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Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts 2024: More Than a Watch Collection

Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts 2024: More Than a Watch Collection

Why do mechanical timepieces captivate so many people? The Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts 2024, a particularly exclusive collection of unique wristwatches, pocket watches and table clocks, undoubtedly answers this question. The boundary-pushing line is undoubtedly at the forefront of the Swiss watchmaking industry. Each incredibly high-quality timepiece embodies all that makes watches so exciting: craftsmanship and tradition, design and imagination, memories and dreams associated with them, and, of course, the odd consideration of social status. These elements all unite in the Rare Handcrafts 2024 collection, with each and every timepiece serving as a part of watchmaking history.

Lake Geneva, take the backseat:
The mesmerising Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts 2024

The manufacture’s Geneva showroom on the Rue du Rhone is a place of pilgrimage for Patek Philippe’s faithful followers. The salon is famous for the unique fact that all references from the current collection, no matter how rare, tend to be displayed here. It is also here, in this very special place, that the horology house presents its new Rare Handcrafts collection every year in time for Watches & Wonders. The collection allows highly trained craftsmen to demonstrate their skills in the form of extraordinary creations: guilloché, enamelling, engraving, gem-setting, and wood marquetry. Never before have so many timepieces been presented as this year: 82 in total, many of them unique, with others produced only in very small series.

A lift takes visitors up to the fourth floor of the salon, where these treasures are displayed in showcases. The view of Lake Geneva and the Jet d’eau fountain from up there is phenomenal. Yet it no exaggeration to say that the watches in the Rare Handcrafts 2024 collection are so fascinating that one barely casts a glance in the direction of the vast expanse of iridescent water outside.

The favourite?
The reference 995/144J-001

Faced with these watches, visitors are immediately confronted with the ultimate collector’s questions. What appeals to me the most? What am I looking for in a watch? Which is the most beautiful? Traditionally, automotive motifs, for example, are extremely popular in the Rare Handcrafts collections, as it is not uncommon for horology enthusiasts to collect new or old cars. Motifs with cultural elements are also generally extremely popular. This year, for example, there are some motifs inspired by the beauty of outstanding gardens from Japan to Versailles, as well as Hawaiian patterns and Swiss landscapes.

As nonsensical as it may be to try to identify ‘the best watch’ in the collection, it is easy to find the Patek Philippe that appeals to you there and then. For me, it is reference 995/144J-001, the ‘Bear and Salmon’ pocket watch, which, as the name suggests, depicts a bear in the water eating a salmon.

The reason for this enthusiasm is a penchant for animal photography in general, and bears in particular. A quick tap into my iPhone reveals a photo I took in British Columbia, Canada, showing a grizzly in a not dissimilar situation. Of course, though, there is no photo printed on this unique timepiece. Rather, it is a masterpiece of wood marquetry: 315 tiny pieces cut from a total of 38 types of wood – with different colours, textures and grains – for the scene. These were composed into a photorealistic motif in 75 inlays on the back of the watch. The dial of this yellow-gold work of art is made from American walnut and features Breguet numerals. Another example of the great passion for detail can be seen in the chain of the pocket watch: it is not simply made of gold, but is adorned with a precious metal miniature salmon.

A perfect world:
Ref. 5531R-016, Lake Thun

Among collectors of world timepieces, the 5331 is the one that makes even a flight from Frankfurt to Buenos Aires pass quickly, so easy is it to lose oneself in the enamel dial, and so beautiful is the sound of the minute repeater.

The current model of the regular 5331 from the main collection showcases a steamship on Lake Geneva, with a Swiss flag waving in the wind at the centre of the motif. On the rose gold Rare Handcrafts 5531, the Grand Feu cloisonné enamel motif looks completely different: the view of the dial leads from there into the distance, providing a view of Lake Thun and the surrounding mountainous landscape. It is a perspective with a far-reaching view, based on a painting by the Swiss painter Ferdinand Hodler (1853 – 1918). The morning light – or is it the evening sun? – reflects on Lake Oberbern, creating a play of colours with countless nuances. Capturing the whole thing on a canvas? Beautiful. But transporting this mood onto a few square centimetres and burning it onto the dial in 18 different enamel colours in twelve passes? Magical.

Patek Philippe will only produce nine examples of this reference. It is a watch of great finesse. 15 centimetres of wafer-thin gold wire (0.05 x 0.35 mm diameter) were needed to create the outer lines for the mountains and the light effects on the water and in the sky. This was cut and moulded by hand into tiny pieces.

In view of this visual delight, the movement may take a back seat, but should not be forgotten: the combination of world time complication and minute repeater is powered by the well-known automatic calibre R27 HU.

Staying in Switzerland:
The three new references 5738/50R

As mentioned, the beauty of Switzerland is a recurring motif among the artisans of the Rare Handcrafts collections, and Geneva, aka the home of Patek Philippe, is particularly popular. The three references 5738/50R-013, 5738/50R-014, and 5738/50R-015 depict ‘Geneva in older times’, i.e. historical motifs inspired by old postcards. The rose-gold Ellipse sets the scene, while the dials are embellished with miniature enamel painting. They depict a barge arriving at the harbour, the Pont des Bergues bridge, and the Jet d’eau in front of Mont Blanc.

Each model is only produced three times, with the enameller first creating the motif using four colours. White, black, brown and ochre yellow give the dials a sepia effect. Several layers of transparent enamel are applied to protect the motif and give it a special brilliance. Around 15 firing processes at temperatures between 840 and 780 degrees Celsius are required to achieve this result.

