5 of the best world time watchesTom Austin
In the watch world, practical solutions often evolve into intricate complications. Back in the late 1800s, Swiss watchmaker Emmanuel Cottier tackled a challenge posed by the Canadian Railway – tracking time across multiple time zones during cross-country journeys. Although Emmanuel’s initial attempt fell short, his son Louis, also a prize-winning watchmaker, turned the idea into reality in 1931 with the heures universelles complication. It featured a rotating 24-hour ring displaying various time zones, framed with different locations across different time zones. Patek Philippe went on to commission Cottier to create the brand’s first world timer wristwatch, the reference 515, and thus the problem was solved. Other brands followed suit, producing their own world timers with Cottier’s input. Today, this solution lives on in some of the most coveted watches. Here are our top five picks.
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Worldtimer
After undergoing several updates since its introduction in 2017, Omega refreshed their Worldtimer line up earlier this year, brought in some fresh colours and a brushed ceramic bezel, then finished off the line with a range-topping titanium model. The Seamaster Aqua Terra World Timer is a 43mm sports watch, embodied in the classic Aqua Terra case shape, featuring the svelte, twisted lugs and refined finishing throughout. For most world timers, the most important part is the dial, with some going overboard with the amount of detail and information, leading to confusion, and ultimately creating something which fails to draw the right attention. Omega, however, nailed this dial, with all the information required laid out in such a way that it’s not distracting or gaudy. Not everyone is a fan of having colourful world maps on their wrist, but with the Aqua Terra World Timer, it’s managed it in a way that’s subtle enough to be a detail, rather than the main event. The topographic map of Earth is viewed from a North Pole position, and is carefully executed via a process called laser ablation, gradually chiselling away at the titanium material with a laser beam. Pretty high tech stuff. Inside, the watch is fitted with the Calibre 8938 movement, a METAS-approved master chronometer. So, not only are you getting an exceptional world timer function, it’s tested to much higher standards than most COSC-certified pieces too. Overall, this makes for one of Omega’s most complicated pieces in its mainstream collection.
Patek Philippe 5231G-001
As mentioned in our intro, Patek Philippe’s relationship with world timers goes way back. These complications are favourites amongst collectors and enthusiasts, and represent some of the most important watches in the brand’s history. We couldn’t complete this list without looking at the incredible Patek Philippe 5231G, a white gold piece with a dial so recognisable, you could remove the brand name from the watch, and most people would know what this watch is. The dial itself is a grand feu cloisonné enamel dial, created by hand by a highly skilled artisan adding gold and enamel to depict Southeast Asia and Oceania in stunning detail. Not many dials see this kind of care and attention, and it’s easy to see why – it’s beautiful. The movement is a hand-finished, self-winding 240 HU Calibre, with a pusher at the 10 o’clock position for time zone selection. At 38.5mm in diameter and 10.23mm in height, the 5231 is subtly sized, which is impressive considering the functions it’s hiding under the hood, all on full display as you flip the watch over. If you appreciate the complexity and aesthetics of a world timer, you’ll have a tough job finding something that beats this.
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Time Zone
Technically one of the younger brands in this list, A. Lange & Söhne makes up its years of obscurity with refinement. The Lange 1 Time Zone stands proudly as one of the most highly refined timepieces available, and it’s an uncanny implementation of a practical complication. The dial is somewhat busy at first glance, with numerous sub-dials, markers, and hands. This is no Breitling Navitimer, however – the more you study the dial, the more it makes sense. Everything is placed in a certain way to deliver the critical information about local time and home time, and the time in all the numerous cities that fill the slim outer ring perfectly. We shouldn’t expect anything less efficient than this from the renowned German watchmaker. The case is typically Lange, sized at 42mm, yet is perfectly comfortable and not too hefty, considering it’s made from solid gold. Despite this piece being very much in the heights of haute horlogerie, there’s a casual style about it, the way that it looks just as cool paired with jeans and a t-shirt as it does with a suit and tie.
Chopard L.U.C Time Traveller One Black
World timers are intricate complications. They display a lot of information, and consequently, their dials can often be confusing to look at. Chopard uses concentricity to display everything, and looks great for it, giving us a mature and contemporary take on a world timer. As a result, the dial is relatively simple and easy to read. Its monochrome appearance takes that one step further, with the dial made up of different blacks and greys, the case itself is black ceramicised titanium, with a satin, blasted finish which feels incredibly tactile. The case itself is simple and contemporary, at 42mm x 12mm and fits nicely on the wrist, but is also lightweight being titanium, so isn’t too hefty. Underneath the dial sits a L.U.C 01.05-L calibre, a COSC-certified movement with a 60-hour power reserve. The Chopard Time Traveller One is highly limited at 250 examples, and makes for a modern take on a classic complication which fits well in any traveller’s collection.
Bulgari Octo Roma WorldTimer
In 2021, Bulgari added the WorldTimer to its Octo Roma collection, and in doing so, created one of the more unique pieces in this list. The Roma is a more circular watch than the Finissimo, lacking the octagonal dial shape, in favour of a traditional circular shape inside the bezel. This works well with the concentric dial details of the WorldTimer, such as the 24 cities and rotating 24-hour ring. Inside sits the BVL 257 automatic movement that operates at 4Hz with 42hrs of power reserve. You can admire the nicely finished movement through the sapphire crystal caseback. Available in brightly brushed stainless steel, or DLC-coated satin black finish, the case is 41mm wide and 11mm thick, with a choice of stainless steel bracelet or black rubber strap depending on the colour you go for. Our pick is the stealthy black version, with full black dial, making this an almost special forces-style tool watch for travellers.