Pieces like this simply do not come along every day. In fact, I would call this pocket watch a piece with unparalleled historical significance, a truly special watch. Let me break it down for you. First off, the owner of this watch: Sir Winston Churchill. Enough said. Second, the occasion for the watch: a gift to Churchill in celebration of victory in World War II. Talk about a momentous occasion. Sotheby’s, who will auction the piece on Sept 22, notes that the watch was commissioned by a group of “prominent Swiss citizens” and was one of four given to leaders including Charles de Gaulle, Joseph Stalin and Harry S Truman, to commemorate Victory in Europe (“VE Day”, May 8, 1945).
On top of this, there is something that perhaps only watch enthusiasts and collectors will truly appreciate — the pocket watch was designed and made by Mr. Louis Cottier, inventor of the World Time system and arguably one of watchmaking’s most important figures. Louis Cottier’s World Time system was used by major names in the Swiss watch industry such as Vacheron Constantin, Rolex, and Agassiz and Co. (who Cottier also worked with on this piece) — but it was really Patek Philippe who made their mark with Cottier’s World Time. Indeed, everything from the Patek Ref. 96 HU Calatrava to the Ref. 515 HU to the famous Ref. 2523 HU with two crowns — all can be traced to the work of Louis Cottier. In other words, there is no less important person when it comes to a World Time watch than Louis Cottier (see “Did You Know” below for the full story on Louis Cottier and his impact on watchmaking).
These things said, I think there can be no argument as to the profound history and meaning of this watch. Let’s take a closer look, shall we?
The dial of the watch is nothing short of spectacular. Of course it the world time ring is immediately recognizable as the work of Louis Cottier. What’s interesting to observe, though, are the cities listed on the ring. In addition to the commonly used major world cities, names such as “Aden”, “Ceylon”, “Saigon”, “Peking” “Skagway” and “Klondike” add to the special nature of this watch. There are other interesting spellings as well: New-York, Hawai, Tokio, and “Denvers” (my home) which I presume to be a spot for Denver, CO given its relative placement on the ring. These notations and spellings are all a sign of the times and an important note on the provenance of the watch.
And then we have the center of the dial — a gorgeous cloissoné enamel representation of St George slaying the Dragon; note also the trident-shaped hour hand, as a symbol of the victory of good over evil.
On the back, a ‘V’ for Victory is engraved case, overlaying a crudely shaped outline of the world. In addition, there is a personalized dedication: “1939 — Prime Minister Winston Spencer Churchill — 1945″ which runs around the top edge of the caseback.
“V” for Victory — Sir Winston Churchill
Picture: Sir Winston S. Churchill Society of Edmonton
Churchill is said to have been thrilled with his gift when he received it in 1946, writing back to the Swiss group and saying: “I admire so much the care and the quality with which this delicate example of craftsmanship and Swiss precision was realised.”
Expect for the bidding action to be hot on this piece — I fully expect it to surpass the £60,000 – £100,000 pre-auction estimate. Full details (as they become available) on the Sotheby’s “Watches” auction set for September 22, 2015 in London can be found here.
Did You Know?
With the beginning of continuously increasing mobility in the late 19th century, watchmakers were challenged to invent new mechanisms to reflect the fact that the globe is divided into 24 time zones, each representing 15 degrees of longitude starting from the Greenwich Meridian. To make use of this feature, the bezel is first rotated so that a location in the same time zone as the clock is at 12 o’clock. When the local time is set on the main dial, the outer day/night ring can be used to tell the time at any of the locations engraved on the bezel. This ingenious mechanism has been invented and patented by the celebrated watchmaker Louis Cottier from Geneva who has worked closely with Patek Philippe for over 30 years.
Born in 1894 in Carouge, Geneva, Cottier had inherited the talents of his father Emmanuel, a renowned maker of watches and automata. Emmanuel had 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, who, at a very young age already, 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. Louis Cartier’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 of the “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, Rolex, Vacheron Constantin and Agassiz.
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 possibility of printing the city names rather than incising them, thanks to the protective glass, resulted in greater legibility.
Patek Philippe entrusted him 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 which existed 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 after his death when his fellow citizens of Carouge, as homage to the man and his contributions, named a square after him.
Still today, Louis Cottier’s timeless design is the standard used for mechanical world time watches.
via Christies (excerpted).
For more on Louis Cottier I also recommend this piece: