If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that we don’t know what we have till it’s gone, and that couldn’t be more true than with international travel. For many, regular international business trips, as well as the odd holiday, would see us heading to the Qantas First Class Lounge fairly regularly. For frequent globetrotters, transferring through timezones in quick succession, there is, of course, the hallowed GMT but for serious operators, only a world timer will suffice. What exactly is a world time watch you might ask? Here, we’ll take a look at the history of the perfect watch for the international traveller, as well as some of the best current pieces you can get on your wrist.
The idea for the world time complication was born in the late 19th century but was initially only found in pocket watches. That was, until the master watchmaker Louis Cottier patented the world time mechanism for a wristwatch, in 1931. Thanks to his ingenious design, you would be able to tell the time in all 24 different time zones around the world at the same time, as well as make adjustments depending on what your local time was. It was a clever solution to a problem that did not yet exist at scale, long before the first commercial jet took flight exactly two decades later.
Not only were world time watches a practical tool for the 20th-century businessperson destined to wear a mechanical timepiece on their wrist, but they offered a canvas for many beautiful designs. From hand-engraved day and night indicators to cloisonné enamel dial masterpieces, the world time watch was the perfect vehicle for craftsmen to demonstrate their talent. The quality, rarity and importance of some vintage world timers are well understood by the market, with three of the most expensive watches ever sold being Patek Philippe world time watches.
Today, the world timer remains an important part of the catalogues of the best watch brands in the world, as well as any up and coming watchmaker looking to demonstrate their technical capacity. While their purely practical value is more limited than it was in the middle of the last century (just like any other mechanical wristwatch), they remain the choice of anyone who needs to keep track of more than one timezone. If that sounds like you, let’s take a look at some of the best world time watches on the market right now.
Best World Time Watches:
A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Time Zone
The Lange 1 is without a doubt one of the best original watch designs of the last several decades. The dial is meticulously balanced, with proportions that follow the mythical Golden Ratio that was first studied by ancient Greek mathematician Euclid of Alexandria. Here, we have the Lange 1 Time Zone ref. 136.032, featuring a 41.9mm pink gold case and a solid German silver dial.
The exacting proportions of the dial have been carefully maintained, featuring the rotating city ring around the circumference of the dial and two separate dials for both home and local time. The city ring can be activated by pressing the button at 8 o’clock, which will advance by one timezone from east to west. The iconic power reserve indicator remains at the 3 o’clock position, as does the large date window at the top of the dial, which can be adjusted via the pusher at 10 o’clock.
The A. Lange & Söhne Lange 1 Time Zone in pink gold is powered by the in-house calibre L141.1, a new movement released in 2020. The calibre L141.1 runs at 21,600vph and offers a full 72 hours of power reserve. It’s arguably one of the finest German-made world time watches available today, alongside its limited-edition siblings in platinum, white gold and yellow gold.
Bulgari Octo Roma WorldTimer
The Bulgari Octo Roma WorldTimer is the most recently released watch on this list after it was launched at Geneva Watch Days in September 2021. Bulgari has spent much of the last half-decade focusing its efforts on building the Octo Finissimo collection, making it something of a surprise that the brand turned to the Octo Roma for their most recent execution of a world time complication.
Featuring a 41mm stainless steel case, the Bulgari Octo Roma WorldTimer arrives on a matching stainless steel bracelet and boasts 100m of water resistance. Despite these specs putting it in proper complicated sports watch territory, this Bulgari world time wristwatch is just 11.35mm thick, maintaining a wearable elegance to it.
The dial of the newest Bulgari world timer is an eye-catching sunburst blue, contrasting very nicely against the almost entirely brushed steel case. The Bulgari Octo Roma WorldTimer is powered by the BVL257, an automatic in-house calibre that contains 261 components and offers 42 hours of power reserve. It’s an approachable new release from Bulgari that blends the best of their architectural Italian design, with a uniquely practical complication.
Breitling Aviator 8 B35 Automatic Unitime 43
Breitling is a brand that has existed with a passion for aviation for the best part of a hundred years. Well known for producing some of the finest pilots chronographs from the middle of the last century, air travel is at the heart of what Breitling is appreciated for. But while Breitling pilots chronographs are world-famous, the Breitling Aviator 8 B35 Automatic Unitime 43 is a proposition that can fly under the radar for many watch collectors and enthusiasts.
