The Grand Few: Patek Philippe Displays Over 50 One-of-a-kind Timepieces
Engravers, enamellers, and craftsmen. In Geneva’s historic trade of haute horology, these artisans have built legacies and traditions. Fortunately, such hands of time continue to tick. Patek Philippe has authenticated generations worth of workmanship with a collection of over 50 one-of-a-kind and limited edition handcrafted timepieces. Showcasing Grand Feu techniques, wood micro-marquetry, miniature painting, gemsetting, and, of course, engraving, a visually captivating assemblage of dome table clocks, pocket watches, and wristwatches was launched at Baselworld 2018.
In the age of Instagram and digital transformation, the 179-year-old Swiss watch manufacturer revisited the past and celebrated ancestral time-telling skills with picturesque manifestations of landscapes and cultural icons from across the globe. In April, Patek Philippe Salons at Rue du Rhone hosted the display of these unique pieces to further showcase their commitment to the oldest decorative art forms associated with watchmaking. Many of the timepieces featured the long-standing artisanal process of manual engraving and the highly complex technique of miniature painting on enamel.
Taking inspiration from classic Patek Philippe motifs such as animals and flowers, as well as exotic destinations in the modern world, the dome table clocks served as perfect canvasses for cloisonné enamelling techniques. The expert process—which involves bending ultra thin strips of gold to trace the silhouettes of images, creating cells of patterns that are then filled up with enamel, all by hand—adds depth to the picture. Thrown into “the great fire,” literally what Grand Feu translates into, cloisonné enamelling entails numerous firings for the enamelled design to reach the intended hues. The “Floral Arabesques,” for example, which is evidently influenced by the combination of Persian porcelain and Indian palettes, features 50 transparent, opaque, and opalescent enamel colours. The enameller outlined a delicate pattern and produced a variety of subtle shades. Just as florid yet distinct, “Flowers of the Orient” traces interlacing details across a bright gradient of Eastern civilisation.
Even in bolder contrasts—as can be seen in the “Art Deco Fantasy”—the commissioned artisan exhibited the high level of technicality that goes into creating these clocks. Transparent and opaque enamel were limited to four colours, but some 300 pieces of silver leaf were embedded beneath the cloisonné enamel to highlight the impact of the geometric design. For “The Planets,” gold and silver leaf were also used to intensify the play of light in the vignette of the solar system. Guilloched silver on the hour circle features 12 hour markers in the shape of stars, each set with 0.61-carat diamonds.
Indeed, the collection showcased other lesserknown artisanal techniques, one such being Fauré enamelwork. Also referred to as relief enamelling, as in the “Wisteria,” it entails thickly applied opalescent enamels that are sculpted to create a raised effect. Working with a palette of 26 transparent colours to build up clusters of flowers, branches, leaves, and sky, each enamelled plate required 18 firings. A total of 180 hours of enamelling brought this flowery vista to life. Powered by the calibre 17” PEND mechanical movement rewound by an electric motor, these unique dome table clock pieces bear Patek Philippe’s commitment to the craftsmanship of rare handcrafts.
While enamelling was certainly preserved by this collection, the classic art of engraving—which Patek Philippe has always considered the root of its expertise—finds its way into the magnificent “The Galleon” pocket watch in white gold. The one and only timepiece features a watchface enameled in white. The bezel, case back, and bow are engraved with a pattern resembling cordage—a process that took a total of 230 hours. Keeled over, the back reveals a low-relief hand-engraving that depicts a proud galleon: vessel, cannons, sails, waves, and sea in awe-inspiring detail.
Yet another display of Genevan methods, the “Königssee in Bavaria” pocket watch features a miniature painting inspired by Austrian artist Friedrich Gauermann with finishing in a transparent flux. It entailed a delicate procedure that, at times, used a brush consisting of a single hair, and 35 firings at extremely high temperatures.
Each year, Patek Philippe produces these grand few 50 or so one-of-a-kind handcrafts. As an ode to rarity, the Swiss watchmaker embodies timelessness and human artistry in the collection, which is not available in stores. The watches and clocks are works of art, celebrating skills from long ago, upholding the principles of the belle époque. Patek Philippe continues to safeguard such tradition and keeps it alive for generations to come.
Originally published in Philippine Tatler Homes, Volume 20