Rising to the challenge: true world time in a mechanical watch
By Loz Blain
June 14, 2007
June 15, 2007 Despite what the average world time watch might tell you, there's actually 39 distinct time zones across the world, not 24, and they rarely follow straight geographic lines. This prompted the master watchmakers at Blancier to rise to the challenge of producing the world's first truly accurate mechanical world timer - and they've come up with a masterpiece.
The simple way for a watchmaker to achieve a mechanical world time feature has traditionally been to separate the world into 24 time zones with one-hour increments - but as it turns out, the picture is a little more complex than that. 'Very interesting; not everywhere do the time zones actually follow the geographic conditions,' explains Blancier watchmaker Franz Wolff. In many cases, countries would use the clock time as a weapon in the struggle against their former colonial masters or neighboring ‘hostiles.’ 'Take India, for example where the difference from Greenwich Meridian Time is plus 5.5 hours.'
The dials of conventional world time watches cannot show these ‘out-of-step’ time shifts. Wolff explains this as follows: ‘Other watchmakers take the easy way out when making their clock mechanisms; it's just a lot easier to display full hours than half hours.'
Wolff and his Blancier colleague Till Lottermann aspired to higher goals: ‘Accurate, complete, exact - because at the end of the day, are we watchmakers or not?’
The key to the device is Wolff's polar world map, which rotates 360 degrees around the hand axis every 24 hours. It's based on a Lambert projection - an 18th century map of the world - but Wolff spent a huge amount of time developing formulas to adapt the map to make it easier to read in a small format. The main challenge, Wolff explains, was that ‘In the Lambert projection, the countries in the Northern Hemisphere are too small, making them too difficult to read.'
The result is a beautiful and effective watch that has displayed excellent accuracy in testing at all world time positions. And why spend so much time on building this piece? Wolf smiles, "Perhaps simply because no-one has built it yet."