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Patek Philippe – Unusual handcrafts

Rare handcrafts

Every year at Baselworld Patek Philippe Kinetic Watch displays a collection of unique piece dome clocks and pocket watches inside its stand. But it is only towards the end of the year that the family-owned company publishes an exquisite book featuring all these pieces with detailed explanations of the rare techniques used in their production. In this article, I explore the techniques used in the watches that were produced exclusively for the Patek Philippe Grand Exhibition held at Cipriani’s in downtown Manhattan in the summer of 2017.

Three dome table clocks were produced for the exhibition as unique pieces, each interpreting a typical American theme using different enamelling techniques. The “Gold Seekers” evokes the adventure of the gold rush using cloisonné enamel, which involves using gold thread (1.6 metres of thread with a cross-section of just 0.2 x 0.6mm in this case) to create partitions (“cloisons” in French, hence the name for the technique) that accommodate 78 different colours of transparent, translucent and opaque enamels.

The “Brooklyn Bridge by Night” depicts a famous view of Manhattan using the technique of grisaille enamel. A mixture of black and blue enamel called “Blanc de Limoges” is used to create the monochrome effect (“grisaille” in French roughly translates as “greyness” or shades of grey in English). Note the use of gold powder for the illuminated windows on the skyscrapers and the reproduction of the night sky in the dome, glittering with 142 gold and 10 silver spangles as the stars. The dial of the clock is inspired by the clock found in Grand Central Station and has an ornate centre section in cloisonné enamel, luminescent hands and white enamel Roman numerals on a black enamel background.

Rare handcrafts

Brooklyn bridge by night © Patek Philippe

A unique “Baseball” clock pays tribute to one of America’s favourite sports and will appeal to a fan of vintage baseball cards, since each panel has an image inspired by these cards, produced in manganese oxide on a background of coloured enamel. The clock face takes the form of a baseball scoreboard in gilt silver with an engine-turned decoration and a baseball ball at the centre. Applied, handcrafted baseball bats, cap and flag with champlevé enamel detailing complete the face, which has Arabic numerals specially developed for this unique piece dome clock.

Rare handcrafts

Baseball © Patek Philippe

Patek Philippe produced a collection of nine unique-piece pocket watches for the Grand Exhibition in New York, using the rare handcrafts of hand engraving, miniature painting, enamelling and wood marquetry to create scenes that evoke various aspects of American history and culture.

The hand engraving for a single piece can take anywhere between two to four weeks, while the enamel work can involve up to 20 colours and 20 separate oven firings for each piece (at different temperatures for different pieces). The specialists in wood marquetry work with hundreds of tiny pieces of up to 20 different types of wood, each piece selected for its colour and painstakingly cut by hand to the shape required. The technique brings still life images such as the bald eagle and wild horses to life, but seems almost unreal when applied to the image of an American Indian using 304 minuscule pieces of wood.

The column wheel is concealed beneath a highly polished cap as seen on the image directly above. It’s an eccentric cap that permits the fine-tuning of the above clutch — since you can see, there’s a somewhat beautifully curved arm which connects the two meshing wheels with the pillar wheel itself. When the chronograph’s start pusher is engaged, the pillar wheel below the cap moves, thus falling this arm between the pillar wheel’s columns, therefore moving the second of those two driving wheels marginally so that it starts to mesh together with the wheel in the center. The distance traveled by this arm needs painstaking fine-tuning, something this cap would be to aid with — although I’d still prefer to see a well-working chronograph with an exposed pillar wheel. I think that’s enough column wheel talk for the day.The beauty of a hand-wound chronograph is that you get to have of the eye-candy. There is not a fiddly rotor constantly at all. Sixty-five hours is enough to produce the 5170P final from Friday evening until Monday morning — a feat every luxury watch wider than 36mm should provide.All the performance apart, the 29-535 is so beautiful, I would go so far as to say it’s a must have in every collector’s livelihood. Not necessarily a lifetime keeper, but a standard for every modern high-end chronograph. None ought to be a replica of this, do not get me wrong, but any changes done to this layout and these proportions should be encouraged by strong reasons — enhanced functionality, higher performance, etc.. Few motions bother with proportions, let alone proportions against case dimensions, but here things are just perfect. The huge balance wheel found in Patek chronographs of older certainly add a more customary flair, but if you want modern frequency and balance wheel layout, you have to take a smaller equilibrium as a reasonable compromise.

Rare handcrafts

Portrait of an american indian © Patek Philippe

Patek Philippe also created four strictly limited editions of just ten wristwatches marrying the Calatrava Ref. 5089 case and the artistic crafts, again using images deeply rooted in American history and culture. The “Jazz” model depicts the famous New York Blue Note Jazz Club and the opening bars of Sidney Bechet’s Petite Fleur as a miniature painting on enamel, with the Manhattan skyline etched on to the black enamel by hand, effectively making each piece in this limited edition of 10 unique. The “Grand Canyon” and “Rodeo” models both use wood marquetry from 20 different types of wood to recreate the national monument and the typically American sport on their dials.

The collection is completed by the “Sheridan Style”, which is inspired by a particular type of leather carving found in the United States and Mexico. This technique only works with vegetable tanned, full-grain leather, which can absorb water. On the dial of the “Sheridan Style” watch, this technique is mimicked by hand engraving and hammering on a gold base that is just 0.3-0.4mm thick. The dial is then coated with a transparent golden-brown enamel to reproduce the colour of leather.

This capsule collection for the Grand Exhibition in New York represents only part of the full 2017 rare handcrafts models presented by Patek Philippe in 2017. We will cover the remaining models, which use other techniques of enamelling, miniature painting, porcelain, engraved crystals and high jewellery, in a subsequent article.