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Patek Phillipe celebrates watchmaking craftsmanship with its Rare Handcrafts exhibition

Petrina Fernandez
Petrina Fernandez • 6 min read
Patek Phillipe celebrates watchmaking craftsmanship with its Rare Handcrafts exhibition
Patek Philippe invites horology afficionados to revel once again in the wonder of watchmaking.
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Patek Philippe celebrates craftsmanship in watchmaking with the latest edition of its Rare Handcrafts exhibition

The Patek Philippe headquarters in Geneva

Public enjoyment of beautiful art and objects is among the pleasures curtailed by Covid-19. As parts of the world return to some semblance of normalcy, Patek Philippe invites horology and heritage afficionados to revel once again in the wonder of watchmaking with a display of the most comprehensive collection of Rare Handcrafts masterpieces at the Patek Philippe Salons in Geneva.

A better stage for the more than 75 treasures would be hard to imagine. The historic headquarters on Rue du Rhône has been the maison’s home since 1853 but extensive refurbishment completed in 2006 ushered Patek Philippe into the 21st-century with interiors that pay homage to its twin pillars: the finest traditions of haute horlogerie and unparalleled mechanical proficiency.

There are large showrooms spread across two floors but visitors will want to explore the six-storey heritage building thoroughly to admire the painstakingly restored Salon Napoleon III and tastefully decorated exhibition rooms. Only the most respected specialists were commissioned to participate in the refurbishment, including a foremost expert in cordovan leather processing and the same conservator who was hired to restore to their original glory the crystal chandeliers of the Palace of Versailles in France. The very air here suggests exclusivity. That is no exaggeration: Genevois perfumer Daniel André, who graduated from the prestigious Givaudan Perfumery School, created a bespoke fragrance for the building to enhance the sensorial experience for visitors.

A glance outside the windows shows vistas of the infinitely blue Lake Geneva basin and the surrounding picturesque city hugged by the Alps and Jura mountains. But, as any Patek Philippe enthusiast will tell you, the real view worth savouring is ensconced within the salon.

This edition of the highly anticipated Rare Handcrafts event was curated to include pieces absent from the 2020 display, offering an exhaustive overview of the anthology of talents within the manufacture’s oeuvre.

We had a glimpse of this ourselves in 2019 when the travelling Watch Art Grand Exhibition docked at Singapore following successful runs in Dubai, Munich, London and New York between 2012 and 2017. Over 68,000 attendees from around the region visited the 16-day exhibition at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre to immerse themselves in the Patek Philippe universe.

Ten themed rooms courted curiosity with over 400 exceptional timepieces, including 120 historic timekeeping instruments from the Patek Philippe Museum and some of the most complicated watches ever invented. Also featured were insights into the brand’s 180-year old legacy, nifty solutions to mechanical challenges, and live demonstrations by watchmakers and artisans.

An exquisite array of dome clocks, table clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches were adorned with engraving, enamelling, marquetry and hand guilloche. They evoked flora and fauna, captured dramatic scenes of human activity, and even recreated elaborate maps of capital cities across dials and cases. While the techniques are age-old, the expressions are always current and original in the hands of Patek Philippe’s craftsmen, and continue to exert their pull even after decades. The palatial Salon Historique, Rare Handcrafts Room and Salon VIP within the historic building are well worth a visit.

Expect the same at the Rare Handcrafts exhibition, though nothing can really prepare the novice for the extent of the ingenuity at hand. Take the various applications of enamelling alone, for instance: precious miniature paintings on enamel (a Genevois speciality), flinqué enamel on hand guilloching, paillonné enamel, enamel with Limoges painting, fauré enamel (relief enamel) and Longwy enamel on faience (a special glazed ceramic).

Examine these up close, alongside manual engraving, wood micro-marquetry and mixed-technique pieces that marry engraving, marquetry and flinqué enamelling. And of course, no Patek Philippe collection would be complete without the sparkle of precious stones in an exemplary showcase of gem-setting. Visitors will have the chance to observe artisans at work as they demonstrate their virtuosity in certain skills or dexterity with tools of the trade.

An exhibition of such prestige and breadth would be well worth a visit anyway, especially within the hallowed halls of its own temple of fine watchmaking. However, this endeavour is particularly meaningful as it is a rare opportunity to view the extensive inventory before the pieces are wrapped up and delivered to private collections around the world.

The Patek Philippe salons are a remarkable attraction, acting as an avenue for brand building and cultivating an appreciation for haute horlogerie and craftsmanship. Events such as the Rare Handcrafts exhibition are naturally part of that objective. This year, the heritage timepieces are juxtaposed against cutting-edge designs and innovations with an early exhibit of the 2021 novelties, collectively depicting the progression of the manufacture over the decades.

Rare Handcrafts 2020-2021 will run from June 16 to 26 at the Patek Philippe salons on Rue du Rhône 41, Geneva. It is open to the public every Monday to Saturday from 11am to 6pm. Advance registration is recommended at rhc2021 to secure a slot for your visit.


Watch the clock

With over 75 clocks and watches in the exhibition catalogue, the models on display at Rare Handcrafts 2020-2021 are sure to be vying for attention. Each has earned its spot there on its own merit, promising a couple of hours of intense browsing. These two highlights from the exhibition offer a taste of the experience awaiting visitors in Geneva. Courting artisans.

Ref 20105M ‘Jazz’

Think of jazz, and rhythm, spontaneity and exuberance come to mind. This dome table clock pulses with those characteristics, enlivened by painstakingly worked grand feu cloisonné enamel. Some 18m of flat 24-carat yellow-gold wire was cut out, shaped by hand and affixed to the base plate to create the stylised silhouettes of musicians in full swing and the word “jazz”. Most striking is the vivid palette of colours that adorn the clock, 48 transparent enamel hues applied to produce superlative gradients and layered effects. It is laborious work; each enamel element undergoes nine firings at approximately 840°C to set and hold. Continuing the theme is the hour circle, designed as a stylised keyboard, with black-lacquered hour markers skimming the cloisonné enamel. The mechanical Caliber 17 PEND steadily keeps time, proving that loveliness and performance can mutually exist.

Ref 995/122J ’Panda’

The cuddly giant panda is the protagonist of this pocket watch, portrayed in wood marquetry munching on bamboo shoots. This iconic inhabitant of China’s forests was created using 194 veneer parts and 190 inlays made from 26 species of wood for well-articulated details. Bamboo shoots on the dial are hand-guilloched and hand-engraved beneath translucent green enamel, or flinqué enamel, while bamboo motifs are hand-engraved onto the bezel and caseback border. Yellow-gold applied Breguet numerals and leaf-shaped hands indicate the time, with the manually wound Calibre 17’’’ LEP PS also powering the subsidiary seconds. A green tourmaline cabochon marks the crown while a matching gemstone adorns the yellow-gold handcrafted stand from which the pocket watch hangs. The bamboo-inspired design is set on a green marble base, recalling the verdant forests that are its home.

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