Crossing the International Date Line with the Oris Pro Pilot Worldtimer

At midnight on December 14th, 1945 my father turned 18. Two hours later the ship he was on crossed the International Date Line, abruptly ending his uncelebrated birthday. Private Neil R. Farmelo was suffering crippling seasickness when he learned that his unit would be stationed inside the atomic bomb detonation area at Nagasaki where they’d spend the year blowing up Kamikaze planes with M4 Sherman Tanks. “Not my best birthday,” Dad would say. I seem to have inherited my father’s knack for surreal experiences upon crossing the International Date Line, and after doing so on a recent trip to New Zealand I found myself awake in the middle of the night surrounded by hundreds of strangers sleeping on cots—a scenario that looked similar to photos I have of my father on his cot in Nagasaki, though our respective experiences were worlds apart.

The author’s father, Neil R. Farmelo, Nagasaki Japan, 1946.

I find traversing the IDL thoroughly discombobulating, so I was relieved to welcome the new Pro Pilot Worldtimer onto my wrist for 15 days of longitudinal leaping. New York City to LA = 3 hours backward. LA to Sydney = 17 hours forward + leaping ahead by a day. Sydney to Auckland = 2 hours ahead, because we had travelled backwards. These have always been vexatious calculations for me. Add in a 24-hour GMT computation, and I literally can’t give you the time of day. It may seem that I’m overstating the case, but squinting up at the departures board after stumbling off a 14-hour flight, suffering jet-lag, navigating a foreign airport, struggling against lingering sleep-aids, and sincerely questioning what day it is—this completely throws me. Armed with the Worldtimer, however, I was effortlessly rattling off local and home time from either side of the IDL. It felt like sneaking a cheatsheet into a math test.

Geothermal National Park near Lake Taupo, New Zealand.

Once my three traveling companions realized that the Worldtimer had me sorted out, I became our little troop’s official timekeeper, especially as we collectively powered down our dumb-phones for luxurious stretches of what my partner endearingly calls “analog time.” Whether trout fishing atop a volcano on Lake Taupo, soaking in geothermal baths on the Coromandel Peninsula, or playing backgammon after a long and lazy dinner, our analog time in New Zealand was deliciously slow. Toward the end of our journey, my fellow travelers—male and female—had emptied my watch-roll, which I had filled up with hope that they might delve into the luxury of mechanical timekeeping. The Oris, however, stayed on my wrist the entire trip.

The Pro Pilot Worldtimer includes a bevy of complications that set it into a rather high class of mechanical dual-time watches typically costing North of $10,000; Oris being Oris, they get it all in there for $3,600. To celebrate 20 years of the Worldtimer, Oris has replaced the previous two-pusher hour-hand actuator system with a ratcheting bezel.

This is an industry first. By simply twisting the knurled bezel in either direction, one can jump the central hour-hand forward and backward in one-hour increments, and, significantly, the date follows the hour hand in either direction across midnight. Meanwhile, the dual-hand 12-hour sub-dial and its indispensable AM/PM indicator remain locked onto home time. For a true-blooded American civilian like me, this dual 12-hour configuration is ideal.

Working the bezel actuator is satisfying, and it virtually eliminates the possibility of an unintended hour-hand jump, which could easily cause a watch-dependent guy like me to miss a flight or, worse, dinner. If you’ve ever slipped one arm through a backpack strap, tucked a water bottle under your chin, played cat’s-cradle with a headphone cable, or lowered an overstuffed duffle bag from the overhead bin while attempting to politely navigate hundreds of similarly laden and equally cranky folks in an Economy cabin, then you know how easy it is to accidentally actuate a pusher while traveling by plane. This just won’t happen with the Oris bezel actuator.

Another benefit of dropping the pushers is that it gives this complicated watch a surprisingly sleek profile without resorting to irksome (and, I think, unattractive) recessed pin actuators. At 44.72 millimeters across, lopping off the pushers removes diametrical bulk, too, and the Worldtimer wears surprisingly small. It does not, however, look small on wrist; the wide open dial with the oversized numerals makes for clock-like legibility. I’m good with both the size and legibility for a pilot’s watch, though I do think a smaller version would be a hit among those seeking a more discrete dual-time watch.

