Andersen Genève, Worldtimers, And The New BCHH Celestial Voyager
Despite having made more than 100 pièces uniques among a grand total of approximately 1,500 timepieces spanning 41 years of a truly inventive career, independent watchmaker Svend Andersen has become particularly known for a few of his small series watches.
One of these is the worldtimer, a complicated timepiece displaying the time in 24 time zones (known as world time) with which Andersen has become synonymous.
How the worldtimer came to be
Sanford Fleming (1827-1915), Canadian Pacific Railroad’s chief engineer, was the first person with a vision of international time standards. He first published his ideas regarding a system of standardized time in 1876; here he described 24 time zones each comprising 15 degrees of longitude, with each zone one hour apart.
A unique pocket watch he commissioned was manufactured in London in 1880 and reflected the concept; this timepiece was most likely the world’s first worldtimer as it simultaneously displayed Fleming’s 24 hypothetical zones on a single dial.
A form of his idea was finally accepted by the International Meridian Conference in 1884 and officially adapted on January 1, 1885, though – common in theory versus practice – the world’s time zones were, and continue to be, defined according to some political compromise. Only in 1929 had all major countries in the world accepted time zones.
Following the official adaptation, multiple time zone watches arrived. They were often outfitted with six or more subsidiary time dials labeled for a major city and its representative time zone.
World time watches like Fleming’s own displaying all 24 time zones on a single dial were less frequently manufactured. They were characterized by a small central indicator that rotated counterclockwise once every 24 hours within a fixed time zone ring and provided an approximate reading of hours and even quarters in any of the 24 time zones.
Louis Cottier (1894-1966) from Geneva suburb Carouge invented and produced the first wristwatch displaying world time controlled by two crowns. That was in 1950, the same year he presented it to Patek Philippe, who subsequently patented it. It received Swiss patent number 340191 in 1959.
Cottier and Patek Philippe’s patent boasted several highly practical elements: great precision in choosing the reference city; protection from shock and wear thanks to the protective crystal covering the rotating reference city ring on the dial; and the fact that said ring could be printed rather than engraved or incised, resulting in much better legibility than its forerunners.
Additionally, the entire ensemble was powered by one single movement. To that point, world time systems had generally relied on the use of two movements, which made synchronization an issue. By the time Cottier passed away in 1966, he had made a total of 455 world time movements, manufactured at an average rate of 13 pieces annually. Cottier improved his own 1959 patent by evolving it to display two time zones.
Justifiably, Patek Philippe continues to venerate Cottier to this day – and it stands to reason that Andersen, who also spent nine years in Patek Philippe’s complication workshop early in his career, would do the same. During his time there, he often worked on watches containing the world time complication invented by Cottier.
Andersen Genève and a history of worldtimers
Andersen is without doubt best known for his calendar watches, a group that includes the 1884 world time watch, the model that has now become the Tempus Terrae, based on the patent by Louis Cottier. But first let’s take a quick look through the watchmaker’s history of worldtimers.
In 1989 Andersen created his first world time watch and christened it Communication, in which he added his world time module to a Frédéric Piguet base movement. The module and dial combined only measured 0.9 mm in height.
This was followed by the subscription series Communication 24 (Henrik, Prince Consort of Denmark, wore number one). This was especially poignant as Andersen was born in Denmark and moved to Geneva in 1963.
That was followed by the Mundus worldtimer, which Andersen released in a series of 24 pieces encased in platinum. This magically thin timepiece featured a world time module only 0.6 mm in height (including the dial!) on the Frédéric Piguet base movement (1.85 mm height).
The Andersen Mundus featured an anthracite-colored center dial adorned with a world map outlined in rhodium plating. The black-and-white reference city ring is regulated by the second crown placed at 9 o’clock.
The entire watch measured only 4.2 mm in height and was the thinnest world time watch at the time.
In 2003, Andersen introduced a timepiece in homage to the standardized world time created by Sir Sandford Fleming in 1884. Appropriately, Andersen named his masterpiece 1884, dedicating the gold rotor to Fleming and including his name, years of birth and death, bust, and the words “inventor of world time.” The 40 mm watch was offered in a series of 50 pieces in red gold, 50 in white gold, and 20 in platinum.
