The World Time Watch: Another Vacheron First

Recently while reading Anton Kreuzer’s wonderful book, Augenweide Armbanduhr: Vacheron Constantin, I was fascinated by his brief section on the world time wrist-watch. Kreuzer recounts the development of Greenwich Mean Time in 1893, which divided the globe into 24 time zones centered on London. While initially an aid to maritime then train travel, the advent of air traffic and worldwide telephone service made the system ever-more relevant. Here I will translate directly from Augenweide Armbanduhr: Vacheron Constantin:

The clock factories gradually implemented this development over the later thirty years by bringing world time models into the clock collections. The wrist-watches of Patek Philippe, Agassiz and Rolex were based on a construction of Geneva clock maker Louis Cottier. When Vacheron Constantin decided in the fifties to build such a universal time wrist-watch, they also chose the system of Cottier’s. Three pieces were produced which received the Ref. 6213 and were sold in 1957. This World Clock with the signature of Vacheron & Constantin was a relatively large model with a diameter of 40 mm. The dial consisted of three indications (from the inside outward): Hourly dial, 24-hour scale with day/night marking, and ring with 42 important city names from all continents. The disk with the labels of cities could rotate by means of a small pusher in the winding crown. The clockwork was caliber of 499 (Breguet spiral, 21 jewels, micrometer regulator, central seconds, automatic winding).
The World Time Watch: Another Vacheron First
photo courtesy of The Hour Lounge

Of course, the world time concept was first applied to the pocket-watch. Osvaldo Patrizzi’s article “Louis Cottier; A Watchmaking Genius Ahead of his Time” (VOX, Antiquorum 2002) stated the World Time System was developed by the Geneva watchmaker Louis Cottier (1894-1966). His system was used by Patek Philippe, Agassiz, Rolex and Vacheron Constantin. Patrizzi goes further to declare that Louis Cottier made his first World Time pocket-watch in 1931 for a local jeweler named Beszanger in his home town of Carouge, now a suburb of Geneva. He credits the first World Time wrist-watch, also developed by Cottier, to Patek Philippe in 1937 with the Ref. 515.

To set the record straight; the world time watch was the invention of a Canadian railroad pioneer; Sir Stanford Fleming. In 1876 he published a description of system of 24 standardized time zones around the globe. In 1880 he further realized his concept by having a pocket-watch constructed in London that simultaneously revealed the true “world time” in all 24 zones. While further Swiss developments of Fleming’s “Cosmic Time” watch featured a rotating central hour disk; Cottier can be credited with the refinement that also mobilized the outer ring of cities and regions and thus greatly simplified to process of reading time across the globe (ref. Harmonia Mundi by Carlos Perez, TimeZone 2001).

While there is no disputing Patek’s claim to have commissioned the first World Time wrist-watch, a claim to the true “first” application of the Cottier World Time system to any watch could rightly be asserted by Vacheron & Constantin! Lurking within the black & white photographs of Vacheron’s archival records is the proof:

Ref. Photo: 3372, Vacheron & Constantin World Time pocket-watch
Case Number: 257268
Year: 1930
Number of Cities: 31
Reference: pg. 396, World of Vacheron Constantin, Lambelet/Coen

The World Time Watch: Another Vacheron First

Perhaps the so-called Beszanger watch was actually a Vacheron & Constantin piece made on order for the jeweller?  So far the records are silent except to provide this singular documentary evidence of Vacheron's paramouncy.

As a side note to the subject of World Time watches, I also became interested in the selection of cities featured on the ingenious outer rotating bezel of Cottier’s design. As a matter of curiosity I began to count the number of times Canadian locations were featured (please note, Klondike refers to the Yukon Territories) and wondered how the selection of locations reflected the state of world affairs over the passing decades.

For your entertainment here is a collection of World Time cities from Vacheron pocket and wrist-watches over the years. Even the spellings are interesting!

Vacheron Ref. 3372 Pocket Watch, 1930
Berlin/Rome/Le Cap
Istanbul/Le Caire
Aden
Maurice
Bombay
Calcutta
Singapour
Albany/Pekin
Tokio
Sydney
Ile Aukland
Fidji
Hawai
Alaska
Klondike
San Francisco/Vancouver
Denver
Chicago
Montreal/New York
Buenos-Aires
Rio De-Janeiro
Açores
Maderes
Londres/Paris
(31 cities)

Vacheron Ref. 3638 Pocket Watch, 1936
Berlin/Rome/Le Cap
Istanbul
Aden
Maurice
Bombay
Calcutta
Singapour
Albany/Pekin
Tokio
Sydney
Ile Aukland
Fidji
Hawai
Alaska
Kondike
San Francisco/Vancouver
Denver
Chicago
Montreal/New-York
Buenos Aires
Rio-De Janeiro
Açores
Maderes
Londres/Paris
(30 cities)

Vacheron Ref. 3650 Pocket Watch, 1936
Berlin/Rome/Le Cap
Istanbul/Le Caire
Aden
Maurice
Bombay
Calcutta
Singapour
Albany/Pekin
Tokio
Sydney
Ile Aukland
Fidji
Hawai
Alaska
Klondike
San Francisco/Vancouver
Denver
Chicago
Montreal/New-York
Buenos-Aires
Rio-De Janeiro
Açores
Maderes
Londres/Paris
(31 cities)

Vacheron Ref. 4414 Pocket Watch, 1946
Montreal/New-York
Buenos-Aires
Rio De-Janeiro
Açores
Madere
Londres/Paris
Berlin/Rome/Le Cap
Istanbul/Le Caire
Aden
Maurice
Bombay
Calcutta
Singapour
Pekin
Albany
Tokio
Sydney
Ile Aukland
Fidji
Hawai
Alaska
Klondike
San Francisco/Vancouver
Denver
Chicago
(31 cities)

