As obvious as a watch dial and case’s round shape would seem, being defined by the movement of the hands in a circle, that hasn’t stopped manufacturers from teasing the eye with alternatives. Pocket watches preceded the wristwatch by centuries and precious few departed from the round norm for hundreds of years. But round wristwatches, from the beginning, shared showcase space with rectangular, square, cushion and other forms.
With these watches came the challenge of creating a signature case style – or, for Patek Philippe’s Gondolo, a multitude of them. Gondolo also exemplified another side of Patek Philippe, a company that was always willing to address local markets. The origins of this family of timepieces were in Brazil, a territory with a love for watches to rival even the Italians.
The Gondolo range has just passed its first 150 years in the Patek catalogue, having delivered enough variations to inspire collectors who amass nothing else. Its name celebrates famous Rio de Janeiro retailer Gondolo & Labouriau, which enjoyed a successful business relationship with Patek Philippe from 1872 to 1927.
Dubbed ‘Chronometro Gondolo’ from the outset, the range was born before wristwatches gradually began to displace pocket watches in the 1920s. This was a crucial part of Gondolo history, indicating how important Gondolo & Labouriau was to Patek Philippe and why it produces a Gondolo collection to this day. The Brazilian retailer sold ‘close to a third of the entire production of Patek watches’. One assumes that the manufacturer never forgot how Gondolo & Labouriau helped it survive lean times in Europe and through World War I. Moreover, sales in Brazil were, according to Patek lore, so sensational that ‘Patek’ even became a synonym for ‘watch’. But Brazil alone could not contain the Gondolo and it has long enjoyed global appeal.
Among the earliest models of Chronometro Gondolo pocket watches were those that displayed the hours, minutes and seconds, with some featuring 24-hour dials and others providing chronograph functions. Over the years, Patek Philippe produced the Gondolo in as many as nine different sizes.
Gondolo also commanded specially commissioned movements, with technical features meriting the appellation ‘Chronometro’. Most distinctive was a nine-carat-gold gear train, along with an ébauche (blank movement) based on a drawing by Jean-Adrien Philippe (1815-1894), which was patented in the US in 1891.
With the move from pocket watches to wrist, Chronometro Gondolo timepieces became – to use Patek’s own words – ‘more exuberant’. After the tensions and deprivations of the war years came the Jazz Age and Art Deco, and Gondolo embraced case shapes that included round, square, rectangular, tonneau and ‘carré cambré’ cushion form. Women’s models even inspired, decades later, one of Patek Philippe’s most successful ranges, the Twenty~4 collection, which updated the look to take Gondolo into its third century.
Despite the plethora of shapes, for many Patek devotees the name ‘Gondolo’ calls to mind one of the most elegant dress watches. A rectangular dial in a case that is ‘nipped at the waist’ and curved to follow the wrist, the shape hasn’t dated one iota since the 1920s. It informs the latest Gondolo Serata 4972G, notable for its exquisite guillochéd mother-of-pearl dial.
Serata is an exemplar of the refined ladies evening watch. It returns to the Patek Philippe range in a slightly larger rose-gold version; the size and colour adding contemporary touches to a venerable shape. Water- resistant to 30m, the case is set with 94 brilliant-cut spessartites arranged in graduated colours, from cognac tones at 12 and 6 o’clock to mandarin at 9 and 3 o’clock.
Its brown lacquered dial has a floral motif that marries contrasting matte and polished finishes, accented by gold Breguet numerals. Serata is complemented by a chocolate brown calfskin strap with satin finish and prong buckle. While the adjective ‘timeless’ seems a cliché when describing a watch, for this classic model, the title is well earned.