The Grand Exhibition
The hype for the 2019 Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition had been building since Baselworld, but as its opening date drew near even those inattentive to the horological zeitgeist would have found it hard to miss. In the days leading up to its opening at the end of September, Singapore was rife with unmissable red declarations: posters in shopping malls and MRT stations, enormous billboards dominating streetscapes, prolific on taxis all around the city-state. The message, delivered in this old-school advertising blitz, was clear: something big was coming.
And it was, of course. Patek Philippe is not the kind of company to do things halfway, and its commitment to getting the word out was matched by the incredible scope of the event proper. Occupying the Sands Theatre at The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands, the exhibition was a sweeping, multi-roomed affair delivering a faultless gallery experience. Ten themed rooms took attendees through a journey of the brand itself and of watchmaking at large.
Fans of Patek Philippe would, naturally, be very pleased with what was on display. The theatre recounted the brands 19th-century origins, including the tale of how Antoni Patek came to meet Adrien Philippe, and of how the company passed into the ownership of the Stern family in 1932. The Napoleon Room was a reconstruction of the Patek Philippe boutique in Geneva, and included a large-format display of Genevan scenery that brought a bit of Switzerland to the exhibition. In the Current Collection room was a complete array of ongoing offerings: from Calatrava to Nautilus to Rare Handcrafts, it is a line-up rarely seen in entirety outside Baselworld.
The Museum room hosts another slice of Geneva, in the form of an extract from the Patek Philippe Museum. Here was an archive of historical delights, including a procession of firsts from the maison—first wristwatch with perpetual calendar, first Patek Philippe wrist chronograph, etcetera—alongside early pocket watches and other grand complications. The latter included the 1,728-part, 33-complication Calibre 89, created in 1989 to celebrate the brand’s 150th anniversary and was the most complicated timepiece ever created when it was released, as well as the 21-complication Star Caliber 2000, which holds six patents within and houses a rotating star map beneath its half-hunter caseback.
But it was not all just about Patek Philippe. Also in the Museum room was a display of antiques from early watchmaking—German clockwatches from the 1500s, biblically decorated pocket watches, French and English marine chronometers from the 1700s, Victorian-era musical automatons. It is a feast for anyone even remotely interested in the art of horology.
Indeed, this sentiment persists throughout most of the exhibition. The Rare Handcrafts room, for instance, had interactive stations on the crafts of enamelling, engraving, and wood marquetry—crafts evident on the lavishly decorated Patek Philippe clocks and watches in the same room, but these are arts relevant to any high horology manufacture. The same could be said of the more technically inclined Engineer, Movements and Watchmaker rooms. The artisans themselves were also on hand to talk about their work; notably, the renowned enameller Anita Porchet was present to shed light on her rarefied profession, while watchmaker apprentices from the Patek Philippe Institute in Singapore explained the intricacies complicated movements with working examples. Patek Philippe’s history is intertwined with horology as a whole, and appreciating the crafts that the maison has perfected is to appreciate all of fine watchmaking.
Philip Barat, Head of Watch Development at Patek Philippe, was also in attendance and professed his enjoyment of talking about his newest high complications. “You have children coming in, and when they see how it works—a chronograph, or perpetual calendar, annual calendar… it’s always a pleasure to see their eyes opening when they discover how it works," he said. “Maybe that can spark their interest, and maybe they will become a watchmaker too."
Passing knowledge on to the younger generation is something that Patek Philippe President Thierry Stern knows well. His family has run the maison for four generations, and he has begun training the fifth. “Patek Philippe has been there for many years, and I hope it’s going to stay like this for many more years," Stern said during the opening ceremony. “We believe in beautiful things, we believe in beautiful handcrafts, in watchmaking… my dad told me the same many years ago, and today I have to do the same with my son. It’s a never-ending story."
The Singapore Connection
Dubai, Munich, London and New York—and now Singapore. The Watch Art Grand Exhibition was an impressive horological event indeed, but what made it even more special is that it was held in South East Asia. The region is a long way from the traditional strongholds of the global watch community, but this year, while Singapore celebrates its bicentennial, one of the world’s foremost watch happenings had arrived. The exhibition’s Singapore Historic room paid tribute to the city-state’s history, as well as the diverse South East Asian heritage that informs it.
Accompanying the exhibition was the release of a Singapore 2019 Special Edition collection. These limited timepieces included a World Time Minute Repeater adorned with a map of Singapore in cloisonné enamel, a World Time Chronograph and an Aquanaut themed auspiciously in red, and a Calatrava Pilot Travel Time with dial coloured blue-grey to suggest South East Asian seas.
The highlight is the reference 5303 Minute Repeater Tourbillon. Limited to just 12 pieces, this new grand complication is a daring timepiece that lacks a dial, exposing the steel and rose-gold parts of the striking mechanism within. The gongs have been moved to the dial side, to better appreciate their action, and have been attached directly to the caseband for better sound quality. The case is rose gold with white gold decorative elements, while the chapter ring is lacquered in red and has white star markers that recall the flag of Singapore.