With the opening of Patek Philippe's The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition New York 2017 last Thursday, the esteemed Geneva brand invites the public to enjoy an immersive experience in Patek's exclusive world of upper-echelon watchmaking at Cipriani 42nd Street in New York City. The impressive exhibition, which is free and open until July 23, showcases more than 450 historic and modern timepieces, including several new and limited-edition watches, vintage pieces owned by American celebrities and collectors, exquisite ancient watches from Patek Philippe's museum, plus live demonstrations of watchmaking and decorative handcrafts.
"We had to do something really amazing, especially for the United States," says Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe, the fourth generation Stern to run the company. Stern's grandfather Henri founded the Henri Stern Watch agency in 1946 with offices in Rockefeller Center, where Patek Philippe's U.S. headquarters remain. Both the younger Stern and his father, Philippe, trained in the U.S., so the link is a personal one. "Part of the family process is for the younger generation to spend time in New York. It's a little like home," adds Stern, who says the U.S. accounts for 50 percent of Patek Philippe's sales.
The two-story, 10-room installation is designed to transport visitors to Patek Philippe's Geneva home. Rooms emulate the company's manufacturing workshops, its museum galleries, and a historical salon at the flagship boutique overlooking Lake Geneva. A video of the views from the boutique's windows serves as a backdrop for showcasing nine limited-edition watches for men and women created for the U.S. market, including World Times, Calatravas, and the show-stopping World Time Minute Repeater Ref. 5531 New York 2017 Special Edition.
Limited to 10 pieces, the new Ref. 5531 combines the brand's historic world time complication with a musical minute repeater for the first time. And in an unprecedented patent-pending twist, the minute repeater chimes local time rather than home time. This technical feat was achieved by linking the minute-repeater mechanism to the 24-hour city ring, so the time that chimes corresponds to the city aligned with the 12 o'clock position on the dial. Watchmakers also attached the gongs to the case rather than to the movement plate to enhance sound quality.
The $561,341 wristwatches pay tribute to Manhattan with unique cloisonné enamel dials—five depicting the skyline by day and five by night. Swiss master enamellist Anita Porchet, who will demonstrate her craft at the exhibition, created the dials.
"It's a very long relationship with the U.S., so it's quite logical to come here with something that is very strong," says Stern, referencing Norbert de Patek's first trip to America in 1854. "It's also a matter of respect to say thank you to all those collectors who build awareness of Patek Philippe. To be able to present something like this to a knowledgeable client—it's beautiful."
The Sterns have long been passionate supporters of watchmaking's classical métiers d'art, which include the decorative techniques of enameling, engraving, gem setting, and other artistic disciplines.
A series of unique and limited wristwatches and pocket watches pay tribute to U.S. history, culture, and landscapes with scenes from the Old West, baseball, the jazz age, the moon landing, and more. Stern's favorite is a pocket watch with a wood marquetry portrait of a Native American in full regalia. "The marquetry is absolutely fantastic," says Stern, who points out that more than 100 pieces of wood are used just in the necklace. "It is the highest level of marquetry that we have ever done," he adds, "and the guy who did it is here, so you can see him and talk with him."
The U.S. History room displays vintage Pateks that belonged to famous American patrons including Joe DiMaggio, Duke Ellington, and Gen. Patton, among others, plus a quartz desk clock displaying time in Washington D.C., Moscow, and Berlin that was given to John F. Kennedy on the occasion of his "Ich bin ein Berliner" speech in 1963.
Another case displays 11 pieces from two legendary American collectors, Henry Graves Jr. and James Ward Packard. The New York financier and the Midwestern auto magnate engaged in a heated rivalry to possess the most complicated watch, commissioning a number of pieces from Patek Philippe in a bid to outdo one another. The competition culminated in 1933 with the Henry Graves Supercomplication pocket watch with 24 complications. The watch sold at Sotheby's in 2014 for a record-breaking $24 million. Six pieces from Graves' collections are shown alongside pieces from Packard's collection, including The Packard super-complicated astronomical watch commissioned in 1927 with astronomical functions all tuned to Packard's Warren, Ohio, birthplace, including a rotating celestial map with more than 500 stars.
The adjacent Museum Room takes the historical thread deeper with dozens of rare timepieces dating back to 1530, many of which have never before been displayed outside the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. Like in the museum, one section features watches from the pre-Patek era while the other shows significant historical Patek Philippes, including the Star Caliber 2000 and the massive, super-complicated Caliber 89 pocket watch created to mark the brand's 150th anniversary in 1989.
While the Grand Exhibition is a must-see for any watch enthusiast, Stern also hopes to encourage those who are less knowledgeable about the craft to explore and learn about mechanical watchmaking. Another goal is to educate and inspire the next generation of collectors. "I hope to see classes with young kids going around having a look," he says. "Most will never buy a Patek Philippe, but at least they will understand what is a manufacture and what is a real mechanism. They have an iPhone, iPad and whatever, but they should still understand there is a beautiful thing working with a spring that is something you can see and understand."
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