Multi-Time Zone Watches

Phil Baker
August 2002


Because of the extensive amount of international travel I do, I have been fascinated with the complication of providing multiple time zones (MTZ) on watches. Over the last several years there has been an increasingly number of new models being offered; it seems nearly all companies offer a world time or dual time model. In addition there have been an increasing number of ways being used to display the additional time zones.

There are a number of criteria for selecting a MTZ watch, which varies with your need.

  1. Do you need just a 2nd time zone or a number of multiple zones?
  2. Are you using the 2nd time zone for reference when you are at home or when you travel to that time zone.
  3. Readability. The additional times are displayed in several ways, some easier to read at a glance than others. With some you can only read another time by itself; with others you can read multiple times at once.
  4. Attractiveness. Adding this complication can affect the appearance and clutter ofthe dial.
  5. Method for shifting between time zones. Does it require resetting the time or can it be done independent of the movement of the hour hand.
There are several types of MTZ watches:

24 Hour Scale Concentric With the Main Dial (Rolex Explorer II, Omega GMT, and many, many others)

Some, like the Rolex, BP and Omega place the 24 hr scale on a rotating bezel which allows to a third time zone without resetting the 24 hr hand. This is handy for checking the time of a time zone that you know the offset. For example, turning the "16" on the 24 dial scale to the top (12 o'clock position) allows the 24 hr hand (assuming it is set to home time) to read the time in a time zone 16 hours away.

These employ the most common way to display a 2nd timezone. An additional hour hand rotates once per 24 hrs. A large 24 hr scale is mounted on the bezel, which may or may not rotate. To set to a second time zone either rotate the 24 hand or rotate the bezel. The advantage of the rotating bezel is to set to a second or third time zone without resetting the 24 hr hand. I have found it takes a few moments of mental calculations to read a 24 hr scale. Variations include non-rotating bezels (Zenith, Ventura, Omega DeVille Coaxial), and where the 24 mark is located (usually at 12 o'clock. I find these watches so common now that the main selection is aesthetics. The Rolex GMT II is currently my favorite of this category. It comes from a long tradition and likely is the number one seller. (and was the originator of the concept)

A Second Scale, Either Linear or Digital, for Reading the Second Time Zone (IWC UTC, UN GMT)

The advantage of this design is you can quickly see the 2nd time and the watch can be more stylish since it need not have a large rotating bezel and a 24 hr hand. In addition the UN and the IWC can have their hour hand changed without stopping the watch. This is very useful for those that travel through adjacent time zones. With the 24 hr scale it is less likely you will make this adjustment if you are in the new time zone for a plane change or a short while.

The UN GMT is one of the more popular models. It buries the large 24 scale behind the main dial, displaying a readout of the 24 hr dial behind a small window. In addition the UN has quick advance buttons to move the hr hand forward and back, independent of the minute and seconds hands, to change time zones (while leaving the 24 hr time intact.) The combination of an attractive design and being able to change time zones without resetting the watch is a real advantage.

The IWC UTC displays a portion of the 24 hr dial behind a window on a rotating scale. If you like the looks of a pilots watch this is a good choice.

A 2nd Hour Hand Can Be Retracted Under the First (Patek Time Traveler, Breitling Longitude)

Often this 2nd hand can be hidden under primary hour hand when not in use. (Breitling Longnitude, Patek Philippe Traveler).

The most popular of this type is the Patek Time Traveler. Originally only available in an ornate Calatrava case, and was, in my opinion, too formal for a travel watch. A new version has recently been released (5134) which is much improved. It is relatively easy to read the 2nd time zone using the 2nd hr hand, finished in a different color from the main hand. There is also a 24 hr sub-dial that differentiates between day and night. This is one of my favorites. I would suggest you discuss the original Louis Cottier designed jumping hour Pateks (ref 2597) of the 1950s which were available with either one or two hour hands.

The Breitling Longnitude, which has also has a retractable 2nd hand is much less useful because there is no day night or 24 hr indicator. I would not recommend buying any MTZ watch that cannot clearly differentiate whether the 2nd time is day or night. Either the use of a scale or a day/night indicator) is sufficient.

A Small Analog Dial Displaying the Second Time Zone (Blancpain, JLC Geographique, Oris, AP).

