Us watch lovers always like to know what time it is. That’s how we are: we use the chronograph of our watch to measure the cooking time of pasta, we stop listening when we lose ourselves in the fascinating dance of a tourbillon. But certain complications, it has to be said, are really useful in everyday life.
Maybe our office has opened a new branch overseas, or perhaps we simply want to know what time it is at home while we are away on business. When will our colleagues in New York call? Will this be an appropriate time to phone our wife?
The problem is soon solved, thanks to a multitude of watches ranging from two to four hands. Whether it is a GMT, a World Timer, or a totally unconventional solution, the right timepiece allows us to answer the simple question, “What time is over there, honey?”.
What time is it across the Empire?
Humans have always travelled, and with them, the need to calculate different times. This difficult task has historically been entrusted to the stars, the Sun and the Moon, which by means of complicated trigonometric calculations made it possible to determine the time at which travellers found themselves. But as routes became faster and telephone lines extended, so did the need to quickly and easily identify the time zone of distant cities. And so it was that, in 1939, Patek Philippe came to the rescue of its prestigious customers with the introduction of the Ref. 1415HU, Heure Universelle, the first “mass-produced” world timer.
This splendid timepiece, produced in just over 100 pieces, allows its owner to instantly identify the time in the world’s most important cities by simply aligning the bezel with the inner hour ring.
The revolution in the air
If before the Second World War, travelling took days, weeks, months, and the time on the watch could be slowly adjusted, the revolution came with the birth of commercial jets. Wealthy businessmen began to fly, for business or pleasure, great distances in a matter of hours. Thus arose the need to quickly change the time on one’s watch and to calculate the time zone where family members or colleagues were, thousands of kilometres away.
A small, almost unknown company, Glycine, launched in 1953 the first watch capable of simultaneously tracking two time zones: the Airman. This watch, equipped with an unusual 24-hour mechanism, allows a second time zone to be tracked by adjusting the position of the bezel, while continuing to read the time by means of the hands.
The GMT Master
Meanwhile, the aviation giant Pan Am, boasting its ultra-modern Boeing 707 jets, approaches the leader of sports watches, Rolex, with specific demands. A year after Glycine, Rolex released an icon destined to change the appearance of sports watches forever: the GMT Master ref. 6542.
The image that we all associate with the GMT was born, with its characteristic bi-coloured bezel and third 24-hour hand, enabling the immediate reading of two time zones, as well as potentially a third, by moving the bezel to different positions.
The GMT Master immediately became the standard for Pan Am pilots, and soon wealthy jet passengers began to also acquire these new watches capable of easily indicating the exact time to call home, or the office, on the other side of the ocean.
If we really want to take a completely different route without sacrificing luxury and sophistication, Cartier is undoubtedly the answer. The Maison has always accustomed us to being amazed, and in this case, the simple ingenuity behind its nature gives us one of the most fascinating and unique watches in its category.
Why complicate the dial with a third hand, and why add a bezel full of inscriptions or colours, when you can simply split the watch in two? This is how the Cartier Tonneau Dual Time was born, where two independent mechanisms, two sets of hands, and two crowns are dedicated to the two different time zones. A singular idea, with not just double the appeal, but one elevated to the second.
Whether you need to track several time zones, for work or for love, or simply like the idea of being able to do so, a GMT (or one of its singular cousins) is the perfect watch for you. And that is why, although many years have passed since their introduction, practically all the historical icons in this category are still in production today, with a modernised look but all in all faithful to the original.
But the allure of true vintage icons remains unbeatable: dreaming of the journeys these timepieces have witnessed, surrounded by the smoke of cigarettes and the sparkle of champagne on a Boeing 707, is priceless.
This is why we, at The Watch Boutique, are pleased to offer our customers only the best and rarest examples of this much-loved category. Please, do not hesitate to contact our experts to learn more about the details of the watches in our Collection and discover the secret treasures of our private selection, or book an appointment in our boutiques, spread across the various time zones of the world.
written by Lorenzo Spolaor