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Time zone - A complicated complication!

Time zone A complicated complication!

Watchmaking is so complex that merely adding a second time zone can bring on a migraine. Worldtimer, Universal Time, GMT and Dual Time: WorldTempus makes everything just a little clearer.

It was a lovely morning at the SIHH. The press was gathered to hear the latest news from a watch manufacturer, and find out all about its GMTs, WorldTimers, Universal Time watches and other delights. And that’s when I started to wonder: does anyone actually understand the subtle differences between all these? Time to clear things up.

The simple case of GMT
The simplest variation is a GMT. Except that, officially, good old Greenwich Mean Time is no more, having been replaced with UTC or Coordinated Universal Time. The two terms reflect the same objective reality but GMT, which rose to prominence when Britannia ruled the waves back in the 19th century, is now considered ambiguous.

While old habits die hard – particularly in watchmaking – GMT was officially superseded as an international time standard in 1972 – 45 years ago. It’s probably high time the watch world caught up, especially given that the second time zone displayed on GMT watches is rarely that of Greenwich! All that aside, this complication is by far the easiest to understand: a second central hand indicates the hour in the zone of your choice. The cleverer pieces, like the Grand Seiko, put their GMT hand on a separate 24-hour counter, which avoids any confusion between day and night, and spares the dial the extra clutter of a day/night indicator.

Pros: simple to adjust, clear and intuitive reading of the second time zone. Cons: maximum two time zones, no way of accounting for half-hour (or quarter-hour) time zones.

Des complications bien compliquées !

World Time or Universal Time: same problem

These two terms refer to the same thing. Universal Time is Jaeger-LeCoultre’s denomination for what is commonly known as a “worldtimer”. The principle of this function is to provide the ability to read the time in all the reference cities simultaneously. These watches therefore come with a single set of central hands and, usually, some kind of world map around the dial, which shows at a glance what time it is elsewhere in the world, along with a bi-directional rotating bezel for adjustments. Frédérique Constant, for example, has just added a very handsome brown version to its collection.

Pros: all time zones at a glance, unified aesthetic. Cons: harder to read, half-hour zones rarely accommodated, adjustment required for daylight saving time.

Des complications bien compliquées !

Des complications bien compliquées !

Dual time and other variants

There is no official definition of “dual time”. Because the category is vague, and doesn’t include the above-mentioned complications, dual time has come to refer to watches that display two time zones on two separate dials. Jaquet Droz has some. Pros: simplicity, legibility. Cons: none.

On the fringes there are some stylistic variations. Fabergé, for example, rather than having a GMT hand or secondary dial, prefers an additional window that displays the hour index for a second time zone. The Galet Traveller Boréal by Laurent Ferrier follows a similar design.

Des complications bien compliquées !

Des complications bien compliquées !

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