Time travel

Patek Philippe hits the road with its storied exhibition in Tokyo

Watches & Jewellery 22 Sep 2023

Patek Philippe Geneve

Patek Philippe, the only remaining independent, family-owned Genevan watchmaking house, believes in telling its story to the world. Eleven years ago, Patek Philippe first took its universe to collectors, enthusiasts and the curious in Dubai to launch the Watch Art Grand Exhibition series. Every two years since – bar the pandemic years – the exhibition has travelled the world. Earlier this summer, Japan hosted the sixth event.

Tokyo was chosen as it is seen as key for the brand, particularly as a market of connoisseurs, treasuring rare handcrafts and appreciative of the painstaking craftsmanship within Patek Philippe’s timepieces. The culture that unites respect for tradition with avant-garde spirit was recognised as a great match for its “tradition of innovation” ethos.

One standout piece was the enamelled watch brooch Patek Philippe presented to Queen Victoria
One standout piece was the enamelled watch brooch Patek Philippe presented to Queen Victoria

The biggest to date, at over 2,500sqm, the exhibition immersed visitors in the brand, with recreations of the historical salons in Geneva’s Rue du Rhône and the manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates just outside Geneva, and the city’s lakeside setting. Ten themed rooms took visitors on a journey through the watchmaker’s world, bringing together more than 500 timepieces and objects representing a wealth of expertise. Displaying not only the current collections – spanning style icons and the most technically complex mechanisms – there was also a section dedicated to super-complications and another showcasing chiming watches – both strongholds of the brand – with another area full of movements designed and built by Patek Philippe.

Also on show was a wide selection of pieces from the Patek Philippe museum, while artisans and watchmakers demonstrated their skills in the mechanical and decorative techniques that have distinguished Patek’s timepieces for decades. Some special pieces in Japan were specifically created for the exhibition, including two new technical innovations.

Open to the public, the museum in Geneva contains more than 2,500 examples of historic and significant watches made by Patek Philippe since its founding in 1839, along with important early watches from around the world, illustrating the evolution of watchmaking. One outstanding piece in Tokyo was a handsome enamelled watch brooch that had been presented to Queen Victoria by Patek Philippe and, interestingly, the first wristwatch to contain a perpetual calendar. The movement for this piece was originally made by Patek Philippe in 1898, but not used before its completion in 1925 in this woman’s timepiece.

Specially made pieces for the exhibition included a rich selection of work showcasing Patek Philippe’s rare handcrafts, which the brand works to conserve and support to avoid these traditional techniques dying out. So there was an opportunity to view the exacting work created by the artisanal skills of miniature painting on enamel, Grand Feu, cloisonné, hand engraving, wood marquetry, hand-executed guilloche and gem setting. A decorative display featured 40 one-of-a-kind pieces and limited editions of domed clocks, table clocks and watches inspired by Japanese culture, paying tribute in themes and motifs to its artistic repertoire and ancestral skills. One such distinctive piece was a pocket watch featuring a Samurai warrior, created with wood marquetry requiring many hours of delicate, exacting work.

Thierry Stern, Patek Philippe’s president, is particularly proud of the new rare handcrafts. ‘The quality of these pieces is the most advanced we have ever made,’ he says. Bringing Patek to the world is a way to educate the curious about the work involved in making top-tier watches. ‘As a family business, we share the happiness and passion for what we do.’ It seems to be working, as the enthusiastic crowds who flocked to Tokyo’s Sankaku Hiroba exhibition space can testify.