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Unique in Every Way: The Father And Son Behind Horology Ancienne on Two Exceptional Minute Repeaters

Unique in Every Way: The Father And Son Behind Horology Ancienne on Two Exceptional Minute Repeaters

“Suppose my house was on fire, I had to get out as quickly as possible, and could only save one thing: it would be this watch.” Our conversation with the father and son behind the highly respected Instagram watch collector account @horology_ancienne has been going on for over an hour by the time this sentence is uttered. As dramatic as they may sound, it illustrates pretty much exactly what the two of them are discussing: namely the importance of family values and watchmaking, their shared passion for collecting in general, and for Patek Philippe in particular. It’s about timepieces that are so much more than the sum of a parts, which are never just about telling the time, but rather about encapsulating a piece of history.

For the first time ever, Horology Ancienne is cooperating with the media, exclusively providing Swisswatches Magazine the opportunity to photograph two watches that stand out in their extraordinary collection: the references 5240 and 4940 from Patek Philippe. The references are two unique pieces from 2007, created in close cooperation with Philippe and Thierry Stern, the former and current heads of the manufacture.

Horology Ancienne: Father and son

But before we get to know these two extraordinary minute repeaters, a few words about @horology_Ancienne. In the Instagram watch world, the account is considered unique. It was created in December 2018 out of the need to create a counterweight to the Instagram ‘flex culture’, preferring to impress its followers through its expertise and attitude instead. Its voice is that of the ‘old school’ collector community. The ‘wrist shot’ of a hype watch in front of a sports car steering wheel? You won’t find it with these two. Rather, one of the best-curated Patek Philippe collections in the world is presented with a great deal of humility and respect for the manufacture and its craftsmanship. Classic historical models meet the contemporary, and the primary focus on Patek Philippe is complemented by exceptional timepieces from other horology houses with great watchmaking history and creative power; Horology-Ancienne also collects the likes of Audemars Piguet, Vacheron Constantin, Rolex and Omega. Both father and son will also never forget that their first mechanical watch was a Longines.

Part of the Instagram feed of @horology_ancienne with some of the exceptional timepieces

The posts always focus on the respective reference. In their captions, the duo demonstrate vast expertise and historical knowledge, and are not ones to shy away from criticism. For collectors of their calibre, the two allow surprisingly open insights into this otherwise rather closed-off world. Every message and every question from followers is answered. However, all this is only possible because the identities of the two men behind the account are not known to the public; they value and utilise the anonymity social media can cater for. In their posts, the father and son simply refer to each other as ‘Senior’ and ‘Junior’ – and that’s how it will remain in this article, too.

Patek Philippe unique references 5240 and 4940

So, back to the references 5240 and 4940. The sentence about the burning house comes from Junior, as part of the answer to the question of what these two watches mean to him and his personal path to becoming a collector. He would want to save the men’s reference 5240, as for him, it is utterly irreplaceable. That said, Junior would also not leave the ladies’ reference lying around – but one day, it will belong to his sister, and therefore be kept safely in another house. Senior, now 56 years young, commissioned both watches to honour the fortieth birthdays of his wife and himself, which is why the ‘40’ appears in both reference numbers.

The result are timepieces that are not that old in years, but nevertheless come from a different collector’s world. They combine everything that embodies true collector passion to this day, simultaneously explaining the success of Patek Philippe today in numerous ways. For Junior and Senior, however, the references are, above all, family history, and as Senior articulates, “They are the unicorns amongst the Special Orders. To be able to create these two watches in collaboration with the Sterns is the greatest honour and privilege imaginable. It is the culmination of my collecting journey.”