Traveling with a watch designed for a specific type of adventure really brings it to life as a travel companion and as a useful tool, and the Oris Worldtimer quickly became both. It tickled me to crack open a beer on Saturday afternoon in New Zealand while a glance at the Oris revealed that folks back home in New York were brewing coffee on Friday morning—which, from my vantage point, was yesterday morning. This is befuddling and, at times, amusing stuff, but a dual-time watch is equally informative when one needs to take advantage of the few hours when opposite sides of the planet are simultaneously on business hours, or, in our case, to check in with the cat sitter.

View of the Coromandel Peninsula, North Island, New Zealand.

The most incredible time-twisting segment of my journey, however, was attending Max Richter’s performance of Sleep, an eight-hour long composition he performed along with American Contemporary Music Ensemble (ACME) in Auckland. Running continuously from 11pm until 7am, we audience members slept on military cots in Shed 10 (the last all-original waterfront industrial space in Auckland), while Max and ACME played 31 movements of gorgeously layered, minimalist music. Sleeping along with 400 people on an airplane is one thing, but sleeping with 400 people communing around sublime live music was an unexpectedly moving experience. In his brief introduction, Max mentioned that Sleep was, among other things, a protest song against the barrage of digital demands that we’ve come to accept as normal. He was talking about analog time, and we were smart enough to ditch our dumb-phones and tune into reality, or perhaps surreality in this case.

At one point I woke, sat up in my cot, and saw that I was the only one doing so. The Worldtimer told me it was 3:40am on Saturday in Auckland and 11:40am Friday back in New York, but my fuzzy brain made little sense of this. Max was alone on stage commanding an array of laptops that were producing the sonic equivalent of moonlit fog. Surrounded by hundreds of unconscious people, the ingenious beauty of this performance hit me: Max was playing for humans in their most benign and vulnerable state. It was profoundly beautiful.

Middle of the night during Max Richter’s “Sleep” featuring American Contemporary Music Ensemble, Shed 10, Wellington, New Zealand. (With a very keen eye you may make out the Worldtimer on the author’s wrist; he’s fast asleep, wearing a dark blue shirt.) Photo by Mike Terry.

Then my thoughts wandered. Looking across the grid of cots, I began to imagine my father’s barracks in Nagasaki. I know he slept on a cot, as I’ve seen photos, but I began to wonder what horrors he must have witnessed there. Dad passed away recently, never having shared more than humorous anecdotes from his time in Nagasaki, but I think it’s fair to assume that he didn’t sit up in his cot pondering the benign nature of human ingenuity; knowing him, and given the situation, he would have contemplated the opposite. I began to mourn losing my father, and I also mourned the tragedies of war. Simultaneously, all those sweet sleeping strangers filled me with hope. Talk about mixed emotions. I laid back down and stared at the Worldtimer’s lume, a childhood bedtime strategy I developed after my parents gave me a Timex Boy’s Diver. The next thing I knew Sleep was just ten minutes from ending, its long final crescendo waking all of us up along with the sun, which was simultaneously beginning its descent over New York the day before.

Fishing for trout using down riggers on Lake Taupo, North Island, New Zealand.

Returning the Oris Worldtimer after two full weeks of creating lasting memories with it wasn’t easy. I don’t think I will travel across the IDL without a true dual-time watch again, and I’m left wondering whether Oris will (or can) pack this impressive mechanism into a smaller case. A dual-time watch suggests a slightly lavish, jet-setting lifestyle, and that seems commensurate with a smaller timepiece. I’d likely go for the dressier rhodium dial over the sportier black one, too. The rhodium on brown croc was more than chic enough for the dress codes at Michael Dearth’s mind-blowing restaurants The Grove and Baduzzi in downtown Auckland, but there were hikes where the steel bracelet would have fared better.

Enjoying a flat white at the Flat White Cafe on Waihi Beach, New Zealand.

However you configure it, The Oris Big Crown Pro Pilot Worldtimer is the only watch of its kind, and it was a privilege to have it keeping me steady through all of that time-bending disorientation. Oris

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At age 7 Allen fell in love with a Timex boy's dive watch his parents gave him, and he's taken comfort in wearing a watch ever since. Allen is especially curious about digital technology having inspired a revival of analog technology, long-lasting handmade goods, and classic fashion. He lives in a one-room schoolhouse in The Hudson Valley with his partner and two orange cats.