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Heritage in Rare Handcrafts

A Rare Glimpse Inside Patek Philippe Salons in Geneva.

Last month I had the opportunity to tour The Patek Philippe Salons on the outskirts of Geneva, where gifted artisans and specialists perform their incredible work starting from engraving to hand-polishing before the watches make their way to the collectors’ wrists.

The Genevan manufacture showcased its entire collection of the rare handcrafts timepieces that premièred at Baselworld 2018. It is a one-of-a-kind opportunity to discover the fifty exceptional dome table clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches before they continue their journey to private collections all over the world.

Since the 1600s, Geneva has been a centre of excellence for rare handcrafts, and ever since Patek Philippe was founded in 1839, it has been calling on gifted artisans to decorate its watches. This can be confirmed by leafing through the pages of the first Patek Philippe register, which is preserved in the Patek Philippe Museum archives, where every step and every operation performed on each watch, from manufacture to delivery, is recorded in detail.

Consistently, Patek Philippe is one of the most dedicated guardians of grand traditions. Under the auspices of president Thierry Stern and his wife, Creative Director Sandrine Stern, the family-owned manufacturer spares no effort to preserve all artisanal skills that for centuries have been used to adorn timepieces and are intimately linked to watchmaking artistry.

“My father told me that there were years when nobody was buying the rare handcrafts. Nevertheless, he still continued to produce and employed the artisans because he didn’t want them to lose the knowledge,” says Stern who emphasised that Patek Philippe is the finest timepieces that you can find in the world today because of their finest people. “He didn’t care about the money that they were going lose, my father cares about the knowledge and beautiful timepieces,” he adds.

The Patek Philippe rare handcrafts collection 2018 pays tribute to a wide range of ancestral skills, namely manual engraving, various grand-feu enameling techniques (miniature painting on enamel, cloisonné, champlevé, paillonné, flinqué, grisaille, plique-à-jour, Limoges enamel painting, etc.), as well as gemsetting and hand guilloching.

The Genevan brand is also committed to further evolving such skills and broadening the portfolio by refining new crafts such as wood micromarquetry or combining several techniques to create breathtaking works of art. Every year, the result of this intensive involvement with tradition and innovation is presented by Patek Philippe with a rich palette of one-of-a-kind treasures and limited editions that meld sublime craftsmanship with the ultimate in creativity and aesthetics.

Discover the Patek Philippe Museum

The Patek Philippe Museum houses the most impressive collection of timepieces in the world. This chronological spiral through time illustrates the evolution of man’s mastery of time-keeping through both the aesthetic and technical features of horology.

The multi-story building in downtown Geneva has a long and interesting history dedicated to watch making and its related crafts. Most probably designed by the talented architect Mr William Henssler in 1919, it has witnessed gem-cutting under the name Heller & Son, the production of jewellery by the firms Ponti Gennari and Piaget, and the manufacture of watch-cases and bracelets since 1975 by Les Ateliers Reunis for Patek Philippe.

In 1999, this landmark of craftsmanship underwent an entire remodelling and extension to enable it to receive an outstanding collection of the finest examples of timepieces known today. The Patek Philippe Museum is certainly the most logical and faithful conclusion to a true legacy of genius.

The museum displays an evocative showcase of watches designed and created by Patek Philippe since its foundation in 1839 up to the present day, testifying to more than 175 years of creativity in the production of pocket watches and wristwatches. In addition, the museum also displays a fascinating presentation of Genevese, Swiss and European watches and enamels dating from the 16th to the early 19th century, including a great number of masterpieces that have left their mark on the history of horology.

Interview With

Sandrine Stern

Patek Philippe Creative Director

During the Patek Philippe Grande Rare Handcrafts 2018 Exhibition in Geneva, I had the pleasure of talking to Sandrine Stern, Creative Director of Patek Philippe and wife of Thierry Stern, the brand’s President. I asked a few questions related to her role and inspirations in creating the Rare Handcrafts timepieces.

Each person has a different level of appreciation and understanding with the Rare Handcrafts. What are the inspirations behind the unique design of Rare Handcrafts?

It is a question of passion. When we start to draw the thematic design we don’t know where it will take us. Once we have the drawing, we start to analyse to see which techniques are interesting and suitable for the design. We have a creative team and artisans who collaborate, thus everyone contributes with inspirations. We need to have an open mind to create and be inspired by colours, techniques and theme.

How involved are you in choosing the design for the Rare Handcrafts?

I’m involved in every step from the beginning until the finished product emerges. In terms of design, for instance, if the sky is blue maybe its better if we try with pink. We don’t produce the exact picture of reality because it is important to create authenticity with creative design. If we use the enamel we have to adapt the design to the available colours and technique. Thus, it is not about the involvement of the designer, artisan or myself, it is a teamwork. When we start designing a timepiece, we are working together to ensure that what we want to achieve is possible.

Are there any particular traits of features or signatures that make Patek Philippe unique?

The difference is quality. If the quality is not acceptable, the product will not be released. How far can we can go to maintain the maximum quality is our signature.

When was the last time you discover something new or something that you didn’t expect in terms of artisan skills and expertise?

Everyday, because if you look at the watches on display [at the museum] each has its own challenges and difficulties. Thus for the artisan, each day they discover something new and they need to find a solution. They have to go further and find a way to produce the best quality watches.

What are the challenges to preserving the heritage of artisan to the younger generation?

For the young generation it is not easy for them to understand the art of watchmaking because it is a very long and difficult process, and that can be boring. That is why people who can handle the art of watchmaking is very rare. To preserve the heritage of artisan it’s a question of talent, whether you have it or not. Both talented and passionate people is not easy to find. However, because of who we are, talented artisan would come to us.

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