Watches

Behind the Beauty of Patek Philippe's Rare Handcrafts Timepieces

Discover remarkable techniques and centuries of artisanal skills that the Genevan manufacture have successfully preserved.
Reading time 2 minutes

While the beautiful grand complications of Patek Philippe never fail to impress, what some may not know is that the Genevan manufacture also possesses exceptional savoir-faire. In fact, the watchmaker debuts a collection of rare handcrafts timepieces at Baselworld every year. The highly coveted pieces often fly under the radar, going straight to private collections.

Comprising dome clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches, this year's collection boasts 50 unique pieces and limited editions showcasing a multitude of artisanal skills. This ranges from manual engraving, the oldest decorative art form associated with watchmaking, to enamelling and wood marquetry. Below, we take a closer look at some of these remarkable techniques.

 

Engraving

Engraving is likely the oldest and most esteemed decorative art form in the world of watchmaking. To create the large ship with its stern structures, cannons and sails against a backdrop of an old nautical chart on Patek Philippe's The Galleon pocket watch, a master engraver used the traditional technique of low-relief engraving. To accentuate the contrasts and depth of the engraving, it was tinted with black rhodium by oxidation. It's a tedious process and took the master engraver a total of 230 hours to hand-engrave the case back, bezel and bow of this timepiece.

Cloisonne Enamel

There are several enamelling techniques but one that features heavily in this collection is cloisonné, which is French for "enclosed". This is done by first adding compartments (also known as cloisons) to a metal object by soldering or affixing silver or gold wires or thin strips placed on their edges. These separate the various cells of enamel, which are usually in different colours on the wristwatches and unique dome table clocks, like the Patek Philippe Cubist Fantasy dome table clock.

Miniature Painting

The rarest of enamel techniques, miniature painting on enamel is a highly complex, grand Genevan art practiced by the most gifted artisans. Instead of water, the enamel is mixed with oil and then applied on a ground of enamel with a very fine brush. Patek Philippe often uses this to create extremely detailed portraits, landscapes and crowd scenes on its timepieces.

Wood marquetry

Traditionally used for furniture, smaller wooden objects and pictorial panels, marquetry is relatively new in the watchmaking world. Micromarquetry in wood is a highly refined technique where a marquetry-maker cuts out tiny pieces of thin veneer, then assembles and applies them according to the design. On the Patek Philippe Goldfinch Calatrava wristwatch, the marquetry-maker worked with 30 different species of wood to bring out the textures and colours of the bird's plumage and make it look as realistic as possible.

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