World Time: The Heure Universelle complication by Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe World Time watches have a particular fascination, attracting a public of voyagers and collectors who have raised it to cult object.
The introduction of this complication on a wristwatch is due to Patek Philippe in 1937. But the story began in 1931, when independent watchmaker Louis Cottier presented his Heures Universelles complication on a pocket watch. It was from the collaboration between Cottier and Patek that the Reference 515 HU - HU stands for Heure Universelle - was born, at a time when long-distance travel was a symbol of exclusivity.
Of this first "Universal Hour" wristwatch, the aforementioned Ref. 515 HU, only four examples were produced with a rectangular case in the Art Deco style then much in vogue. The references that followed were always produced in very small series, making these pieces highly coveted by antique watch collectors and achieving high auction values.
In 1954, together with Cottier, Patek Philippe created a model with a second crown and an internal rotating disc with the names of cities, presented under Reference 2523 HU. With the crown at nine o'clock and the local time set via the rotating disc with 41 city names, it asserted itself as the modern World Time watch. The technique of an internal rotating disc was used by Patek and followed by numerous other manufactures.
The city names on the discs of the most iconic models, or commemorative editions, are interesting in their own right, with the dials reflecting the state of global geopolitics in recent decades. In the past, time zones have constantly changed for political and economic reasons, and the naming of a city as representative of its time zone is an indication of its importance at the time.
Interestingly, World Time watches disappeared from the catalogue of the Geneva Manufacture between the 1970s and the year 2000, when the reference 5110 was presented at Baselworld. With this new reference, the complication has made its return in a refined way, highlighting the quality of finishes such as the classic guilloché in the centre of the dial, or the Grand Feu enamels that we appreciate on some models.
A relevant detail on this model, is the pusher button at 10 o'clock, instead of a second crown at 9 o'clock. The button serves to jump from one time zone to another, a function that Patek Philippe had patented in 1999. Equipped with the calibre 240 HU, targeted for improvement over the years, including the addition of the Gyromax® balance and Spiromax® spiral.
The current collection has two great representatives of the World Time only complication. The reference 5230P with a 38.5 mm diameter case, navy blue dial and matching leather strap, with a more contemporary and masculine look, highlighted by the new wavy pattern of the centre of the dial and the updated cities disc.
Alongside the reference 7130, presented in 2011 for the ladies' audience, reinterpreted in 2022 in an olive green version that is at once original, modern and elegant. Featuring a 36 mm rose gold case, embellished with 62 diamonds on the bezel, and a green calfskin strap, with diamonds on the buckle. The centre of the dial pays tribute to the mastery of fine craftsmanship techniques, with an antique vieux panier motif hand-worked in fine guilloché.
These two watches retain the charm that the World Time complication - which is intertwined with Patek Philippe itself - continues to exert on haute horlogerie enthusiasts, for the ease of use of a practical function combined with cosmopolitan elegance.
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