At Baselworld 2015, Andersen paid homage to 25 years of the worldtimer he created in commemoration of Cottier’s original 1950s patent with his new Tempus Terrae, a world time timepiece with two crowns and his signature blue gold in the center of the dial as well as on the rotor.
The owner can choose what pattern the blue gold dial should have: hand guilloche, tapisserie, or a scaly motif (seen below) are the most common. As is this independent watchmaker’s custom, Andersen Genève allows, if not downright encourages, personal customization of this watch.
This was the fifth worldtimer that Andersen had released over the course of his long career.
Andersen Genève’s latest Tempus Terrae worldtimer: BCHH Celestial Voyager
The latest edition of the Tempus Terrae worldtimer, like so many of Andersen Genève’s small series, was inspired by a bespoke wish from a client, in this case BCHH (Benjamin Chee Haute Horlogerie), who now offers seven customizable unique pieces through his website.
The main region of customization is the three-part dial, with the one shown here comprising a cloisonné enamel center upon a gold dial blank – in this case showing different world maps and a reference city ring in gorgeous aventurine. According to Andersen Genève, this is the first use of aventurine in a world time watch.
It is housed in a very classically sized 37.7 x 10.1 mm platinum case with stupendously sensuous lugs and relatively flat crowns on either side. The crown at 9 o’clock is for setting the world time/reference city function, while the other at 3 o’clock is for winding and setting the time.
The extensively finished movement of the BCHH Celestial Voyager
The back of this watch is a feast for the eyes. This starts with the words “Benjamin Chee Haute Horlogerie by Andersen Genève” printed on a mother-of-pearl ring surrounding the impeccably finished movement and hardly ends with the Andersen-typical hand guilloche blue gold rotor.
Patented by Ludwig Muller in 1988, blue gold is exclusively available in the watch world through Andersen Genève.
Blue gold is a 21-karat alloy of gold, nickel, and iron that turns blue when the metal is tempered at 450-600°C for about ten minutes. Tempering – also known as heat-treating or bluing – is a process often used in the watch world for steel parts like screws. But using it on gold was novel at the time – and remains an exclusivity.
The intensity of the blue increases with the amount of gold in the alloy – so it’s not hard to understand why the 21-karat gold attains this beautiful hue. And no two dials (or other elements) emerge from these processes with quite the same tonality, so in essence each one is unique.
In addition to creating the amazing color, tempering metal this way has the side effect of toughening it by decreasing brittleness and reducing the metal’s internal stresses. Which means that the gold can be worked in gorgeous ways – like the stunning handcrafted guilloche rotor seen here.
The historical AS Caliber 1876 underneath the beautiful blue rotor also merits a bit more of our attention as Andersen Genève’s workshop has reworked most of the movement decoratively as well as having added the proprietary world time module.
The decorative elements include special polishing of the wheels, screws, and even ratchet wheel teeth. Delicate anglage and Geneva stripes (côtes de Genève) add a shiny elegance to the movement.
The ratchet and crown wheels are all hand-chamfered and mirror polished, while all visible surfaces of the wheels are adorned with snailing and perlage. The wheels of the automatic assembly are rhodium-plated and snail-polished.
Even the 14 visible screws of the original movement were sent to the Andersen Genève spa: first they were touched up on the lathe to rework their shape and then their surfaces were mirror polished.
From a price standpoint, this watch is also an absolute delight in terms of price/performance ratio, particularly when you consider all the work done by hand, decorative and rare arts included, room for customization, rarity, and the ingenuity of two industry icons that you find in it.
For more information, please visit andersen-geneve.ch/world-time-celestial-voyager.
Quick Facts BCHH Celestial Voyager
Case: 37.7 x 10.1 mm, platinum
Movement: automatic vintage AS Caliber 1876 with in-house world time module, 40-hour power reserve, 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Dial: cloisonné enamel and aventurine (shown); fully customizable
Functions: hours, minutes; second time zone (24-hour display), world time
Limitation: 7 pieces, each one unique
Price: starting at CHF 48,800 depending on further customization
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My….it’s been quite a while since I’ve seen BCHH mentioned at all. Or his more approachable Millechron. Partly, I suspect, because the overall production is small, and tends to be sold out (I presume through his mailing lists) most of the time.
OK, if ya want exotic on top of exotic……can you imagine a 3-hander with a tantalum case and blue gold, engraved dial? Preferably multiple finishes.