- By Kevin Cureau

The concept of time standardization was first proposed by Scottish railway engineer Sandford Fleming who understood the need for a global system, which could be easily implemented and used by all nations. With the industrial revolution changing society, and the advent of airplanes allowing people to travel further, there was a need to standardize time because until then municipalities set their own time, therefore local towns only a few kilometres apart may have different times. In 1879, Fleming proposed dividing the Earth into 24 time zones of 15° each, one hour apart with a universal time for each zone.

His pioneering work was finally acknowledged in 1884 when the 25 nations taking part in the International Meridian Conference accepted his system and created the prime meridian of 0° longitude, which would pass through Greenwich, England.

The World Time Complication at Patek Philippe

The World Time is closely associated with Patek Philippe and is one of the signature complications from the maison. Based on the elegant solution of famed watchmaker Louis Cottier (1894-1996), Patek released the reference 1415 in 1939, their first world time (Heures Universelles) wristwatch. It remained in production until 1954, and was produced in mostly yellow gold, with a very few in pink gold, and one known example in platinum, additionally a very few rare examples had cloisonné enamel dials. The reference 1415 with tear drop lugs set the example for those that followed with an engraved bezel featuring 41 cities. In 1953, Patek Philippe released a new model, the iconic reference 2523; featuring a two crown setting and winding system. At 36mm in diameter it was a larger and more contemporary version of the reference 1415, which was only 31mm in diameter. The reference 2523 remained in production until 1965 and it was a paragon of mid 20th century chic and coolness, as well as was a tool watch for the global traveler.

Yet from 1965 until 2000, as incredible as it may seem, no new watches with a world time complication from Patek Philippe were released. For more than 35 years, the complication had just disappeared from the maison’s offering. So in 2000, Patek Philippe decided to bring backthe much loved World Time complication and started offering to collectors a wide range of fine world time wristwatches.

2000: Patek Philippe Ref. 5110

Introduced in 2000, the Patek Philippe ref. 5110 was the first serially produced world time reference, and also the first since the legendary ref. 2523. It brought a visible evolution compared to the ref. 2523 by using a pusher at 10 o’clock to set the local city instead of the famous second crown. It also made a switch from a manual wound movement to an automatic one.

The reference was introduced in various case materials including yellow gold, pink gold, white gold and platinum. The production for the reference ceased in 2006 and was replaced by the ref. 5130. The present example in platinum with a greyish blue “guilloche” dial is accompanied by the original presentation box and an Extract from the Archives from Patek Philippe confirming the production of the present example in 2002.

2006: Patek Philippe Ref. 5130

Patek Philippe’s world time ref. 5130 made its debut in 2006 as a new chapter in the legacy of the world time complication at Patek Philippe. Available in four metals: yellow, white gold, pink gold, as well as in platinum, the model is very much sought after by travellers around the world.

The oversized Observatoire-style hands are reminiscent of Patek Philippe's world time watches from the past, and provide enhanced legibility against the fixed centre dial. The popularity of the timepiece can easily be attributed to its modern 39.5mm case size which was upgraded from the 37mm diameter of the ref. 5110. The center guilloché was also replaced by a sunray decoration and applied hour markers.

2008: Patek Philippe Ref. 5131

The Patek Philippe Ref. 5131 is the generation of Patek Philippe World Time which brought back the cloisonné enamel decoration on the central disk.

Produced in a large 39.5mm diameter case, it was offered in yellow, white gold, pink gold, and platinum, and each variant of the reference was given a specific region of the world (Europe, Africa, Asia and the Americas). This handsome example in pink gold is in unused condition and remains single sealed. It features Asia and the Americas, and is a fine example of the high quality cloisonné enamel workmanship by Patek Philippe artisans, making it a highly sought after example of this particular reference. Accompanied by the Certificate of Origin, presentation box and hang tag, this is an attractive and modern iteration of one of the brands most historical timepieces.

