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LIKE many Patek Philippe timepieces, the Patek Philippe World Time watch is much sought after. Yet, while many Patek Philippe models were first developed and built in-house, the early worldtimers that bore the Patek Philippe name were made by Louis Cottier, an independent watchmaker.
The gifted Cottier - he won two notable prizes from Patek Philippe while still an apprentice - invented the world time watch in 1931, a watch that tells the time in multiple timezones at a glance.
Cottier made world time watches for a number of big brands, including Vacheron Constantin and Longines. But Patek Philippe remained his biggest client. The world time watches he made for Patek Philippe between the 1930s and 1960s are now prized collectors' items.
A rare Patek Philippe Reference 2523/1 World Time model from 1954 was sold for US$2.5 million in May 2016 at an auction.
Essentially, Cottier had developed a movement that indicated the time for 24 time zones on the face or dial of the watch. He initially designed the world time mechanism for a pocket watch.
In the late 1930s, Cottier scaled down the movement to fit a wristwatch. Patek Philippe first used this movement in its Reference 1415 model in 1939. This was a single crown model which featured a rotatable bezel engraved with the cities for manual adjustment to display the local time at 12 o'clock.
The movement was modified in the 1950s to allow a second crown to change the reference local time city when travelling. Patek Philippe unveiled this new movement, the 12-400 HU calibre, in the now cult Reference 2523 series in 1953.
The 2523 was rather big for a watch with a 35.5 mm case at that time. It was fitted with superb faceted lugs, among Patek Philippe's most stunning looking. The dial showed 41 cities. The 2523 timepieces are deemed to be the world's most desired world time complications.
Cottier's death in 1966 ended Patek Philippe's production of the World Time. It was only 34 years later that the model was revived in the Reference 5110, launched in 2000.
The series was Patek Philippe's own modern in-house interpretation, inspired by a lesser-known model Cottier fashioned for Patek Philippe in 1957 - the Reference 2597, which showed two time zones on two sets of hands operated by pushers. The latter appealed naturally to Patek Philippe. It required no manipulation of the crown, so there was no compromise of accuracy.
Reference 2597 first became the basis for Patek Philippe's Reference 5034 Travel Time, rolled out in 1997. Reference 5110 extended the simplicity of 2597. It's fitted with a Patek Philippe in-house automatic movement mounted with a newly patented time-zone mechanism which enabled the hour hand, city disk and 24-hour ring to be adjusted at the same time with a single pusher.
There have been aesthetic updates, such as a restyled case, since the Reference 5110, but the World Time module's function - the mechanism sitting between the dial and the base movement - has stayed unchanged. So 5110 in 2006 evolved into the Reference 5130, which saw the World Time case enlarged from 37 to 39.5mm.
The enlargement allowed Patek Philippe to introduce a sumptuous cloisonne enamel version of the Reference 5130 in 2008.
In 2011, Patek Philippe presented a World Time for women. Called the Reference 7130, the diamond-set timepiece is basically a downsized version of the 5130 - the case reduced to 36mm - that's updated to display the new official time zone designations.
The World Time got an overhaul in 2016 when Patek Philippe unveiled the Reference 5230, which replaced all previous World Time models of the brand. Apart from a subtle re-work of the dial and hands, the case was also trimmed to 38.5mm and acquired new winglet-style lugs inspired by the Patek Philippe tradition. The influence of the famed Reference 2523 was clearly seen.
Reference 5230 came with revised world time indications to reflect Moscow's move one hour earlier to Western Europe, moving from being four hours ahead to just three, and the change of some city names - Dubai was shown instead of Riyadh and Brisbane replaced Noumea. W