Every year Patek Philippe holds an exhibition that showcases an extensive collection of timepieces exquisitely decorated with craftmanship by only the most skilled experts.
In June 2021, at their historic headquarters on Rue du Rhone in Geneva, Switzerland, the manufacture showcased an extensive selection of over 75 pocket watches, wristwatches, dome clocks and table clocks from its latest rare handcrafts collection, a rich range of one-of-a-kind and limited-edition pieces that pay tribute to challenging manifestations of craftsmanship.
These include manual engraving, grand feu cloisonné enamel, miniature painting on enamel, guilloching, gemsetting and wood micro marquetry.
Patek Philippe also presented six new watches from the current collection endowed with especially elaborate decorations.
A passion for traditional craftsmanship
Historically, artisans have always invested considerable care in decorating their clocks and watches – timepieces were beautiful, artistically finished treasures before they advanced to become reliable precision instruments.
In Geneva, the individual decorative techniques found fertile ground in the famous “Fabrique” where all watchmaking-related occupations were assembled.
Since 1839, as an heir of the grand Genevan tradition, Patek Philippe has been commissioning the most talented artists to ennoble its creations.
From 1970 to 1980, when the demand for decoratively enhanced watches slumped and several ancestral techniques were on the brink of extinction, the manufacture mobilised its resources to preserve and breathe new life into all of its precious know-how, in particular, miniature painting on enamel.
Today, the brand continues to safeguard all these competencies, while also further evolving them in close collaboration with the artists who set their sights on new horizons, while supporting the development of totally new techniques for decorating watches, one of which is wood micro marquetry.
The significance of artisanal professions for Patek Philippe also comes to the fore in the generous amount of space reserved for craftsmanship in the new production building that was officially inaugurated in Plan-les-Ouates (Geneva) in the spring of 2020.
To highlight the full beauty and radiance of these refined techniques, every year Patek Philippe presents a collection of one-of-a-kind and limited-edition pieces enhanced with the most exquisite artisanal skills.
Because it was not possible to present the 2020 collection last year, Patek Philippe carefully safeguarded this rich collection of more than 70 pocket watches, wristwatches and dome table clocks in anticipation of its display to the general public and to watch connoisseurs.
The exhibit at the Patek Philippe Salons in Geneva was enriched with several 2021 creations that pay tribute to the Genevan heritage, offering guests a unique opportunity to admire this array of extraordinary works of art in its entirety before they are dispatched to private collections around the world.
Palette of artistic skills
The oldest decorative technique used to adorn timepieces, manual engraving ranks among the grand Genevan specialties (in the late 18th century, more than 200 engravers worked in Geneva), and occupies a prominent position in Patek Philippe’s “Rare Handcrafts 2020-2021” collection.
It graces the case backs of pocket watches or serves as a frame for motifs executed with other techniques, and also plays a role in damascening, where gold thread inlays in contrasting colours are worked into the surface to be decorated.
Cloisonné enamel has also been an element of horological artistry for a long time, evoking fascination with the unmatched saturation and lasting intensity of its colours.
A good example is the “Jazz” dome table clock: its decor relies on flat gold wire with an impressive length of 18.3 metres, which is manually cut into tiny individual pieces and shaped to the contour of the motif. Then, 48 transparent enamel paints are applied.
Grand feu cloisonné enamel is often enriched with gold powder or tiny spangles (paillons) in gold or silver leaf that shimmer through the enamel (paillonné enamel).
Miniature painting on enamel (where an artist uses tiny brushes to apply the motifs stroke by stroke), a key Genevan specialty since the 17th century, has a strong presence at the exhibition, found on the case backs of pocket watches and the dials of wristwatches.
Three magnificent techniques of French origin are also showcased in the brand’s dome table clocks: Limoges enamel painting (consisting of several transparent enamel coats), fauré enamel (relief enamel) and Longwy enamel on faience (with black edges).
In guilloching, venerable hand-operated machines are used to cut delicate geometric patterns into metal workpieces. The interaction with reliefs and light in the traditional technique of flinqué enamel shimmers through a transparent enamel coating.
In mixed-technique work, guilloching also repeatedly occurs with certain motifs in cloisonné enamel.
Wood micromarquetry is a highly elaborate skill that has for several years now has been used by Patek Philippe to decorate the dials of wristwatches or the case backs of pocket watches.
It attains new pinnacles of virtuosity in small images assembled with hundreds of tiny pieces of wood and intarsias crafted from a wide range of wood species with varying colours and graining.
Diamond gemsetting causes the bezels of wristwatches to sparkle and creates breathtaking decors on haute joaillerie watches.
Patek Philippe also demonstrates its creativity and artisanal competence with numerous so-called mixed-technique pieces that combine different disciplines of craftsmanship.
The “Panda” pocket watch is one of the most striking examples. It is a one-of-a-kind piece with a wood micromarquetry back, a dial in grand feu flinqué enamel, and a manual engraving on the case and the bezel.
The master jeweller’s art
These craftsmanship techniques are not reserved solely for one-of-a-kind pieces or special editions in limited editions, as the brand also uses them to decorate certain timepiece models in the current collection, such as individual grand complications or watch design icons.
Six new versions of familiar watch models were presented. The Ref. 6002R-001 double-face Sky Moon Tourbillon wristwatch (12 complications); The Ref. 5304 self-winding grand complication with a minute repeater and a retrograde perpetual calendar in rose gold decorated with 80 baguette diamonds (Ref. 5304/301R-001); and the Ref. 5374 grand complication with a minute repeater and a perpetual calendar, joined by a new white-gold version with a blue grand feu enamel dial (Ref. 5374G-001).
The current collection welcomes a new minute repeater for ladies with a dial in blue grand feu flinqué enamel and a bezel with a Flamme® diamond complement (Ref. 7040/250G-001), as well as a new Golden Ellipse Haut Artisanat in white gold with champlevé enamel and manual engraving (Ref. 5738/51).
The manufacture also demonstrates its virtuosity in the master jeweller’s art with a new version of the Nautilus Haute Joaillerie in white gold with a random diamond pavé setting, also called snow setting (Ref. 7118/1450G-001).