Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R

The Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R pairs Louis Cottier’s famous means of displaying simultaneous world time with the convenience of a self-winding movement. Mark McArthur-Christie discusses the many virtues of this horological nobleman.

This detailed review of the Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R includes live images, specification details and pricing.

Image of Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R

Your iPhone will probably conjure up the time in the Marquesas Islands with just a couple of taps of a virtual button.  Your laptop can tell you if the hotel bar on the remote Chatham Islands is open in less time than it’s taken you to read this.  By comparison, the new Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R is pretty useless.

That’s because they’re in those strange, tricksy half and quarter-hour timezones that sneaked past Sir Sandford Fleming’s 1879 attempt to make sense of world time.  And neither appears on the 5230’s dial.  So why – in the name of all that’s holy and Swiss – should you spend the sharp end of £33,500 on the 5230?

Image of Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R

For just the same reason you’d drive a Bristol 409 and not a Honda Civic, even though the Honda is a far better car in almost every way.  For just the same reason you’d spend nearly £3,000 on a vintage Hetchins Curly bicycle when a modern carbon fibre racing razor blade is lighter, faster and stronger.

The Civic and the carbon bicycle are rational choices. Both will do a splendid job, but never make your heart sing in the way their more analogue alternatives can.  I can’t imagine many Civic owners have glanced over their shoulder at their parked car and smiled.  I don’t imagine many people have opened a bottle of wine, poured a glass and sat and just looked at the frame joints on their carbon bike frame.

The Bristol, Hetchins and Patek Philippe are irrational, emotional choices and all the better for it. 

Moreover, the Patek packs in 177 years of concentrated horology and distilled watchcraft.  See that pattern at the centre of the dial?  Look a little closer and you’ll realise it’s actually the same pattern, repeated in ever-smaller concentric circles as it orbits the cannon pinion. It’s produced on a hand-operated guilloché machine that’s been sitting in Patek Philippe’s workshop since around the turn of the nineteenth century.  PP is clearly not in the business of innovation for fashion’s sake.

Image of Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R

But world timers, like the world they time, need to change.  And it’s not just for aesthetic reasons.  Countries change the cities they use to anchor their timezones and even the zones themselves alter.  For example, Moscow may be moving in one direction politically, but in 2014 it moved closer to Europe by nipping from four hours ahead of Greenwich to just three.  And, while they were at it, the Duma made a few more tweaks that spread 11 timezones out across Russia – up from 9. Watchmakers can’t simply go on making the same old worldtimers now that Dubai, not Riyadh, is the reference point for UTC+3.

All this timezone upheaval has meant Patek Philippe has redesigned the timezone wheels of its Heure Universelle collection.  You’ll now find Dubai, not Riyadh on the outer dial, and Brisbane instead of Noumea.  But despite the guilloché dial treatment, always a trademark of earlier PP designer Svend Andersen’s world timers, Patek hasn’t gone so far as to replace Los Angeles with Beverly Hills.

Image of Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R

While they were at it, Patek’s watchmakers also redesigned the hands and cases of the Heures Universelle.  This fitted rather nicely with President Thierry Stern’s decision to show the entire range at Basel 2016 strapless to emphasise the quality of Patek’s case manufacture. The new case is a 38.5mm Calatrava style that’s just 10.23mm thick and you can have it in white or rose gold. The bezel is narrower than we’re used to for a PP world timer and smoothly polished too.

Push the domed, cuboid push-piece set into the case at 10 o’clock and several things happen at once. The hour hand moves forward by a step, the city dial and the 24 hour ring move one step counterclockwise and now you’re in a new timezone.  There’s no fuss, no need for a stylus or any interruption to the watch’s timekeeping.  The minute hand is completely unaffected by the changing hours.

But this is a world timer – a very different sort of watch from the humbler GMT or dual timezone model.   What’s the difference?  A world timer will show you simultaneously, at a glance, the time in any of the 24 main timezones of the world rather than just two or three.  It’s all thanks to watchmakers Emmanuel and Louis Cottier who found a simple, but particularly elegant, way to show simultaneous world time. 

Emmanuel, Louis’s father, invented a world time system in 1885, based on the globe’s 24 time divisions. Louis went on to work with Patek Philippe and, in 1931, he produced the modern world timer’s ancestor; a watch that displayed local time in hours and minutes but with a 24 hour dial ring and a separate timezone bezel.  To read local time, one adjusted the bezel until one’s local city was at 12 o’clock.  And to see the time in every key timezone in the world, one simply looked for the city name and read the time from the 24 hour dial.

