One time zone, good. Two time zones, better. More than three time zones? The world is your oyster.
The ability to display a second time zone or multiple time zones is one of the most practical – and evocative – of all timekeeping complications (as functionality beyond mere telling the time is known in the watchmaking biz).
The most basic type is a dual-timer: generally constructed with a third hand on the dial, so you can set two simultaneous but independent time zones.
Some allow for a third time zone, while others are true world timers that can be set to one of the world's multiple time zones – usually matching the 24 meridians of longitude, which in theory correspond to 24 standard time zones around the globe.
I say in theory because, due to the International Date Line and other variations, there are more like 39 actual time zones – some varying by just 35 or 40 minutes. Then there is China, about the size of the US, which has four time zones but has just one standard time.
All very confusing, which is why having an idiot-proof watch that can calculate – either mechanically or electronically – the correct time zone for you with as little fuss as possible is a godsend if you’re frequently traversing the world on business or pleasure.
Time travel on your wrist
There’s another recognisable element to true world timer watches: listing the names of cities on the dial or bezel is an exotic allure harking back to a more romantic age of travel when the wider world was a more mysterious and far-flung place than the one we know now.
I’m always fascinated by which cities and places are listed; it’s sobering to think that on older and highly collectable world timers, the countries they once represented might themselves no longer exist (the Soviet Union, for example).
One beautiful, aspirational but fuss-free example of the dual-time breed is Vacheron Constantin’s Overseas World Time (41mm, transparent case back, pink gold case, water-resistant to 150m, $58,500 RRP).
The red-arrow tipped hand can be set, via the crown, to a “reference time” with the regular hour hand marking the time at the wearer’s current location. A nifty day/night marker at 9 o’clock on the dial synchronises with the reference time. The automatic movement provides 60 hours of power reserve while Vacheron’s finishing, down to the most minute detail, is exceptional.
Considerably more affordable at $6750 RRP, but with the added functionality of a third time zone, is the limited edition, 41.5mm Frankfurt Finance 6099 B Limited Edition (200 pieces worldwide) from Germany’s Sinn.
The regular winding crown at three o’clock sets the first two time zones (the arrow hand points to the second time zone), while a crown at 10 o’clock operates an adjustable bezel marked off in hours to set the third time zone.
The automatic movement also controls three chronograph sub-dials and date display on the blue sunburst-decorated dial, all housed in a polished, stainless steel case.
Another German offering is the Teutonia II World Time from Muhle-Glashutte ($3800 RRP, 41mm, 42-hour power reserve). Two independent time zones can be viewed via the dial, plus the Teutonia II has a 24-hour time zone scale set via the bi-directional rotating bezel.
By using the GMT hand in combination with the watch’s 24-hour inner scale, you can quickly read off the time in any of the 24 cities that ring the striking midnight blue-sunburst effect dial.
IWC’s Timezoner Spitfire Edition “The Longest Flight” ($18,800 RRP, 60-hour power reserve, 250 pieces worldwide) is, at 46mm, a substantial timepiece on the wrist. The watch was developed for two pilots, Steve Boultbee-Brooks and Matt Jones, who circumnavigated the globe in a restored WWII Spitfire.
IWC’s clever and patented timezoner function enables the hour hand, 24-hour display and date to be automatically adjusted to any one of 24 time zones simply by rotating the outer bezel, which displays cities matching each time zone. The NATO-type textile strap and clean dial design give this watch a distinct military feel.
Omega’s 43mm Seamaster Aqua Terra Worldtimer ($12,625 RRP in polished stainless-steel case) is a spectacular watch indeed, with its rotating inner disc displaying the Earth as viewed from the North Pole, around which is a 24-hour indicator – dark blue for night, light blue for day.
Whereas many rival watches would have extra pushers around the watch to control settings, the Omega does everything via the crown, which makes for a much cleaner design.
From Japan come two quality multi-zone watches. Citizen’s Ladies World Time ($650 RRP, 35.8mm, water-resistant to 50m) has a distinctive mother-of-pearl dial and, thanks to Citizen’s Eco-Drive technology, never needs a battery. The world time function covers 26 time zones and, like the Omega, is set via the crown.
Seiko’s new Astron GPS Solar 5X (from $3500 to $4500) comes in four variants (including a 2000-limited edition ‘supernova’ model). The inbuilt GPS module is a boon for the world traveller; at the touch of a button, the watch connects to a satellite network to automatically adjust the watch to the local time zone or any one of 39 time zones you may find yourself in.
No batteries are required, since the Astron gets its energy from any light source: Seiko claims at 42.9mm wide and 12.2mm deep, this is the world’s smallest and thinnest GPS solar watch.