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Making watches pretty with rare handcrafts
AS A GUARDIAN of grand traditions, especially in preserving artisanal skills that for centuries have adorned timepieces, Patek Philippe has rolled out 50 rare handcrafts timepieces in its latest watch collection.
The collection, showcased in an exhibition in Geneva in April, contains dome table clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches, including minute repeaters which pay respect to a suite of rare handcrafts that have long been intimately linked to watch-making artistry – manual engraving, various grand-feu enameling techniques, as well as gem setting and hand guilloching.
Engraving is perhaps the most respected craft in the service of watch-making. Low-relief hand-engraving is especially used in the case of pocket watches to make them look pretty. Take The Galleon pocket timepiece in Patek Philippe’s new collection. Its case shows a proud ancient sailing ship with its aftercastle, cannons and sails, against an old nautical chart. All these are depicted by low-relief hand-engraving.
The master engraver employed this ancient technique, tinted with black rhodium by oxidation to accentuate the contrasts and depths. The hand-engraving work on the pocket watch, including work on the bezel and case back, took a total of 230 hours to finish.
Grand-feu techniques include miniature painting on enamel, cloisonne, champlevé, paillonne, finque, grisaille, plique-a-jour and Limoges enamel painting. Cloisonne enamelling techniques have enjoyed prominence on many dome table clocks.
In the Patek Philippe collection, they were applied to the Cubist Fantasy clock – resulting in a display of cubistic colour ornaments – and other unique pieces with themes ranging from nature (birds, flowers, savannah at sunset, planets) to the fine arts (Persian porcelain, Art Deco butterflies) and to different world culture (Indian women, Arabic calligraphy).
Cloisonne enamel is often decorated with gold dust, white- or yellow-gold papillons as well as white- or yellow-gold leaf and used to embellish the dial with wide-ranging motifs from around the world (Bhutan Textiles, Chart of the Caribbean, Tropical Plants, Tropical Fish).
Miniature painting on enamel is also a highly complex art, practised exclusively by an elite of the most gifted artisans. Its magic is unfolded on the backs of pocket watches or on wrist-watch dials with sublime reproductions of a Gauermann painting or the exquisite details of Portuguese azulejos.
In its new collection, Patek Philippe has also commissioned other very rare and challenging enamel arts, such as enamel reliefs (also known as Faure enamel) with its special renderings which require the utmost in firing expertise – or the famous Longwy enamels on ceramics with its motifs framed in black.
Patek Philippe has executed wood micro marquetry on wristwatch dials and the back of pocket timepieces. It’s used in the new collection to produce small, fascinating images of incredible detail like the Goldfinch, which is composed of 161 tiny pieces of veneer and 250 inlays with 30 species of wood.
Patek Philippe has also roamed free with several “mixed-technique” pieces that fuse different artisanal skills. “Italian Scenes” is one example in the collection that features cloisonné enamel dial on manually guilloched backgrounds enabled with miniature painting on enamel. The three Pictures in Relief wrist-watches have guilloched dials decked with tiny gold appliqués. W