your eye will quickly hone in on the lyre lugs of the watch that add a real sense of Latin panache to the timepieces. In the center of the familiar inner dial, for the first time, Patek added a complication; specifically, a hyper realistic moonphase.

This consisted of two panes of glass that had been metalized. The revolving lower pane depicted the moon as well as the night sky and stars. The fixed upper pane featured a star-strewn, kidney shaped cutout that allowed the watch to create a precise impression of the moon waxing and waning. In accordance with the astrological theme, the hour hand was designed to evoke a star. The 7175 was the same watch in rose gold with a 38mm diameter case that was created as a women’s timepiece with a diamond-set bezel. The 5575 was made in 1,300 pieces while the 7175 was made in 450 examples.

2016: Ref. 5230

The reference 5130 proved immensely popular over its 10-year lifespan from 2006 to 2016. In 2016, Patek Philippe unveiled its successor, the reference 5230. This watch evoked a strong spiritual connection to the fabled 2523. Instead of its historic predecessors’ gorgeous faceted lugs, however, the new timepieces featured thrilling wing shaped lugs similar to those found on my beloved 5970 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph. Something people don’t talk enough about is Thierry Stern’s extraordinary creativity when it comes to lugs, such as the beautiful triple-stepped lugs that first appeared in the 5320 Perpetual Calendar before making their way to the 5172 Chronograph. The lugs on the 5230 are very similar to those on the 5970, which is particularly meaningful as that watch was the very first project that Thierry Stern helmed at Patek. Instead of the smooth rounded bezel of the 5130, the 5230 featured a flat surface that met a steeply raked angle down to the case. And finally, it was the first modern World Timer without crown guards. The result was a truly beautiful and very elegant timepiece that, at 38.5mm, was a full one millimeter smaller than its predecessor. The dial featured the most elaborate guilloché pattern yet with subtle waves radiating from the cannon pinion, abbreviated by appealing and original flat, wide teardrop shaped elements.

Instead of the famous Cottier “Observatory” hour hand, we now had one that was shaped to reference the Southern Constellation while the minute hand was a lozenge similar to that found on the 5110. I think it is fair to say that the 5230 and 5131 are not really comparable in that they are such different watches with completely different case styles. The new reference was in every way a worthy successor to the two previous models and, like them, featured the caliber 240 HU.

2019: Ref. 5231

Patek Philippe Reference 5231J World Time with a cloisonné enamel world map on the dial
Patek Philippe Reference 5231J World Time with a cloisonné enamel world map on the dial

So, what’s going to make a 5230 even more exciting? Well, that is, of course, the inclusion of a stunning Patek Philippe cloisonné enamel map on the dial, a tradition that goes all the way back to the very first World Timer pocket watch — the reference 605 HU. One detail which is interesting is that the Patek Philippe signature is now officially painted onto the enamel surface, whereas in the previous 5131 the signature had been engraved onto the bezel, which was somewhat controversially received. Personally, it has never bothered me, as I like the fact that this keeps the enamel dial free of any other elements, though, that being said, of course, if Patek rang me up tomorrow and told me they had allocated me a white gold 5230 with an Euro-Asian map, I am sure I would get over any reservations about the Patek signature on the dial. The 5231 is a simply breathtaking watch made like its predecessor in both yellow and rose gold with the same maps as the previous model.

The Patek Philippe signature on the ref. 5231 (right) is painted onto the enamel surface, whereas in the previous ref. 5131 (left) the signature had been engraved onto the bezel, which was somewhat controversially received. The 5231 also has a larger flat bezel along with faceted lugs that are reminiscent of the 2523.
The Patek Philippe signature on the ref. 5231 (right) is painted onto the enamel surface, whereas in the previous ref. 5131 (left) the signature had been engraved onto the bezel, which was somewhat controversially received. The 5231 also has a larger flat bezel along with faceted lugs that are reminiscent of the 2523.

2016: Ref. 5930 World Time Chronograph

The ref. 5930 offers a unique combination of a World Time function and an automatic vertical clutch flyback chronograph with a 30-minute counter.
The ref. 5930 offers a unique combination of a World Time function and an automatic vertical clutch flyback chronograph with a 30-minute counter.

Launched in 2016, the same year as the 5230, the reference 5930 is one of my favorite Pateks because of its unique combination of a World Time function and an automatic vertical clutch flyback chronograph with a 30-minute counter. OK, so remember when I said that the wonderful thing about learning about vintage and historic Patek Philippe is that it makes you love modern Patek all the more? Well, this is definitely one of those cases. Because there is, of course, precedent for the 5930 and that is the previously mentioned pièce unique 1415-1 created for Dr. P Schmidt, which mated Louis Cottier’s World Time module to the Patek caliber 13” CH. The result is, to me, possibly the greatest unicorn World Timer in existence. What is interesting about the 1415-1 is that there are no chronograph subdials and so the watch can only function as a pulsometer, which is probably exactly what the good doctor wanted. This has to do with the fact that the subdials on the caliber 13” CH are close to the outer extreme of the dial and certainly would be for a watch that probably measured close to, if not the same as, the normal production 1415 at 31mm in diameter. It would also mean that the subdials would conflict with the 24-hour ring and the city ring, and so the smart solution here was to simply omit or suppress them.

