Patek Philippe went big at its annual Rare Handcrafts Exhibition that just opened at its Geneva Salon. The watchmaker unveiled the 75 timepieces of this year’s Rare Handcrafts collection, along with as many more from last year’s line up that is on show for the first time, since the 2020 exhibition was cancelled.
The most accessible watches of the collection, relatively speaking, are the complicated watches that will join the regular catalogue, which include a trio of chiming watches, from the graceful minute repeater for ladies to the new Sky Moon Tourbillon in rose gold.
But it is the rest of the Rare Handcrafts collection that capture the creativity and diversity the brand’s metiers d’art. Each unique, the watches and clocks are mechanically uncomplicated, and instead use the dial and case as a canvas to showcase exquisite, vivid depictions of animals, landscapes, and art with a variety of artisanal techniques.
Here’s a selection of a few standouts from this year’s collection, all one-off creations that are expensive but usually sold in advance, so most will be dispatched to their owners after the exhibition.
One of Patek Philippe’s most distinctive timepieces is not a watch, but the round-topped table clock. A fixture in its catalogue for decades, the Dome Clock is produced in small numbers every year, typically with its exterior panels decorated in enamel.
This year’s Rare Handcrafts catalogue includes several Dome Clocks in both small and large sizes. But the most outstanding are a pair of full-sized clocks that are very different but equally beautiful.
With the coming year being the Chinese Year of the Tiger, the Dome Clock ref. 20090M “Tigers” is all about the big cat. Decorated in cloisonné enamel, the exterior depicts several tigers in a bamboo grove – a portrayal that required 27.1 m of gold wire for the cloisonné. And instead of traditional fluted feet, this stands on four tiger paws.
Inspired by art from the other side of the world, the Dome Clock ref. 20061M “ Mucha, Les Arts” reproduces the four lithographs that make up Les Arts, a series of prints by the Czech artist Alphonse Mucha. His Art Nouveau style is captured by cloisonné enamel in 43 colours, ranging from transparent to opaque, and matched with enamelled, Art Nouveau-style hands that replace the conventional leaf hands.
Another key genre represented in Rare Handcrafts is the pocket watch, which offers two faces – and even a stand – for decoration. The pocket watches of this year’s collection features a variety of enamelling techniques, as well as other ornamental methods such as marquetry and engraving.
The most traditional is perhaps the ref. 992/108J-001 “Lac Blanc”, featuring a classical dial in white enamel that belies the multicoloured depiction on the back. It shows Mont Blanc as see from Lac Blanc, a small lake in France just an hour’s drive from Patek Philippe’s home in Geneva.
The mountain range is executed in grand detail, presented in both enamel and hand engraving. The sun-rays over the mountain are engine turned while the waves on the lake are hand engraved before being covered with transparent enamel, a technique known as flinqué enamelling, while the mountain is depicted in cloisonné enamel.
Perfectly capturing the essence of a lone owl in winter, the ref. 992/149G “Owl” turns to enamel miniature painting to depict the bird perched on a branch. Created with enamel paint applied with a tiny brush, the image is then protected by several layers of clear enamel, each step requiring its own firing to set the enamel, with the watch needing a total of 29 trips to the oven.
More obviously decorative is the ref. 995/113J “Aubusson Tapestry in Green Tones”, which is inspired by the Verdure tapestries woven at Aubusson, the French town famed for its tapestries.
Paradoxically, the hunting scene that was originally on fabric is reproduced in wood marquetry, with 490 veneer and 150 inlay pieces from 38 species of trees to complete the motif.
The case and bow, on the other hand, are finished in cloisonné enamel, while the hands are hand engraved, making this one of the most extensively decorated watches in the collection.
Decorated with a similar technique but with a vastly different aesthetic is the ref. 995/122J “Panda”. A panda munching on bamboo shoots is depicted in wood marquetry – requiring 94 veneer pieces and 190 inlays from 26 species of wood – while the dial is finished in flinqué enamel.
The dial is engine turned to create the leaf motif in the background, and also engraved by hand to create the bamboo shoots in relief. Both are then covered in translucent green enamel.
And in keeping with the theme, the watch is delivered with a solid-gold stand shaped like a bamboo shoot that sits on a green marble base.
As with the pocket watches and Dome Clocks, the Rare Handcrafts wristwatches also encompass obviously figurative decorations. One such example is the Calatrava ref. 5177G-024 “Falcon Head”, which bears a closeup of the bird of prey in wood marquetry. Twenty species of wood supplied the nearly 400 tiny pieces that make up the portrait.
Featuring similar motifs inspired by Middle Ages, the “Medieval Ornaments” are a pair of watches – sold separately – that featuring similar decoration in cloisonné enamel.
The Calatrava ref. 5177G-023 “Medieval Ornaments I” is a round wristwatch with a hobnail bezel, with a dial in 15 colours of enamel.
And the Golden Ellipse ref. 5738/50G-017 “Medieval Ornaments II” takes the form of the brand’s signature ovoid wristwatch of the 1970s. It is slightly more muted in its palette, with the dial made up of 12 shades of enamel.
Amongst the most abstract in the collection is the pair of Golden Ellipse wristwatches that form a two-piece set.
The Golden Ellipse ref. 5738/50G “Ellipse 70’s” each feature dials decorated in cloisonné enamel in psychedelic patterns inspired by the 1970s. Both motifs are made up of rounded, geometric forms that echo the shape of the Golden Ellipse case.
Rare Handcrafts 2021 Exhibition
June 16-July 3
Open daily from 11 am-6 pm, excluding Sunday
Patek Philippe Salon
41, Rue du Rhône
Tel.: +41 22 809 50 50
Admission is free but due to the health and safety regulations, visitors are highly encouraged to register in advance on the Patek Philippe website.
Correction June 17, 2021: The Chinese Year of the Tiger is in 2022, and not 2021 as stated in an earlier version of the article.
Update July 1, 2021: Patek Philippe has announced that the show will be extended until July 3, 2021.Back to top.