The Art of Time with Patek Philippe

As we go about our daily lives, we always look towards our watches and clocks to tell time. But what if I told you that this little device on your wrist was a piece of art? 


If you are confused, it’s alright. Most often than not, when most of us read or hear of the term ‘art’, the first things that come to mind are paintings or sculptures. However, contrary to common believe, watches are considered a form of art (along with wine, jewels and manuscripts). Why? Well, Patek Phillippe’s Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore 2019 might just give you some clues…


In its fifth edition and first-ever in Asia, this year’s Watch Art Grand Exhibition was the largest ever hosted by Patek Phillippe, the last Genevan family-owned watchmaking company. Curated in ten uniquely themed rooms, the exhibition provided an eye-opening and rare experience into the art of watchmaking: exploring among others history, cultures, technology, craftsmanship, artisanship and luxury. Held during Singapore’s bicentennial year, the exhibition also commemorates the importance of Singapore and Southeast Asia for Patek Philippe, not only as a market but also as sources of artistic inspiration across the years. Here is a glimpse into the world of this exquisite watchmaker. 


Masters of enamelling 

Through the years, Patek Phillippe has been known for preserving the art of enamelling. While this form of art embraces a wide range of traditional techniques, the most complex of these is the precious miniature painting on enamel, a renowned Genevan speciality. One such piece that embodied this technique was the Adoration of the Magi gold pendent watch from the exhibition’s Museum Room. Painted by Jean-Pierre Huaud in 1690, it was certainly impressive to see how detailed the painting of the biblical scene was, given the small size of the watch. 

Another technique that was on display in a number of the exhibit’s pieces was Cloisonne enamelling. This technique is usually used to create splendid multicoloured decorations and involves many hours to master. A representative piece from the exhibition was the “Batik on red” dome table clock from the Rare Handcrafts Room. As the piece was inspired by the complex motifs of the Indonesian traditional batik, the artisan first had to shape the outlines of the floral patterns by cutting flat gold wire into tiny pieces before manually applying them to the clock case. He then filled the space created by the wires with seven kinds of enamel paint. The precision and beauty of the timepieces were truly a testament to the highly skilled artisanship of the watchmakers. 


Engineers of grand complications and movements

A complication is any feature to a timepiece other than displaying the simple hours, minutes and seconds, while a movement is the “engine” of a watch. Before visiting the exhibition, I had no idea what these were nor was I aware of the complexities in watchmaking. Thus while visiting the Grand Complications and Movements Rooms, I was marvelled by the unique overview of Patek Philippe’s most complicated timepieces and the extensive range of movements presented. Among others, this included the Sky Moon Tourbillon, one of Patek Philippe’s most intricate wristwatches, which features two faces and twelve impressive complications, including a perpetual calendar, minute repeater, and even a depiction of the night sky!


Timeless storytellers 

While these timepieces exude beauty and have elaborate functions, each piece had its own unique story to tellー whether its the inspiration for the painting on the watch or the hours and skills it took to assemble it. Maybe that’s why collectors (and the public) are so marvelled by them. For it is these stories which the watches tell that evoke emotions in people. Thus making them seemingly timeless pieces of art. 


So the next time you see a watch or clock, don’t hesitate to find out how it was made or what inspired it. You might be surprised by the story it will tell you. 


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