Nothing strikes awe in the heart of a watch collector like a Patek Philippe world timer. That’s because throughout history, Patek Philippe have produced the best and continue to produce the best in that segment of the watch market. Some of the earliest examples world time wristwatches were Patek Philippes. Emerging in 1937, the Ref. 515 HU, Ref. 542 HU and Ref. 96 HU were the firsts of their kind and would eventually pave the way towards larger scale production. The world’s first serially produced world time wristwatch was unveiled in 1939, none other than the coveted Patek Philippe Ref. 1415. The Ref. 1415’s most distinguishing feature is its gorgeous teardrop lugs, soldered to the case. It was made in numerous variations with different case materials, hands, and dials. Perhaps the most ornate examples of the legendary reference were the ones with cloisonné enamel dials depicting various regions of the world, most of which were expectedly of the European continent. These first enamel-dialed world timers along with their descendants would go on to become some of the most desirable watches from Patek Philippe. The Ref. 5231J-001, the first entrant of Patek Philippe’s latest generation of enamel-dialed world timers, was launched in 2019 and continued this long tradition by portraying America, Europe and Africa in cloisonné enamel.
Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 5231G
This year, Patek Philippe pays tribute to the dynamism of South East Asia and Oceania with a new (and only second) variant of the Ref. 5231. Here, we bring you the details and our honest thoughts on the new Ref. 5231G in white gold, with a cloisonné enamel map of the aforementioned region.
The Case, Dial, and Hands
The case of the new Ref. 5231G, rendered in white gold, measures a dressy 38.5 mm in diameter. This is 1.0 mm less than its predecessor the Ref. 5131 (and the non-enamel Ref. 5130), making Patek Philippe’s latest world timers that much more elegant. This new generation of world timers comes with a contemporary case design too, with fewer curves, a sloped bezel and winglet-style lugs. The pusher at 10 o’clock advances local time by one hour increments, along with the city ring that is linked to it; this functionality, however, isn’t new, and is found also in the previous generation.
In stark contrast to the austere case, the dial of the Ref. 5231G is richly ornate, thanks to the enamel medallion in the center. Patek Philippe world timers often serve as the canvas for the rare handcraft of cloisonné enameling, and most of these depict maps of certain regions around the world. Previous iterations have seen enamel depictions of Eurasia, North/Central America, the eastern hemisphere and even the arctic circle. This time, the brand has decided to highlight South East Asia and Oceania. The art of cloisonné enameling is particularly suited for rendering maps. The artisan first outlines the continents and islands with thin gold wires, before filling in the partitions with various enamel colours to express the landmasses and oceans. Between colours, the dial is fired at high temperatures in a dedicated kiln. Four gold paillons (gold-leaf spangles) highlight the four cardinal points.
Beyond the centre medallion are the city disk and 24-hour disk with day/night zones, allowing time to be read off at a glance in all 24 time zones simultaneously. The circle-type hour hand (one of the traditional shapes of Patek Philippe World Time watches), complemented by a white gold lozenge-shaped minute hand, displays the local time of the time zone whose corresponding city has been selected at 12 o’clock.
Driving the Ref. 5231G is the 239-part Calibre 240 HU. This is the same tried and true movement that powered the Ref. 5130 and Ref. 5131. It has a minimum power reserve of 48 hours and operates at a stately 3 Hz frequency. As denoted by the ‘HU’ designation which stands for Heure Universelle, the Calibre 240 HU has world time functionality. In addition, thanks to a mechanism patented in 1999, the user, when changing time zones, needs only press the pusher at 10 o’clock to simultaneously correct all displays.
Flipping the watch over reveals the movement in all its glory through the sapphire crystal case back. This is the familiar look of the base Calibre 240, with the world time mechanism unseen just under the dial. The most striking bit about the movement has to be the 22k gold microrotor. Integrated into the movement to reduce thickness, it is decorated with Geneva waves and engraved with the Calatrava cross. The rest of the movement is also given a handsome finish, with Geneva waves across the top surface of the bridges, beveled and polished edges, outward angles, polished screw heads, and perlage across the base plate, among other things.
The Competitive Landscape
Watches for travelers have become increasingly common in recent years, especially in the dual time and GMT format. The market has also seen a greater number of world timers from various brands but to a lesser extent compared to watches with simpler travel complications. But no matter how you slice it, Patek Philippe world time watches remain the leaders in the market. History, branding and product quality have helped the brand secure this position through the decades. Now with the Ref. 5231G, the future of Patek Philippe world timers continue to shine bright. While not a limited edition piece, the Ref. 5231G will almost certainly be limited in availability. The watch is priced at CHF75,000.
While Patek Philippe have kept their world time pieces classical the whole time, neighbours Vacheron Constantin have recently adapted their world time movement into the sports watch format. Enter the Overseas World Time, introduced in 2016 and turning heads ever since. Vacheron Constantin world timers are one of the few, if not the only ones that display time in 37 time zones instead of the common 24. The dial design is classical enough, but the watch’s sporty body and size of 43.5 mm is anything but traditional. The movement that powers the Overseas World Time is the evergreen Calibre 2460WT that’s also been in use in the Traditionelle World Time since 2011. Priced at EUR40,200 when it first debuted, the Overseas World Time (in stainless steel) represents a worthy contender in the luxury world timer segment.
If you’re looking for something less costly but with equally solid watchmaking, look no further than Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Geophysic Universal Time. First appearing in 2015, the watch has been praised for its good looks and user-friendliness. It displays all standard 24 time zones on the dial with a depiction of the northern hemisphere in the center. The Geophysic Universal Time may not be as well-finished as its Vacheron or Patek counterparts, but at ‘only’ USD25,000 for the pink gold variant, it is represents irresistibly good value.
There aren’t many watches that we’d call flawless but if we had to name one from this year, it’d be the Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 5231G. Sure, it’s nothing avant-garde or thrilling, but from case size to dial design and watchmaking, it just exudes classical perfection. Further backed by rich history and low production numbers, it is no wonder that enamel-dial Patek world timers are highly sought after and collectible.