Featuring a practical 43mm stainless steel case, complete with a matching robust steel bracelet, this world timer is as much a bulletproof tool watch as it is a refined instrument for the international traveller. The screw-down exhibition caseback guarantees the watch to 100m of water resistance, the sapphire crystal over the dial is finished with an anti-reflective coating to eliminate any glare that could cause legibility issues. The Breitling Aviator 8 B35 Automatic Unitime 43 is powered by the Breitling Manufacture Caliber B35, which offers 70 hours of power reserve and COSC-certification.
Chopard L.U.C Time Travel One 42
Chopard is a relatively young brand in the scheme of centuries-old Swiss watchmakers, but that doesn’t mean they haven’t fostered some of the finest horological expertise in the business. The most refined watches that Chopard produce exist within the L.U.C collection, which is also where their very own world time wristwatch sits.
Featuring a 42mm case in stainless steel, which stands just 11.71mm tall, the Chopard L.U.C Time Travel One 42 is an elegant and balanced travel watch. The black dial isn’t attention-seeking, happy to remain under the radar of most observers, but remains highly legible thanks to the brightly contrasting orange highlights. Chopard has cleverly included a date display on the dial, shown via the shortest hand at the centre of the dial.
The watch is powered by the L.U.C 01.05-L calibre, a self-winding mechanical movement that offers 60 hours of power reserve and COSC-certification. The movement is visible through the sapphire crystal exhibition caseback, which also guarantees the watch to 50m of water resistance. If you’re after a well-made watch that doesn’t draw too much attention to itself, this Chopard could be for you.
IWC Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Edition “The Longest Flight”
IWC has a long history of supporting interesting aviation projects, and The Longest Flight was one of the best. The endeavour was to fly one of the few remaining operational Spitfire aircraft around the world over four months, visiting 20 countries across the 43,000-kilometre journey. To pay tribute to the adventure, IWC produced a 250 piece limited edition world timer, an example of which was actually worn by the aircrew.
The massive 46mm world timer paid proper homage to the gigantic watches originally worn by Spitfire pilots, where legibility is a mission-critical feature. The large case diameter was matched in the thickness of the watch at 15.1mm, offering 60m of water resistance via the screw-down crown. The dial features a date window, as well as an aperture to display 24-hour time, but the real draw of the IWC Pilot’s Watch Timezoner Spitfire Edition “The Longest Flight” is the bezel.
The bezel features IWCs patented time zone function, featuring all 24 different timezones and cities around its circumference, and advancing the hour hand as you rotate it. The IWC timezoner is powered by the 82760 Calibre, an automatic in-house movement that contains 284 components and serves up 60 hours of power reserve. It’s a very cool watch from a brand with authentic pedigree producing proper pilot’s watches.
Jaeger LeCoultre Geophysic Universal Time
First released in 2015, the Jaeger LeCoultre Geophysic Universal Time is a perfect example of the Le Sentier based brand looking to their archive for timeless design cues. Drawing from the original Geophysic collection from 1958, the Universal Time is a more contemporary complication for the jet age in which we currently live.
Featuring a large rotating disc in the centre of the dial, the continents of the northern hemisphere are displayed with their corresponding time zones. Framing this top-down map are two rings, one of which shows the 24-hour time while the second lists the major cities within the 24 time zones. The watch is cased in steel, with easily wearable dimensions of 41.6mm in diameter by 11.84 mm thick.
The Jaeger LeCoultre Geophysic Universal Time is powered by the automatic calibre 772, which contains 274 components and delivers 40 hours of power reserve. It’s one of the more thoughtfully constructed world timers, created by one of the best watchmakers in the game.
Nomos Zürich World Time Ref. 805
For a relatively young, relatively small brand such as NOMOS, all it took was one watch to grab the attention of the world. That watch was the Nomos Zürich World Time ref. 805, which was first launched in 2011 and immediately began writing headlines for the brand.
The 39.9mm steel world time watch was the most complicated the brand had ever produced at the time, blending Bauhaus design with modern watchmaking in a way we hadn’t quite seen before. Utilising a slightly different design to other world time watches, the Zürich communicates the two individual time zones that you select but does not show all 24 time zones at the same time.