2014: Patek Philippe Ref. 5575 and Ref. 7175

One of the oldest Swiss watchmaking manufactures, Patek Philippe celebrated its 175th anniversary in 2014 by launching a collection of commemorative pieces that ranged from their Grandmaster Chime timepiece, to elegant platinum hourly chiming Jump Hour; these included two limited edition world time models for men and women also featuring a moon phase display – a first for the Genevan company.

The collection was the epitome of the brand’s long and prestigious history reflecting on complicated movements and aesthetic design. The reference 5575, which was also released in a woman’s version with diamonds as reference 7175, is a reinterpretation of previous world time watches like the references 5110 and 5130. The limited-edition case featured lyre-style lugs, and no crown guards found on the earlier models. The watch featured the upgraded calibre 240 LU HU, an ultra-thin micro-rotor automatic with moon phase function. This was the first time Patek Philippe included a second complication to their famed World Time collection.

Watchmakers manufactured two thin discs, which centre the watch face allowing the wearer to see a starry night with a waxing and waning moon as each month progresses. In a twist to their traditional world time complications, the Central European time zone, which typically features the city Paris, was changed to Geneva in honour of the home city of Patek Philippe. The model was produced in 1300 white gold examples and is a wonderful tribute to one of the brands most iconic complications, the world time wristwatch.

The lady’s wristwatch at 38mm diameter is a combination of jewellery and mechanical craftsmanship. Released in a limited edition of 450 examples, the pink gold case is enhanced with a diamond-set bezel and has a sophisticated elegant appeal. The dial is highlighted by the central zone with star map and moon phase.

The role of women watch collectors have grown over the last 20 years and brands now look to these important clients, seeking to give them the same complicated timepieces men want, but with a feminine appeal that will easily work in both a casual or formal setting. The present example is in excellent overall condition and is complete with all accessories.

2016: Patek Philippe Ref. 5230

The regular Patek Philippe Ref. 5230 was the latest generation of World Time only reference in the Patek Philippe collection, it replaced the ref. 5130. It had a more masculine, more contemporary look with a fantastic new guilloché pattern and updated cities ring.

For horological connoisseurs and enthusiasts, July 13th, 2017 was an auspicious day in New York City when “Patek Philippe-The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition” first opened to the public for a ten day celebration of the brand and their exceptional history. The exhibition included over 450 pieces chosen from their museum and select collectors, which demonstrated the brands skill and workmanship that have made them a dominant force in luxury Swiss watchmaking. The exhibition was a moment to relish all of Patek Philippe’s history, an opportunity to meet their watchmakers and see them in action, as well as to own a very limited number of exhibition timepieces made for this rare and special event. Patek Philippe issued a total of nine limited edition wristwatches and pocket watches, and the present 5230/G New York Edition is one of the most sublime and charming of these special timepieces.

Based on the traditional reference 5230G worldtime, the watch has an opaline blue dial with an Art Deco metal relief of the Manhattan skyline. The 24 world cities are featured in blue contrast with the white dial giving the watch a cool contemporary feel. Produced in 300 examples, the present New York Edition world time is a rare opportunity to own one of these attractive limited edition wristwatches.

2019: Patek Philippe Ref. 5231

Patek Philippe World Time timepieces are highly desirable for mostly two reasons, practicality and elegance. In 2019, Patek Philippe introduced a new World Time ref. 5231J-001, the first model of its reference to feature its covetable cloisonné enamel dial which Patek Philippe executes to the highest level.

To achieve the perfect cloisonné enamel dial, a thin gold wiring known as “cloison” is carefully sculpted to create the outline of the desired motif then applied on the surface of the dial. Once that process is finished to perfection, enamel is then applied filling the areas with its respective colors. Once the enamel is secured, the dial will be placed inside an oven and heated to create the perfect cloisonné enamel dial. However, the meticulous and rigorous process does not guarantee the perfect yield, as any imperfections detected on the dial after the heating process will be considered as a defect and the process will then have to be restarted making these examples exceedingly rare and highly sought after in the market today. The present lot is the first example of the reference to be offered at auction.