But for the 5930, that is not the direction. Here, it is clear that Thierry Stern wanted a fully functional chronograph with a 30-minute counter and even a chronograph seconds scale. From a design perspective, Patek Philippe achieved this perfectly to make the reading of information extremely clear and intuitive. Chronograph seconds are read off the large centrally mounted seconds hand and the seconds scale that is fixed just outside the 24-hour ring. Chronograph elapsed minutes are read off a counter at six o’clock. And the World Time information is the same as any of the other Cottier World Timers. The presence of the two pushers on the right — the top for stop and start, and the bottom for reset or flyback — with the single World Time pusher on the left feels wonderfully balanced. Because of the amount of information on the dial, I applaud Patek for using a restrained guilloché pattern more in line with that found in the 5110 than in the 5230.

There is, of course, another travel chronograph in Patek Philippe’s model family and that is the reference 5990 the Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph. But that watch tells time in two different zones (replete with day/night indicators for both zones), whereas the 5930 is Patek’s first-ever serially produced World Time Chronograph. The underlying chronograph base caliber is the caliber CH 28-520 C, the fantastic ultra thin, column wheel, vertical clutch automatic chronograph with silicon hairspring and escapement that first made its appearance in the lovely 5960 Annual Calendar Chronograph back in 2006. At 39.5mm by 12.86mm, the dimensions of the watch case are actually quite slim considering the technical firepower contained within. And from a case design perspective, the watch is clearly almost identical to the design of the 5230, including those marvelous wing shaped lugs.

The ref. 5930 Singapore Special Edition created to celebrate Patek Philippe’s Singapore Grand Exhibition in 2019
The ref. 5930 Singapore Special Edition created to celebrate Patek Philippe’s Singapore Grand Exhibition in 2019

One lovely variation of the 5930 is the limited edition created to celebrate Patek Philippe’s Singapore Grand Exhibition, which features a red graduated/fumé dial and a 24-hour ring with red printing. Why has Patek not made a cloisonné enamel version of this watch? I think that has to do with how much information is displayed on the dial. It is clear that a map would be too busy, although, actually, a monochrome blue dial like the one on the nine-million-dollar 2523 double-signature Gobbi watch would be wonderful. Don’t you think? Thierry Stern, my friend, are you reading this article?

2017: Ref. 5531R World Time Minute Repeater

First introduced at the Patek Philippe Art of Watches Grand Exhibition in New York in 2017, the reference 5531 is the single most complicated and emotionally charged World Timer made by the maison. You wish that Louis Cottier could have peered into the future, first to see that though interest was waning near his death in 1966, from 2000 onwards, his iconic complication would grace some of the most popular and beloved Patek Philippes of all time. I think he would be absolutely blown away by the fact that Patek Philippe would see fit to combine his World Time module with one of their famous minute repeating calibers. You may recall that from the beginning of this story, I have always upheld the status of a Patek Philippe World Timer as the ultimate expression of elegance and repose for the graceful world traveler. And that while the watch has a functional underpinning, it was created to be a showcase for Patek’s mastery of case design and métiers d’art, including guilloché and cloisonné enamel work. But now by adding the ultimate gentlemen’s complication (remember that the minute repeater was created so men of means in the past could play the time on their watch rather than go through the banality of lighting a candle to check the time), the 5531R elevates the idea of a majestic repository of horology’s greatest art forms to its highest apogee.

While the first execution of the 5531R depicting Manhattan’s skyline was made with two dial designs (“New York by Day” and “New York by Night”) and in a total of 10 pieces, in 2018, Patek Philippe unveiled a regular production 5531R dedicated to depicting a scene of the Lavaux Vineyards, a UNESCO World Heritage Site on the shores of Lake Geneva. Note that this minute repeater will strike the local time displayed at 12 o’clock. But, wait a second, you say, because one of the key features of a Patek Philippe World Timer is that local time can be rapidly adjusted with the pusher at 10 o’clock causing the city ring, 24-hour ring and hour hand to all jump simultaneously. How then does the minute repeater mechanism decouple itself from the motion works when this is happening and how does it recognize a new local time? Good question! It’s true that in a traditional minute repeater, the repeater mechanism — specifically the hour snail cam — is driven by the motion works. But Patek Philippe’s ingenuity is that the new caliber R 27 HU has a hour snail cam that is driven by the 24-hour ring. The minute repeater also features gongs that have been attached to the case band rather than the baseplate to better amplify the sound of the strikes. It also plays the time when the strike sequence ends rather than when it begins. In 2019, Patek Philippe unveiled a stunning version of the 5531R with an aerial map of Singapore in cloisonné enamel to commemorate Patek’s Grand Exhibition in my home country. Finally, the watch is an elegant 11.49mm in height and 40.2mm in diameter, which is rather extraordinary considering all the technical and artistic firepower it backs.

This concludes my sojourn into the beautiful transcendent objet d’art that is the Patek Philippe World Timer. The writing of this story has, in many ways, been cathartic as I’ve imagined myself in some of my favorite destinations, such as Positano’s Sirenuse feasting on spaghetti Ricci di Mare or Venice’s Gritti Palace ensconced on its terrace with a Spritz in hand or Vienna’s Sacher Hotel enjoying a glass of champagne and a sausage at the Bitzinger stand a few meters from its front door. And so, I want to thank you all for joining me in this journey through time and I want to wish you all the very best this summer. If you are able to travel, then I hope you do so in safety, with panache and, ideally, with a Patek Philippe World Timer on your wrist, which always serves to elevate one’s mood, deepen one’s genuflection and make joyful moments that added touch more unforgettable. Until we meet again, my friends. Here’s to the future and the time when we can all truly reconnect as one world.