So successful was Cottier’s system that he went on to make a world time pocket watch that was given to Winston Churchill after WWII.  This particular watch sold for nearly £500,000 at Sotheby’s in 2015.

Cottier was an exceptional watchmaker.  Not only did he perfect the world timer for Patek Philippe, he also developed the remarkable Cobra concept watch in 1958.  This was a watch that displayed the time (just the local sort) on rollers, visible through a slit window in the watch’s futuristic gold case.

Despite its relatively small size of 38mm, the Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R incorporating Cottier’s world time system is very simple indeed to read and use.  All 24 city names around the outer dial ring are clear and easy to see.  The 24 hour inner dial removes any ambiguity still further with a tiny, applied gold sun and crescent moon, indicating 1200 and 2400.

Image of Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230G

Ref. 5230G – 18-carat white gold

Visually, the Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R (PP model names are, of course, created by a closely-guarded mechanical random number generator in a Rue des Vieux-Grenadiers basement) is a little simpler than the Ref. 5930 World Time Chronograph with its extra subdial, chrono seconds and two additional pushers.  It’s none the worse for it though.

Much has been made of the hour hand of the 5230 being shaped to resemble the Southern Cross constellation.  A little unfair on those of us in Northern Europe, perhaps – and a rather odd choice for a Swiss watchmaker.  Nevertheless, it’s piercing and taper makes it easier to read at a glance than the previous balloon hour hand.  Both hands match the case material and hour markers and are lapped and bevelled.

Image of Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230RBut, as ever, the real joy of the watch is behind the caseback.  In fact, one could even suggest that buying a 5230 might be a highly effective way to save money.  Rather than wasting time and subscription fees on entertainment, TV, restaurants and the cinema, simply take off your 5230, turn it over and enjoy gazing at the movement.  For hours.

It’s a bit of a stunner.  239 parts, 21,600 vph, 48 hours of power reserve and a level of accuracy that looks at COSC certificates, raises an elegant, slightly supercilious eyebrow and smiles knowingly. 

Image of Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R

It’s self-winding but measures just 3.88mm in depth – only fractionally thicker than a pound coin.  That’s because its micro-rotor, engraved with the Patek Philippe Calatrava cross, sits flush with the movement plates. Normally, a micro-rotor of this size – perhaps a third larger than the mainspring’s barrel – would struggle to keep a movement wound.  Patek’s watchmakers have got round the problem with a rather simple, and typically Patek, solution.  They’ve made the rotor from 22kt gold.  That gives it plenty of weight and thus – critically – torque.

All this winding power gets transmitted to the mainspring and into the movement through 33 jewelled bearings – although you can only see 10 of them through the sapphire caseback.  And it’s regulated by PP’s unique Gyromax balance – using tiny, turnable weighted collets (rather than screws) to cut air-resistance and increase the balance’s moment of inertia.

You get bridges with chamfered edges and Côtes de Genève (on the micro-rotor too), perlage on the mainplate and even the wheels of the going train have chamfered spokes.  Yet, despite all the haute horlogerie finishing, it’s not over the top or bling.  All in all, it’s the sort of movement that makes one reach for a loupe and stare.

Image of Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R

Seriously – buy a Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R and drop your TV licence in the shredder. You won’t be needing it anymore.  Yes, of course, you can get an app that does the whole world time thing far more efficiently, but apps have all the joy, soul and satisfaction of a tax inspectors’ Christmas party.  Sometimes – perhaps nearly always in Watchworld – analogue is, actually, best.

Technical specification

  • Model: Patek Philippe World Time Watch Ref. 5230R
  • Reference: 5230R
  • Case: 18-carat Rose Gold 5N; diameter 38.50mm; height 10.23mm; sapphire crystal to front and case back.
  • Functions: Hours; minutes; display of 24 time zones, day/night indication.
  • Movement: Calibre 240 HU, Self-winding movement; frequency 21,600 vph (3Hz), 33 jewels; power reserve minimum 48 hours; 239 components
  • Strap: Hand-stitched allgator with large scales. Shiny brown with Calatrava fold-over clasp in 18k rose gold 5N 
  • Price: £34,570 (RRP as at 29.12.2016)

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