Working with the Stern family

From the initial idea to the handover of the watches shortly after the birthday party, at which Thierry Stern was also a guest, the process took about a year. Indeed, the Horology-Ancienne family and the Stern family have known each other for many years. Senior recounts his first encounter with the Patek Philippe brand at a young age. He saw an advert in Time magazine for a Calatrava with a Clous de Paris bezel. A dream watch that would initially remain a dream: “My parents would have thought I was crazy if I had asked them for such a valuable watch.” However, the working Senior soon became a passionate collector, initially of Patek Philippe pocket watches: “The first watch I bought at the Geneva Salon was a pocket watch with a tourbillon.”

Patek Philippe Calatrava Advertisement from the 90’s © AD PATINA

He developed a soft spot for the models enamelled by Suzanne Rohr. To this day, they are considered the best in the field. He bought several of them, which in turn contributed to the fact that Patek Philippe could not produce the models as quickly as it could sell them. This development also contributed to the Sterns’ realisation that the importance of the craftswoman and her work was both incomparable and invaluable, also for the in-house Patek Philippe collection.

It was only later that Senior’s passion for wristwatches began. He first met Philippe Stern as a good customer in 1998, and then repeatedly as an opponent in the auction room. Philippe Stern buys historically important timepieces for what is now the Patek Philippe Museum, while Senior buys for his private collection. Junior describes the two of them as “the gladiators of the auction rooms”, highly skilful in their work, but above all, utterly united in their passion. It is a competition for horological masterpieces, characterised by great mutual respect.

Reserved for top customers alone

The desire for these two unique pieces therefore has a long history, because even if it may be somewhat more difficult to obtain a unique Patek watch today, back then, this privilege was reserved for the manufacture’s absolute top customers. The references 5240 and 4940 were special orders in several respects. After extensive research by father and son, reference 4940 became the first ever ladies’ minute repeater from Patek Philippe. As Junior recounts, “As far as we know, there is only one 5-minute repeater wristwatch for ladies from 1916, which was purchased by a Mrs D. O. Wickham for 2,760 francs.” Even then, Patek Philippe did not make it easy for itself: “The case of the watch was made of platinum and engraved to boot. The metal is notoriously difficult to work with, and equally demanding if you want to produce a good sound.”

Senior’s expectations for his two references were similarly complex, and he worked with Philippe and Thierry Stern to fulfil them. Senior elaborates, “I wanted two watches that had been through every department at Patek Philippe, and which therefore united everything that makes the company so unique – from the master watchmaker to the dial department to the gem-setters, engravers and case makers.” The result is two watches whose qualities cannot be simply described as ‘unique’ or ‘special order’. After all, anything with a unique dial is generally considered to be one of a kind, as is one with a gemstone beyond the series. With the Horology Ancienne watches, however, every single detail is truly unique: dials, cases, clasps, engravings, crowns – everything. They have even been given their own references, as well as unique cufflinks and unique boxes to match the references.

These are two timepieces for which there was no template, just inspiration and a blank sheet of paper. Naturally, Senior, the great collector of minute repeaters, also chose the regal minute repeater complication, so typical of Patek Philippe, for his customised models. The dial is adorned with rubies that serves as hour indices, as these are Senior’s favourite gemstones. He also chose a classic dotted minute track and small seconds at six o’clock, which gives the jewels room to shine while maintaining the overall classic appearance. As was landed upon with Thierry Stern, the case is a combination of white and 4N rose gold, for which Senior wanted teardrop-shaped lugs to echo the aesthetics of the 1950s, while a rose-gold engraving of polished parts and a matt (frosted) background adorns the flanks. It depicts intertwined hearts.

These hearts can also be found on an 18-carat gold plaque on the unique box designed for the watches. The heart motif is anything but obvious, as the flanks display the connected hearts from a side profile. This unusual motif only makes sense to the viewer if you know the story behind it. This is exactly what was important to Horology-Ancienne: no one else knows what they’re looking at. “That’s what makes it so special for us; it’s very personal to us.” Philippe Stern, in turn, picked up Senior’s idea for the drop-shaped lugs and suggested that this shape should also be used for the clasp.