The are some of easier to read as they use a 2nd analog twelve hour dial. The JLC uses a circular scale with 24 cities used to select the 2nd timezone. With the exception of the AP, these all have a day/night indicator which is a necessity, in my opinion.

A Dial That Shows Multiple Cities Around the Dial Used With Either a 24 Hour Scale or a 2nd 12 Hour Dial.

Most all use a passive city bezel that requires you to turn the bezel (Ebel Voyager, Xemex), while the new Patek Worldtimer has 24 hour scales that automatically rotate to show times in all 24 cities simultaneously. The Worldtimer is based on a Patek Philippe patent and works quite well. It allows you to check the time of many different cities simultaneously. It is my personal favorite.

I would suggest you give more info & pix on the Louis Cottier world time watches from Patek et al. The Japanese company Shellman has now introduced a world time watch based on the Cottier designs where the inner 24hr ring rotates automatically.

2nd 12 Hour Analog Sub Dial Synchronized With Main Dial (Oris Worldtimer*, AP Royal Oak dual time, JLC Reverso Duo)

This design is one the best for displaying a second timezone as it requires no interpretation between the main dial and sub dial. The best example, and one for the best buys) is the Oris Worldtimer that displays a subdial at 3 o'clock with a day/night indicator. One of the finest and most beautiful of this type is the Blancpain Sun Moon.

For traveling many find a watch with 2 time zones to be the most convenient of all. The second time is usually set to the home time. The main time is set to the home time when home and to the visiting city when away.

I personally like the JLC Reverso. It has two easy to read dials, has a highly reliable in-house movement and is the perfect reason for having a Reverso style watch.

One Final Variant

During the 1980s, Breitling used to sell, what they called a "UTC Module"; this was a small (perhaps 20mm diam.) quartz watch integrated into the upper end of the strap just below the lugs at the 6 position. This was available either already installed from the factory or as an extra after purchase and was a simple way to add a second time zone capability. I am always amazed that no other watch company ever took up this idea.

A Note on Daylight Savings Time

It should be noted that different countries have different dates for daylight savings times, and some countries have no daylight savings time, specifically Japan, Taiwan, China, etc. A number of US states also ignore DST. As a result, those watches with city scales (JLC Geographique, Patek Worldtimer, Ebel, etc.) will not be accurate the entire year. You simple will need to look at a one hour offset during the summer months. For example, when checking Shanghai time I use the Bangkok marker. This is of course not an issue with two time zone watches. What do we do about countries that do not use a 1hr offset from GMT??

PERSONAL OPINIONS

My criteria for the usefulness of a 2nd time zone watch is it should be as easy and quickly to determine the second time zone as the local time. Since you always know whether it is day or night locally (look out the window), away times should have some indication of whether it's day or night, either using a 24 hr scale or providing a day/night indicator. This is the major problem with the Breitling Longnitude and AP because there is no day/night indicator that allows you to quickly at a glance determined the time in the 2nd zone. If you use the 2nd time zone for a time just a few hrs. away then this is less of a problem, but then it's easy to calculate the second zone without needing such a watch. I also do not like the watches with 2 non-synchronized dials, which can drift apart over time. Neither dial usually has a day/night indicator, and their styling is usually limited to long narrow cases. A minimum criteria for a time zone watch displaying the second time using a 12 hr display is that there be a day/night indicator.

The Rolex models are classic designs that have a 24-hr scale on the bezel and a clearly differentiated hour hand that rotates once every 24 hr. I have found my GMT II to be easy to use and to quickly determine the 2nd time zone. I see many of the GMT I and II and Explorer II watches being worn by traveling business people, probably more than any other brand. The Blancpain is another watch using the same design as the Explorer and is considered by many to be the finest of all watches of this type, primarily due to BP's Piguet's movement and superior workmanship of the case and dial. A third alternative favored by many on this forum for its quality and price is the Omega GMT.