Effectively, it’s probably closer to a GMT watch with a 24-hour city ring, but the different cities around the dial offer a cosmopolitan charm that is impossible to ignore. Inside the Nomos Zürich World Time ref. 805 is the impressive DUW 5201 calibre, which is made in-house at NOMOS and offers 42 hours of power reserve. If you’re after something with a minimalist feel that won’t break the bank, the Zürich needs to be on your list.
Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra 150M Co-Axial Master Chronometer GMT Worldtimer
After the length of its name, the thing you are immediately struck by with the Omega Seamaster Aqua Terra Worldtimer is its dynamic and richly textured dial. With a map of the northern hemisphere, the level of detail in the continents and the attractive blue of the oceans are mesmerising, offering the perfect destination for your eye.
It isn’t a small watch, with a 42mm steel case that will stand 14.12mm off your wrist, but it’s well proportioned and wears comfortably. Arriving on a stainless steel bracelet that matches the case, the whole package is well finished, with all the details done right just as you’d expect from Omega.
This world timer from Omega is powered by the calibre 8938, which contains the fabled co-axial escapement and is certified by METAS as a Master Chronometer. Basically, it’s very accurate and very robust, offering 60 hours of power reserve on top. This isn’t a space that Omega is typically known for playing in, but they have done a very fine job here.
Patek Philippe Ref. 5231J
When it comes to world timers, there are only a handful of brands that even approach Patek Philippe in terms of quality and tradition. As one of the original brands that Louis Cottier, the inventor of the world timer complication, sold his movements to, Patek Philippe is almost unique when it comes to expertise with world time watches.
The current benchmark for the brand is the Patek Philippe Ref. 5231J, a 38.5mm yellow gold world time watch that is remarkably thin at just 10.23mm. It features one of the most beautiful dials in current production, with a cloisonné enamel dial centre disc that depicts the continents of Europe, Africa and the Americas in startling depth and detail.
The Patek Philippe Ref. 5231J is powered by the 240 HU calibre, which is an expertly finished automatic movement with a solid yellow gold micro-rotor. Running at 21,600vph, the movement offers 48 hours of power reserve. If you are looking for one of the best of the very best in world time watches, this is a must-have for any serious collection.
Vacheron Constantin Overseas World Time
When it comes to extremely well-made sports watches from the best brands on the planet, the Vacheron Constantin Overseas collection is decidedly underrated. While the collection contains a verified cornucopia of remarkable wristwatches, the Overseas World Time is enticing for its straightforward interpretation of the world time function.
Featuring a stainless steel 43.5mm case, and standing just 12.6mm tall, the Overseas World Time is like most world time watches, with a map of the northern hemisphere forming the centre of the dial. Where it differs, however, is that while many watches with a world time indication offer 24 time zones, this offers a full 37 different time zones for greater accuracy.
The central hands of the Vacheron Constantin Overseas World Time are powered by the in-house movement 2460 WT/1, which features a 22k self-winding gold rotor and offers 40 hours of power reserve. It is water-resistant to 150m and can be worn on a bracelet or a rubber or leather strap, making it as versatile as it is a beautiful timepiece.
Tissot Heritage Navigator Automatic World Timer
Over the last three years or so, the watch world has become obsessed with heritage-inspired reissues. Before the boom kicked off in 2014, Tissot launched their own Heritage Navigator Automatic World Timer, a faithful reinterpretation of a classic design from the Le Locle-founded watchmaker. Inspired by a navigator watch that was produced back in 1951, Tissot looked to create an affordable expression of the famous jet setters timepiece.
As with most world timers, this Tissot offers the correct time across multiple time zones (not factoring in the time difference of daylight saving time). However, unlike many other world time watches, it does not feature a world map in its centre, instead offering a more pared-back design. The cleanly designed watch doesn’t offer a date display like many other GMT watches, instead, focusing its design more specifically.
The Tissot Heritage Navigator Automatic World Timer arrives on a leather strap and is powered by an automatic movement with self-winding functionality. It’s one of the most affordable and coolest watches in the category, and definitely one to have on your radar if price is a key consideration.