Vacheron Ref. 4414 Pocket Watch, 1949
Oslo/Geneva/Roma
Cairo/Istanbul/Cape Town
Baghdad/Aden
Mauritius Isld/Reunion
Bombay/Ceylon
Calcutta
Singapore/Saigon
Peiping
Adelaide/Tokyo
Sydney
Auckland Isld
Fiji Isld
Samoa
Alaska/Tahiti
Klondike/Skagway
California
Mexico/Denver
Chicago
New-York/Montreal
Buenos-Aires
Rio De Janeiro
Azores
Iceland/Madeira/Dakar
London/Paris/Algiers
(41 cities)

Vacheron Ref. 6213 World Time Wristwatch, 1957
Londres/Paris/Algiers
Berlin/Genéve/Rome
Istanbul/Le Caire
Moscou/Aden/Bagdad
I.Maurice/Reunion
Bombay/Ceylan
Calcutta
Singapour/Saigon
Changhai/Pekin
Tokio/Kobe
Sydney/Melbourne
Auckland
Fidji
Samoa
Alaska
Skagway
Californie
Mexico/Denver
Chicago/N.Orleans
Montreal/New-York
Buenos Ayres
Rio De Janeiro
Azores
Iceland/Madére/Dakar
(42 cities)

Vacheron Phidias World Timer
GMT
Paris
Cairo
Moscow
Dubai
Karachi
Dacca
Bangkok
Hong Kong
Tokyo
Sydney
Noumea
Auckland
Midway
Honolulu
Anchorage
L.Angeles
Denver
NewYork
Caracas
R.Janeiro
Azores
(22 cities)

Vacheron Evasion World Timer
Tokyo
Sydney
Noumea
Wellington
Midway
Honolulu
Anchorage
L.Angeles
Denver
Chicago
New York
Caracas
R.Janeiro
F.Noronha
Azores
London
Paris
Helsinki
Moscow
Dubai
Karachi
Dhaka
Bangkok
Hong Kong
(24 cities)

Cheers,
Dean
A wonderful and thorough study on VC's World Time Watch! And a genius
10/27/2009 - 21:18
revelation on the Vacheron first. Congrats, Dean. I am truly awed by your inquisitive research WAY TO GO!
Curiosity...
10/28/2009 - 16:23

Thanks Radek .  I think curiosity is part of our basic nature?  It certainly has gotten me into trouble some times .  However, I feel safe exploring the the unknown regions of V&C!

Re: The World Time Watch: Another Vacheron First
10/27/2009 - 21:58
Very interesting article, Dean. It was actually Sanford Fleming (but that's just a typo) a Scottish-born Canadian (just like Alexander Graham Bell) who is remembered more for the development of the Standard Time concept than for his watch. Even that concept was not univerally accepted until much later. As far as the interesting spellings are concerned, I'm not sure what you are referring to. They are mostly in French. Several of the other watch manufacturers had quite a selection of names. The 1945 Agassiz for example, (on which the much later Pateks are based) had 3 rows of names including Saigon, Iceland, Oslo, Marshall Islands, Capetown Baghdad and Peiping (Peking). Its a very pleasing design concept when executed properly (ie VC). Thanks for the great write-up, Dean. Regards, Joseph
LOL, I need an editor...
10/28/2009 - 16:30

Only one typo is something of a miracle!  Have you read the book, "How the Scottish Invented the Modern World" by Arthur Herman?  Full of great info on their contributions, good and bad, to the world as we know it today.

beautiful and iconic watches. it is interesting to note for me that...
10/28/2009 - 04:46
singapore represented the GMT+8 timezone until the 60s, overtaken by hong kong after. the beautiful thing about such world timer is its historical representation. as time witness our memory in the making, these watches has historical meanings. thank u for the effort once again.
Exactly...
10/28/2009 - 16:38
The choice of cities and regions to represent does say something about the times each piece was created for.  I'm very glad you found it interesting to read .
in fact Cottier's father had been working for this project for
10/28/2009 - 11:00
VC in 1929/1930 but his death in 1930 delayed the project and VCs first worldtime pocket watch was launched in 1933. Thanks for a fantastic write up Dean....as usual I should say :-)
Interesting, so 1930 or 1933?
10/28/2009 - 16:40
Now you have deepened the mystery Alex .  Does the 1930 date written in the records indicate date of commission or prototype, and 1933 represent date of completion or sale?  Inquiring minds want to know!
VC Patrimony dept tells me 1933 date of production but the date
10/28/2009 - 16:55
of R&D definately goes back to 1929-1930
Thanks Dean
10/28/2009 - 23:30
for another very interesting post. I'm surprised to see how long Montreal lasted on the dial, 'sharing the spotlight' with New York.  Cheers, Francois
Montreal Alas
10/29/2009 - 00:21
Today Montreal is just a shadow of it's past.  What was the cultural and business center of Canada (and the antiques capital as well) is now just another sullen monotone metropolis, with most of the non-pure laine having abandoned what has become unfriendly territory.  They merited a place on the world time bezel until perhaps the 1970's.
You are right indeed...
11/04/2009 - 03:03
looking at the architecture and the buildings of Montreal, especially compared to Toronto, you quickly realize which city had the wealth in the past... The economy has somewhat improved, but the city had never recovered from the exile of corporations in the early 80s. Looking on the positive side, you now can get some pretty amazing victorian house in Westmount for the equivalent of peanuts... One thing on which I would disagree with you is that Montreal is an unfriendly territory for the non-pure laine - that statement is - unfortunately - correct for the province of Quebec, but I don't think it applies to Montreal, IMO. Cheers, Francois