THE ART OF TIME
Championing artisans and their rare hand craftsmanship
As we race towards a future dominated by industrialisation and technology, where does it leave a 178-year-old watchmaker like Patek Philippe, a brand that prides itself on tradition and horological legacy?
While the brand stands firmly rooted on its heritage, it continues to focus on its artistic and technical excellence in the 21st century. With its illustrious history, stringent quality control, and innovation, every Patek Philippe timepiece is assured of the highest quality, which can be proudly passed down from one generation to the next.
Among Patek Philippe’s inventory of timepieces are rare handcrafts — one of-a-kind highly decorative watches that use elaborate techniques such as enamelling and engraving. There was a time when such crafts were highly coveted. As far back as the 1600s, artisans from Geneva were reputed for their high workmanship and beautiful creations. In the modern age, such skills are at risk of dying and its artisans forgotten. By continuing to commission these timepieces, Patek Philippe helps support the art, and keeps alive the techniques that would otherwise be lost forever. Every year, the brand introduces a collection of about 40 rare handcrafts, which do not readily appear in stores or collections catalogue. These include table clocks, pocket watches, and wristwatches, all showcasing the skills of artisanal experts.
There are several enamelling techniques — cloisonné, paillonne, and champlevé — but all produce some of the most intricate and beautiful decorations. The cloisonné technique is seen in the series of dome table clocks dedicated to Singapore’s 50th birthday. The Ref. 1665M “Peranakan Culture”, 1675M “Farquhar Collection”, and 1677M “The Esplanade-Singapore” feature historical icons and landmarks of Singapore, created by having gold wires trace the outlines of the design before being filled with layers of transparent, opaque, and opalescent enamels. Each enamelled element required numerous firings at temperatures of up to 930-degree Celcius.
Engraving is a skill that requires a keen eye and dexterity. The intaglio method calls for the design to be incised directly onto the material using a burin (a handheld steel tool), while relief is where the background material is removed with a chisel. One such timepiece that highlights this craft is the Calatrava Squelette Ref 5180/1R-001, where the skeletonised ultra-thin self-winding Calibre 240 movement is intricately engraved.
Guilloché is a technique of hand-operating a machine to create patterns on dials, movements, and other parts of a watch. The Ref. 7130 Ladies’ World Time watch showcases this technique through a grey-blue hand-guillochéd dial centre that forms a delicate backdrop for its 24 timezone indicator. The new 2017 model is further illuminated by diamonds and white gold, featuring a shiny peacock-blue alligator strap.
This technique involves incredible patience and precision. Patek Philippe’s high jewellery watches are a testament to the skills of the craftsmen, the most recent example being the Haute Joaillerie Calatrava Ref. 4899/900. It is a feminine timepiece in white gold, mother-of-pearl, flawless rare white Top Wesselton diamonds, and rose sapphires. Here, the gems of different sizes and varying rose hues appear to be randomly set in the lower half of the dial, while the gently rounded silhouette of the white-gold case allows for staggered rows of diamonds and brilliant-cut rose sapphires.
Marquetry requires the craftsman to assemble different types of wood in various sizes and shapes to form a picture or motif. The Royal Tiger Calatrava Ref. 5077P is a stunning timepiece that reportedly required 50 hours of painstaking work to form the tiger’s head for the dial, comprising 120 pieces of wood veneer from eight types of wood.