Both references are adorned with a 0.24-carat briolette-cut ruby on the crown. Both watches are 9.9 mm in height. The biggest visual difference between the two minute repeaters is their size: the men’s reference has a diameter of 38.2 mm, while the ladies’ reference has a diameter of 33.7 mm. Furthermore, it’s worth touching upon the diamond setting of the reference 4940: the bezel and lugs are set with 256 diamonds, plus a further 140 diamonds on the clasp, which is another custom-made component. Senior reports on the sound of the timepieces’ striking mechanisms: “In Philippe Stern’s opinion, the watches have a very special sound. The ladies’ reference in particular is different, somehow slower, but beautiful.”

Patek Philippe’s first ever ladies’ minute repeater

Both are powered by the calibre R 27 PS, which was first used in reference 3979 to mark the 150th anniversary of the manufacture and is still used today in minute repeaters, for example the ladies’ reference 7040 or the gemstone Aquanaut 5260 presented last year – in the latter, however, without small seconds (‘PS’).

The fact that the 4940 is the first ever ladies’ minute repeater fills Senior and Junior with great pride and joy. At the same time, Junior adds: “It is quite possible that Patek Philippe had already planned a ladies’ minute repeater for the collection before our 4940. The Sterns are visionaries, and tend to think and plan very far ahead.” Besides, minute repeaters have always been a great passion of Philippe Stern. Fundamentally, the importance of the Patek Philippe ladies’ references is of great importance to both Junior and Senior. They are irritated when ladies’ watches are only thought of in terms of diamond dust on quartz movements, and never tire of pointing out the manufacture’s special ladies’ models, such as reference 7071, the Ladies First Chronograph, into which Patek Philippe integrated the first manufacture chronograph movement. Only later did the calibre become part of the men’s collection with the reference 5170. As Junior points out, “Patek Philippe has done more for women’s watches than anyone else.”

Junior tells us how his first visit to the Patek Philippe Salon in Geneva took place long before he could pronounce the word ‘tourbillon’. His father took him into this special world at an early age, instilling in him a passion for watches. Senior’s first watch was a Longines. Junior’s first watch was also a Longines. The ‘collector souls’ of the father and son have always had a great sense of watchmaking that spans far beyond the haute horlogerie of Patek Philippe. Nevertheless, their hearts are particularly attached to the brand, their shared history is too long, and the significance of customised models such as the 5240 and the 4940 too great for both of them.

Junior states: “My father is far too reserved to say it himself, but he is clearly one of the original godfathers of the manufacture’s special orders.” Today, father and son share a love of Patek Philippe and the company’s Grandes Complications, as well as a resentment towards the single-minded hype for high-end steel models such as the Nautilus that comprises a large part of the watch world. They have a keen sense of value and price trends in watchmaking, but they do not collect to speculate. On the contrary, their collection is a family legacy and, according to Senior’s wishes, should and must remain in the family for at least three generations.

Gentlemen collectors

What remains – and resonates – from the conversation with Junior and Senior is therefore far more than a few explanatory words about two special minute repeaters. The path that these two gentlemen have been treading for many decades helps to clarify what makes watchmaking so fascinating: the stories that are associated with watches. It’s about enthusiasm that goes far beyond considering what might be an investment, and a passion that only the most special products and brands can trigger. Or, as Junior wrote in his Instagram post about the two watches, “Ultimately this is why I collect Patek Philippe. Because those that steer the Patek ship care about the helm. They care about the sails. They even care about the detailing of the anchor. And above all else, they steer the ship with pride and joy. The 5240 and 4940, more than being the product of the efforts from Patek and I, was the product of three chaps who just really love watches. And while of course Patek has business considerations, the ultimate goal has always been outstanding watchmaking.”

For Patek Philippe, customers like Senior and Junior are almost better and more important than the manufacture’s legendary generational campaign. After all, the two of them live for the company’s products in exactly the way that Patek Philippe would surely wish – and they never tire of talking about it. Not as testimonials, but as collectors.