Friday, November 19, 2021

Rolex World Time Pocket Watch

Another Ultra-Rare

Rolex World Timer Surfaces

It was bound to happen, sooner-or-later. The fifth Rolex World Timer recently appeared, seemingly from out of nowhere and was recently auctioned by Christie's on November 8, 2021 for CHF 125,000. 

This exotic beauty was made in 1943, even though for some strange reason Christie's refers to it as being "CIRCA 1945".  You can read much more about the history of the Rolex World Timer in Jose's brilliant article below. Cottier made 12 examples of this magnificent masterpiece for Rolex in two batches: 6 models in 1943, and another 7 in 1947/1948. To date there are four known: 2 from the first batch and 2 from the second batch.

Rolex World Time Pocket Watch



When you think of World Time or Heures Universelles, you probably picture a Patek Philippe in front of your eye—certainly NOT a Rolex. The stunning Rolex World Time pocket watch you are about to experience is therefore even more incredible.

The World Time concept was the brainchild of Louis Cottier which he developed around 1930. Cottier offered his invention to a variety of Swiss watch brands but as the owner of the patent, he insisted on modifying the movements himself. This was the standard procedure from the very first prototype for Baszanger in 1930 until the very last piece he was working on, when he died at his bench in September 1966.

Cottier's World Time was in many ways a precursor to the Rolex GMT-Master. From 1948 onwards, Rolex developed their own interpretations of the World Time concept and patented a number of ideas.

Swiss watch brands who comissioned World Time watches with Cottier were the crème de la crème of the Swiss watch industry: Vacheron & Constantin, Patek Philippe, Agassiz, Wittnauer, and Rolex!

You heard it right, Rolex was also a client of Cottier—one of the very first actually. In 1931, Cottier developed three different jump hour prototypes for Rolex but it was not until 1943 Cottier created a micro-series of six Rolex World Time pocket watches. The movements were based on large Aegler-made calibers used by Rolex exclusively for officially certified chronometer pocket watches with the regal-sounding name of "Prince Imperial". Each modified by Louis Cottier himself.

The cases for these exclusive watches were made by Manufacture Favre & Perret SA in La-Chaux-de-Fonds, Switzerland and the exceptionally beautiful dials came from none other than the renowned dial specialist Stern Frères.

Apart from the initial six examples, Cottier made another batch of six examples in 1947/48. In total, 12 pieces were produced, making this one of the rarest Rolex references ever made. This information is based on Cottier's own documentation.

Until just recently, only three watches were known to exist. One from the 1943 batch and two from 1947.

A stunning fourth example has now surfaced and will be auctioned by Christie's on November 12, 2018, in Geneva. This watch belongs to the first batch from 1943. The pink gold pocket watch appears to be in an extraordinary condition.

Christie's Lot 139

Rolex World Time Pink Gold Pocket Watch

Reference: 4262
Dial: World Time (Istanbul misspelled)
Case number: 1010380

The intricate World Time Complication displays the time in featured cities around the world. It also shows whether it is day or night in the corresponding areas—demarkated by the light/dark chapter ring that revolves every 24 hours.

An interesting fact about the first batch is Rolex was not happy with the way "Instambul" was written. In a letter from January 7, 1948, Rolex asked the dial maker Stern Frères to change "Instambul" to "Instanbul" with an N.

A funny detail of this letter is the date. Only seven days into the new year, the person who wrote it was still used to write 1947. Didn't this happen to all of us at some point?


Conc. cadrans Tour d'heures universel commandés par la maison Cottier. 

Faisant suite à notre entretien téléphonique nous vous confirmons que ces cadrans doivent être exécutés exactement d'après la photographie galv. 4262 en votre possesion, en outre ils sont destinés à des boîtes ayant 38 mm. d'ouverture de lunette. 
Nous attendons un cadran pour la fin février comme vous nous l'avez promis.
Veuillez agréer, Messieurs, nos salutaftions distinguées."

English Translation


Concerning the World Time dials ordered by the Maison Cottier.

Following our phone call, we confirm that these dials must be executed exactly according to the galv. photography 4262 in your possession, besides they are intended for cases with a 38 mm bezel. We are expecting a dial by the end of February as promised. Gentlemen, please accept our distinguished greetings.

It is interesting to note the letter implies the dials were ordered by Cottier and not by Rolex.

