In any man’s timepiece collection, there should be different degrees of functionality and style, ranging from a tough field watch or a rugged dive watch to the handsome elegance of one of the best world-time watches. Yes, we’re being serious. It takes time to build a collection of the best men’s watches, so naturally, a watch as seemingly complicated as a world-time watch might not be first on your list — but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthwhile to learn more about this coveted design.
World-time watches do exactly as they say, displaying the time both at home (via regular hours, minutes and seconds hands) and in multiple time zones across the world (all 24 time zones, to be exact). This unique feat is accomplished with outer and inner bezel rings, with varying degrees of detail.
If you can’t quite pony up the cash for, say, one of the world’s most expensive watches, perhaps the refined functionality of a world-time watch — with a slightly lower price tag — is more your speed.
The fact that the best world-time watches can display time within each global zone all at once is frankly incredible, jaw-dropping and worthy of an addition to your vision board or your timepiece collection itself.
What to Know About World-Time Watches
The world-time watch isn’t the only timepiece that allows you to track the time in multiple locales with a quick glance at your wrist. The GMT (or Greenwich Mean Time) watch provides a similarly useful function, utilizing a fourth hand — one hand tracks your home time, and the second hour’s hand runs half as fast, keeping track of the 24-hour scale.
Yet, world-time watches can be read to show you the time almost anywhere on Earth. The globe’s most exotic cities are showcased, typically, on an inner ring, while another bezel ring utilizes numerals to track passing hours.
To keep track of time at home and abroad, set the city bezel in alignment with the current hour hand on your watch, and then read the timepiece accordingly to determine the time difference in other cities. It’s easier to use than it looks, and hey, it can even be a bit — dare we say it — fun.
A Brief History of Elegant World-Time Watches
Some of the finest watch brands in the world, like Patek Philippe, have made use of the world-time design to great effect, Blake Buettner, the managing editor of popular online watch guide Worn & Wound, told SPY.
Patek Philippe’s first world-time watch was introduced in the 1930s, and the company also focused on pocket watch iterations, perfecting the design through incredibly refined timepieces like the famed 1937 ref. 542 HU.
Swiss watchmaker Louis Cottier actually devised the 24-hour world-time movement in 1931, first seen in pocket watch form. Patek Philippe worked closely with Cottier to develop its initial world-time watches, and the rest is history.
Finding the Right World-Time Watch
The seemingly complicated look of world-time watches can be intimidating to both enthusiasts and novice watch collectors, Buettner said.
These types of watches are “a lot to take in,” he noted, but ultimately, serve much the same purpose as a GMT watch: That is, they should enable you to determine the time in multiple locations at once. Buettner notes that world-time watches are becoming more accessible beyond iconic Patek Philippe timepieces, with some prices hovering closer to the $1K mark, instead of the cost of a new home.
World-time watches also have a dressy elegance to them, with most positioned on sleek leather straps with richly colored, precisely designed dials, all the better to find global cities on the bezel. World-time watches are inherently more formal than GMT watches, Buettner said.
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There aren’t quite as many hard and fast rules with styling your watch in 2022 though, he added.
“More and more these days, people are kind of wearing these watches up and down their wardrobe,” he said, noting that straps can often be swapped out for more technical or dressier options. “The lines are being blurred.”
However one chooses to wear a world-time watch, the precision and statement-making style is clearly evident with one glance. Consider adding one of the best world-time watches to your next ensemble with our top watch picks below.
1. Patek Philippe World-Time White Gold Automatic
You’ve got no shortage of options when it comes to selecting heirloom-worthy, incredibly iconic world-time watches from the revered Patek brand — it’s truly hard to select just one. But the 18-karat white gold case and sleek black alligator leather strap, plus the history of the brand itself, put this timepiece in a league of its own. It features a super-precise Calibre 240 HU Automatic movement and a dressy case size of 38.5mm, all the better to wear this watch with your most elegant ensembles anywhere in the world.
2. Nomos Glashütte Zurich World Time
World-time watches are naturally more complicated in terms of design than your average dive or field watch, yet there are several watchmakers making remarkably clean, easy-to-read iterations of the style. With Nomos Glashütte, the dial is a crisp midnight blue with handsome white markings, and the 24-hour display actually appears on a dial wheel rather than on a bezel ring. It’s visually striking, to say the least. The proprietary NOMOS swing system, the escapement system that produces the familiar “tick-tock” of your watch, also adds precision beneath the surface, and it’s something no other company can offer in the way they do. Last but certainly not least, it’s all complemented by a remarkable black Horween leather strap out of Chicago.
3. Farer Roche World-Timer Watch
Given the in-depth nature of world-time watches, saving a few bucks often isn’t top of mind. That’s no longer the case with independent British watchmaker Farer, which focuses on classic watch styles built with a unique purpose in mind (they make everything from GMT to field and pilot’s watches, each designed for a specific purpose). Yet, that doesn’t mean they’re a “jack of all trades, master of none,” so to speak. They’ve done a beautiful job with this agreeably priced world-timer, which boasts a midnight blue dial adorned, fittingly, with a contrasting world map, an inner 24-hour dial ring and suitably speedy pointed hands.
4. Timex Navi World-Time Watch
It’s nearly impossible to top Timex if you’re in the market for a highly affordable, durable and dependable watch, no matter the category. And while iconic watches from the likes of Patek Philippe will set you back a rather ridiculous amount of dough, it’s American watchmaker Timex that comes through with an astonishing sub-$200 world-time watch. Sounds too good to be true, right? It’s not. This 38mm fabric strap watch makes it easy to add the utility of a world-time watch to your rotation, and the fact that it’s outfitted with a mil-spec nylon strap makes it even easier for you to go anywhere and everywhere you please in laidback, yet dependable, style.
5. Citizen Promaster Nighthawk World-Time Watch
Now, are you going to have reason to wear a world-time watch day in and day out? Perhaps not, but as global travel comes roaring back to life, you very well might. Plus, it never hurts to have a durable, stylish leather watch in your wardrobe, right? And naturally, Citizen watches deserve to be worn as often as possible, especially one with as reliable a design as the Promaster Nighthawk. In short, if you only have room for one watch to bring with you on an international trip — for business or pleasure — the versatility of a rugged yet intricate leather strap world-time watch shouldn’t be overlooked. The contrast stitching and reinforced leather strap make this world-time watch casual enough to wear with a henley and jeans, too. Meet your new go-to world-timer.