Prospective purchasers are advised that several countries prohibit the importation of property containing materials from endangered species, including but not limited to coral, ivory and tortoiseshell. Accordingly, prospective purchasers should familiarize themselves with relevant customs regulations prior to bidding if they intend to import this lot into another country.
The Property from an Important Collector
The Genius of Louis Cottier and the Heures Universelles
With increased mobility in the late 19th century, travelers were confronted with the dilemma that each region had its own local time. Sandford Fleming (1827-1915) solved this problem. In 1876, the Canadian railway engineer recommended a universal time system in which the globe was divided into 24 time zones.
During the International Meridian Conference in Washington D.C. on 1st November 1884, it was agreed to establish international zones according to his system. GMT, Greenwich Mean Time, was considered "time zero" and twenty-four standard meridians marked the centers of the zones. The International Dateline was placed along the 180-degree meridian in the Pacific Ocean. Around the world, clocks were reset to adapt to this new system of timekeeping.
This challenging problem for watchmakers was solved by Louis Cottier, who in the early 1930s, invented an ingenious system for universal or world time indication. Patek Philippe immediately commissioned Cottier with the development and production of a series of "World Time" watches, using the celebrated "HU" or "heures universelles" calibres (see lots 55 and 64 in this auction), followed by the "Travel Time" wristwatches with either two or three hands (see lot 69 in this auction). Made in exceedingly small series, these timepieces are today highly sought after collectors' watches.
Different examples of Patek Philippe's "World Time" pocket and wristwatches are illustrated and described in Patek Philippe Museum - Patek Philippe Watches - Volume II, p. 334-353, chapter "World Time and Jump Hour Watches and Louis Cottier Prototypes".
Louis Cottier (1884-1966)
Born in 1894 in Carouge, Geneva, Cottier inherited the talents of his father Emmanuel, a renowned maker of watches and automata. Emmanuel invented a World Time system in 1885 which he presented to the Société des Arts and which, some forty years later, served as inspiration to his son.
Louis studied watchmaking at Geneva's horological school and distinguished himself as a highly talented student. At a very young age Louis Cottier received several prizes, including two from Patek Philippe. Following his studies, he worked as a watchmaker for Jaeger's Geneva branch before opening his own business. Cottier's career started in the back room of his wife's book and stationary shop at Carouge's 45 rue Vautier where, during 13 years, he manufactured fine desk clocks, pocket watches, wristwatches and prototypes. In 1931, he introduced his highly practical and elegant invention "heures universelles", featuring a central local time with hour and minute hands, linked to a rotating 24 hour ring, and bordered by either an independently revolving time zone bezel or outer dial ring (both manually adjusted). By aligning the local time zone with the 12 o'clock point of the local time dial, the watch would display the correct time in both hours and minutes, night and day, for every time zone in the world simultaneously, all on a single dial and while allowing easy accurate reading of local time.
Following the success of this ingenious system, Cottier specialized in complicated world time watches and invented models of remarkably pure design for the most prestigious Geneva brands, notably Patek Philippe.
In 1950, he invented the World Time system with two crowns, regarded by many one of the most practical innovations of 20th century watchmaking. In addition to a greater security and precision in the choice and maintenance of the city of reference, it offered greater protection against shocks and wear on the bezel bearing the city names. The ability to print the city names rather than incising them, thanks to the protective glass, resulted in greater legibility.
Patek Philippe entrusted Cottier with the development and fabrication of the greatest number of complicated watches, resulting in the invention and production the celebrated "dual time" wristwatch in 1954 featuring a single movement. This solved the problem of synchronizing the minute hand, a problem often found in twin movement watches by other manufacturers. This Two Time Zone movement with two or three hands, developed in collaboration with Patek Philippe's specialists, is amongst his most successful inventions. Finished in 1957, the prototype was patented by the firm in 1959 (no. 340191).
Louis Cottier was one of the organizers of the famous annual exhibition "Montres & Bijoux", which each year presented new creations. Even though he was considered a living legend and despite his incredible reputation he had earned in the world of horology, the ever active and brilliant Louis Cottier remained a modest and humble man.
He would certainly have been surprised to know that, after his death in 1966, his workshop was given to Geneva's Musée d'Horlogerie et d'Emaillerie where it can still be seen today. A similar tribute was made following his death when the citizens of Carouge paid homage to the man and his contributions by naming a square after him.
Today, Louis Cottier's timeless design are the standard used for mechanical world time watches.