The next picture shows a Rolex World Time from the second batch made in 1948 where Instanbul was already written according to Rolex's request.

The movement of this watch is incredibly beautiful. This was the only pocket watch movement ever made by Rolex—respectively Aegler SA in Biel/Bienne. For more common pocket watches, Rolex used a variety of movements from other brands. For instance Cortebert, Montilier, Recta, etc.

An interesting feature of this movement is the "Rolex Patent Cap", a bridge that covers the balance wheel completely.

According to my database, the first movements of this type appeared around 1930/31 in observatory quality (pre COSC) "Prince Imperial" pocket watches.

The case back bears typical Rolex hallmarks from 1943. Clearly visible is the Helvetia hallmark (official symbol for 18k gold) with the town mark "C" for La-Chaux-de-Fonds. The hammerhead symbol with the number 115 is the so-called "Poinçon de Maître" and identifies the case maker. This case was made by Manufacture Favre & Perret SA.

31 Victoires Haute Precision refers to 31 awards won for outstanding precision.

The case number with 7-digits is a typical Rolex pocket watch number that started in 1926 with 1,000,000. After WW2, Rolex abandoned the 7-digit number and adopted a new 6-digit number instead.

As many of you may know, Rolex produced all Panerai watches until 1955/56. Interestingly, the first three batches of the iconic Ref. 3646 were recorded within the pocket watch range and not—as one would expect—within the Oyster range. As you can see in the picture below, the case number of this 3646 is very close to Rolex World Time presented in this article.

Image appears courtesy of Stefano Mazzariol

With the new "Panerai" batch from 1944, Rolex numbered Ref. 3646 with Oyster case numbers.

Coming back to the Rolex World Time pocket watch, although pocket watches are not very popular these days, it can be assumed this spectacular example — considering its rarity and condition — will fetch a considerable amount of money. A piece like this is certainly something for the real connoisseur.

Christie's description fascinatingly mentioned the following:

"Rolex was certainly experimenting with various world time systems as research into their Swiss patents shows. Between 1948 and 1950 Rolex had patented at least three various world time systems including one (Swiss patent no. 273742) with close visual similarities to Cottier’s. Quite why Rolex never put any other world time watches into full production can only be conjecture. 

However, looking at the wider picture, this was a period of experimentation and development of new models within the company, with the focus starting to switch to the robust tool and sports watches for which Rolex has since become synonymous. It was perhaps felt that a world time watch was uncommercial and too expensive to produce and by the early 1950s work on the new GMT-Master may have already begun."

Special thanks to John Goldberger.

A Note From Jake

Jose did such a great job with documenting and contextually showcasing this amazing Rolex history, which comes as no surprise. Jose constantly suprises and delights with his magnificent Horlogical Forensics Investigation technique.

Back on May 20, 2018, I published the story below, which I believe could almost serve as a Part II to Jose's story seen above, as it offers additional insight into the genesis of the Rolex GMT-Master. It also provides additional scholarship and insight while supporting Christie's brilliantly written description seen above this paragraph.

1949 Rolex GMT?

Rolex 'Universal Watch' Patent Application

WTCF!?!! This new find is rather shocking as it adds a previously undocumented piece of history to the Rolex GMT-Master history puzzle. Notice the application date is August 29, 1949. This is profound in that Rolex did not launch the Rolex GMT-Master until 1955.

I really don't even know where to begin with this Rolex patent application as is appears to have come out of left field. The fact that it predates the GMT-Master by 6 years is one thing, but the fact it has two dials with one that includes international cities including Geneve, Berlin, New York, and Panama make it even more interesting as it appears to be a hybrid GMT/World-Timer of sorts...

One interesting detail is that the Rolex 'Universal Watch' pictured above features a dedicated 24 hour hand (5) which we see just above the 2 O'clock position. This means that Rolex had the GMT-Hand design complete at least 6 years earlier than anybody ever documented. Clearly, this Rolex watch model never made it to market, but this patented design really illustrates that Rolex was swinging for the fences in watch design...

It is obvious to note the design of this 'universal watch' by Rolex is opposite of a GMT-Master in the sense a GMT has the 24-hour rotating bezel on the outside, whereas this design features it on the inside...

The photo above shows an original 1955 Rolex Pepsi GMT-Master, which is featured below in the 1955 Rolex ad.