Patek Philippe is known for many things, including a well-deserved reputation as one of the most prestigious watch manufacturers in the world, acclaimed for both the substance and artistry of its timepieces. The breadth of Patek Philippe’s collections for men and women run the gamut of formal to sporty and complicated to simply classic, all with an elegant demeanor and historical provenance dating back to 1839.
Patek Philippe’s heirloom-quality watches are both an aspiration and an everyday pleasure for those who know well-crafted timepieces and those with a willingness to learn.
As an interesting aside, as of the end of 2020 eight Patek Philippe pieces were among the world’s top ten most expensive watches ever sold at auction (the remaining two were Rolexes). Elizabeth Doerr points out a large number of Patek Philippe (and other) watches that hammered for more than $1 million in 2020 and 2021 in Pandemic Buying: A Plethora Of Auction Watches Hammering For More Than A Million In 2020 And 2021 – And, Yes, Most Were By Patek Philippe.
All about the arts
In 2021, Patek Philippe is once again drawing attention to the decorative arts that help make its watches so exceptional, further staking claim in the preservation of many of the traditional skills and techniques that date to the manufacture’s roots. So as a public tribute to this impressive history, the company hosted a display in June 2021 of more than 75 pocket watches, wristwatches, dome clocks, and table clocks from its Rare Handcrafts Collection.
The Geneva Rue du Rhône salon served as the gallery for the physical exhibition of one-of-a-kind and limited edition pieces, each a tribute to such ornamental skills as manual engraving, enameling, miniature painting on enamel, and more.
In its early years, Patek Philippe commissioned artists to decorate its timepieces. But when the demand for such work waned some in the 1970s, Patek Philippe – with a prescience that has served it well – made it a point to keep these decorative arts alive, and this has remained a priority.
As evidence, the company’s new production facility in Plan-les-Ouates, which officially opened in 2020, includes substantial space dedicated to handcrafts.
New Patek Philippe manufacture
The construction of the ten-floor structure in Plan-les-Ouates, the “watch suburb” of Geneva, began in 2015 and was completed in 2020. One of the considerations of the new space, aside from providing ample room for expanding production and future growth, was to unite the company’s Genevan ateliers under one roof once again with sufficient square footage for the handcraft artisans to fill the growing interest in decorated watches.
Patek Philippe produces nearly 62,000 timepieces per year, broadly categorized in its current collection as simple watches, useful complications, grand complications, casually elegant watches, ladies’ watches, and jewelry watches.
The impressive-looking modern structure – which is on my bucket list of places to visit – includes ten floors, four of which are underground. Its design is an homage to the brand: the slightly curved passageways are reminiscent of the rounded octagon of the Nautilus case, for example, and the balustrades of the fire escape ladders resemble the profile of leaf-shaped hands.
Gem setting takes place on the second floor, while most of the other rare handcraft skills, such as manual engraving, enameling, guilloche, wood marquetry and more, is done on the fourth floor.
Rare Handcrafts in the 2021 collection
The exquisite craftsmanship on display during the recent exhibit points to equally extraordinary pieces in the current collection, each highlighting one – or more – of Patek Philippe’s handcrafts. Six new versions of familiar watch models were presented, all dressed up for the occasion.
The double-faced Sky Moon Tourbillon Haut Artisanat Reference 6002R-001, for example, is shown here with a manually engraved pink gold case and a brown grand feu champlevé and cloisonné enamel décor on the front dial. The surfaces (and hands) are ornately engraved, requiring about 100 hours to complete.
This timepiece, the second most complicated Patek Philippe makes, follows the most recent version of the Sky Moon Tourbillon with a black enamel dial. The reverse side of the watch includes sidereal time and a star chart.
Automatic Reference 5304/301R-001 Minute Repeater with a retrograde perpetual calendar is shown here in pink gold. Its bezel, lugs, and folding clasp are decorated with 80 flawless Top Wesselton baguette-cut diamonds, further drawing attention to the exquisitely transparent dial.
The engraving is incredible: white gold inlays with hand-pierced leaf motifs decorate the case flanks, lugs, and repeater slide. This new haute joaillerie watch follows Reference 5304 produced from 2014 to 2018.
Reference 5374G-001 Minute Repeater with a perpetual calendar is newly dressed in white gold with a high-gloss blue grand feu enamel dial; its moon-phase aperture is decorated using the champlevé enameling technique.
The dial plate is 18-karat gold and manually covered with enamel powder that is melted at 850 degrees Celsius. Its predecessor, introduced in 2016, featured a black grand feu enamel dial and a platinum case.
The current collection also includes a new minute repeater for ladies, now in white gold with a blue grand feu flinqué enamel dial and a “Flamme”-style diamond bezel comprising two staggered rows. The Ladies First Minute Repeater was introduced at Baselworld 2011 and discontinued in 2017. And this new Rare Handcrafts model, Reference 7040/250G-001, is another example of Patek Philippe’s facile engraving and stone-setting techniques.
The bezel is set with 168 flawless Top Wesselton brilliant-cut diamonds, while the white-gold prong buckle is festooned with 26 brilliant-cut diamonds. This watch is one of my favorites. It’s elegantly simple at first glance, but there’s a lot going on here.
Three years ago in 2018, to commemorate the fiftieth anniversary of the Golden Ellipse collection, Patek Philippe introduced 100 limited edition sets comprising a platinum Golden Ellipse watch and matching cufflinks.
The new Golden Ellipse Haut Artisanat Reference 5738/51 is presented in white gold with champlevé enamel and manual engraving. The unique dial is perfectly balanced, showcasing the incomparable beauty of black enamel paired with perfectly elegant engraving.
The Nautilus Haute Joaillerie Reference 7118/1450G-001 is shown as part of this special collection in white gold, following a pink gold version presented earlier in 2021. The case, bezel, and bracelet are decorated with snow-set diamonds, while several rows of stones also illuminate the dial in fun “waves.”
Flawless Top Wesselton brilliant-cut diamonds totaling nearly 13 carats decorate the piece. Snow setting – also called random pavé setting – requires the gem setter to place diamonds of different sizes side by side with as little as possible of the gold beneath evident between the stones. This technique, difficult by any standard, makes each piece unique.