My first dual zone watch was the Ulysse Nardin GMT (SS with white dial) that has a small window at 11 o'clock displaying the hour of the 2nd time zone. This was somewhat of a breakthrough when it was released about 8 yrs ago. This has proven to be a rugged, reliable watch, much like my Rolex. However the UN is more elegant with its finely patterned dial and case details. With the usual discounts available I think it's a very good buy. One minor objection is that it takes about 5 minutes for the hour to change at the hour. For a few minutes during this transition it is difficult to read the number in the hour window. This watch also has pushers that move the main hour hand forward and back an hour for each push. I recently purchased the new version of this watch, the UN GMT large date in a slightly larger size (40mm). This design improves the earlier with a non-reflective dial, relocated pushers, large date, and apparently faster switching of the home time. I consider this to be my preferred 2nd time zone watch for traveling.

The Oris Worldtimer (somewhat misnamed since it's really a dual zone watch with no city reference) has similar functionality to the UN, but goes a step further by using a 12 hr analog subdial at 3 o'clock with a day/night indicator for the 2nd time instead of the UN's 24 hr digital indicator. Some may find the analog dial easier to read at a glance. Although I do not own it, it has received good reviews for functionality. In fact it has some similarities to the JLC Geographique, both having a small 12 hr dial with a day/night indicator synchronized to the main dial. I find these designs the best for checking the second time zone at a glance.

The JLC Master Geographique (and the even more complicated Reverso Geographique), considered by many to be one of the finest world time watches, has an arched window at 6 o'clock (at 12 o'clock on older models) which displays one of 24 cities. By rotating a knob at 10 o'clock the city can be changed which changes the subdial and day/night indicator to correspond to the city displayed. An interesting enhancement is the displaying of the transition from day to night or night to day is indicated by an arrow pattern on the day/night indicator. Current models have a dark blue dot to indicate night. Older models have an additional 24 hr sub dial. This has proven to be one of the easiest watches to use and read and, in my opinion, deserves its fine reputation.

Another design of world time watches is the found among the Citizen World Timer, Ebel Voyager, the Porsche world time watch, and others. A moveable bezel around the dial contains the names of world cities, usually 24, one representing each of the time zones. At the outer edge of the watch dial, but within this bezel is a 24 scale and pointer that rotates one revolution per 24 hrs. By aligning one city to its time, the other cities align appropriately (except for the daylight savings problem noted below.) One advantage of this design over the Geographique is that the times in all cities can be read at once. The new Patek Worldtimer watch rotates a 24 hr scale relative to the cities to automatically display all times in all cities all the time. In fact they make this 24 hr ring an integral part of the movement. This is the only design in which you can read the time anywhere in the world automatically.

Daylight Savings Time

One problem, however, with all mechanical world time watches with the 24 hr cities is their inability to automatically adjust for daylight savings time. Because the transition between standard and daylight time occurs on different dates for different localities, and some cities do not have observe daylight savings time, these watches may be off by one hour if one city is on DST and another is not. Digital watches (e.g. Casio) can have each city set with DST on or off which allows continuous switching among cities with no further adjustment.

One very highly regarded dual time watch is the JLC Duo, which provides 2 synchronized 12 hr, dials, one on each side. The main dial has a subdial with a second hand dial, while the 2nd time zone dial has a 24 hr sub dial to indicate day and night. I have found this to be a very elegant and mechanically fascinating watch, although to see the 2nd time zone you need to rotate the case.

Another variant is the Franck Muller Master Banker which displays 2 12 hr dials on the watch for providing the time in 3 different localities at once.

Summary

Here are my personal preferences:
  • Best combination of value, function, attractiveness: UN GMT Large Date
  • Best World Time Watch at any cost: Patek Worldtimer
  • Best Value World Time Watch: Citizen World Timer (about $120)
  • Best Dual Zone Watch for ruggedness and reliability: Rolex GMT II
  • Best Dual Zone Watch for functionality: Oris Worldtimer
  • Best Dual Zone Watch for style: JLC Reverso Geographic

 

Future Designs

There are still some design opportunities watch companies should consider:
  1. Provide the date for the 2nd time zone. This is only done in some of the more recent Casio digital world time watches and not on any mechanical watches. The UN and IWC change date as you move through midnite is going to or coming back from the second time zone.
  2. Provide a correction for daylight savings time.
  3. Design a dual time watch that uses the main dial for both time zones by switching its hour hand, day/night and date indicators between the 2 zones with the push of a button or rotation of a knob.



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