In the snow:
Reference 992/184G-001, Lake Geneva in winter

The name is very clear: ‘pocket watches’ are rarely seen, both in theory and in practice, as the vast majority are normally kept in the owner’s suit pocket. But that would be quite madness with this model, as this particular piece is far too beautiful not to be on display 24 hours a day.

Reference 992/184G-001 is a unique white-gold piece. It shows a winter landscape of Lake Geneva on both the front and back, with a view of the vineyard terraces of Lavaux and the snow-covered Alps in the background.

What looks infinitely peaceful is a masterpiece of enamelling: the caseback was guillochéd by hand, with a sunburst pattern for the sky and a pattern to represent the waves on the lake. This was then depicted with opalescent enamel in 18 firing processes, the colours of which perfectly reflect the soft reflections of the winter light. The dial also required maximum care: the miniature painting is composed of five different colour tones and required as many as 22 firings. One single slip, and any one of said firings could have destroyed the carefully created motif.

Heading to the beach:
Reference 5089G-129 and 5089G-130

These Calatravas were given special prominence by Patek Philippe around the Rare Handcrafts exhibition for advertising campaigns – perhaps also because the US market is a particularly important one for the family-owned company. It shows a surfer with his board under his arm on a Californian beach, and is made from wood marquetry. For this, 100 tiny wooden veneers made from 23 different types of wood were fixed with the help of 75 tiny inlays. The result is a motif that is as dynamic as it is atmospheric, radiating beautifully within in its 38.6 mm housing.

The ‘Partner Reference’ 5089G-130 also takes the observer to the beach, where not everyone is normally an expert on the surfboard, but those who have mastered the sport gain the unreserved respect of observers on land. It depicts two surfers in the waves, one standing and riding his longboard seemingly effortlessly, while the other jumps straight onto his board. The rising dawn glows in the background, slowly being replaced by the light of day. Unlike the wooden marqueterie Calatrava, the motif entitled ‘Riding the waves’, with its vibrant colours, is the work of the company’s enamel specialists, who have once again proven themselves in miniature painting.

The blue Cordura-look strap also goes well with the beach vibe of these Calatravas. The 5089G-129 will be produced in an edition of ten, while only six pieces of the 5089G-130 will be created.

Game on!
The billiard reference 5089G-145 and 5089R-001

Let’s stay with two more Calatrava variants from the ‘Rare Handcrafts’ collection. These two grand feu cloisonné enamel models each display two men at a billiard table, the mood instantly transporting the viewer to America in the Golden 20s, to a testosterone-fuelled world of new beginnings and soldiers of fortune.

What is particularly fascinating about these two motifs is the alternation between the sharply focused and very vivid foreground, and the blurring at the back of the dial. To make the billiard balls so radiant and tangible, a wide range of 27 to 41 translucent, semi-opaque, opaque and opalescent enamel colours was required. To create the smoky effect, the dial was hand-guillochéd under the translucent enamel. Around 60 centimetres of the finest gold wire were used for the outer lines of the enamel work. A total of ten models each, in white and rose gold, will be distributed to collectors worldwide.

Wonderfully playful:
Billiard balls, the reference 995/142J-001

A pocket watch? Sure. However, this piece is also a piece of art. Reference 995/142J-001 impressively demonstrates the passion with which Patek Philippe lives and breathes craftsmanship. For the dial, 696 tiny wooden veneers were arranged in two shades of Macassar ebony. Another billiard motif adorns the back: balls immediately after the start of the game, depicted in 40 different enamel colours that were applied in eleven firings.

This unique piece combines wood marquetry, Grand Feu enamelling, miniature painting and engraving. The display stand for the pocket watch, made of ebony and yellow gold, is also particularly charming and likewise picks up on the billiard motif.

American traits:
The reference 20155M-001

As famous as Patek Philippe is for wristwatches, the manufacture’s table clocks are just as impressive – and, of course, offer an extra portion of space for the company’s enamel artists. Reference 20155M-001 remains thematically in the North America of the early twentieth century. The train scene, captured through grand feu cloisonné enamelling and paillonné enamelling, is characterised by a spirit of optimism and dynamism. Over 16 metres of gold wire with a diameter of 0.19 x 0.78 millimetres were used for the outer lines of the three locomotives and the New York skyscrapers. A total of 31 enamel colours were used for the 213.5 mm-high table clock with a diameter of 128 mm.

The dial with its hour display is inspired by railway tracks, while the centre of the dial is made in Grand Feu Cloisonné and Paillonné enamel, in which tiny motifs are covered with translucent enamel and fired.

The sound of time:
The guitarist of reference 5278/50R-001

The rose-gold case perfectly frames the wooden marquetry dial of the minute repeater. The earthy tones of the guitar, hat and wall harmonise wonderfully with the gold tone – and make the white shirt particularly radiant. A man and his instrument. Who does he play for? What is he playing? How does he feel? That’s up to the observer. To describe the work behind this guitar player motif as intricate would be an understatement: 170 small wooden veneers are combined in 31 inlays to create the intimate atmosphere that exists between musician and instrument.

Looking up towards the heavens:
Twelve signs of the zodiac in reference 5077/100G

The owners of these exceptional Calatravas don’t have to read their horoscopes to realise that not only the stars mean well for them, but also – and above all –Thierry Stern, who personally oversees the allocation of the Rare Handcrafts 2024 collection. Even without a great deal of marketing expertise, it is clear that zodiac signs are a popular theme, and demand for these twelve different white-gold references is likely to be high. However, each of them is only produced twice.

The 112 diamonds on each bezel make the dials shine even brighter. Surely even the best of photographers cannot do full justice to the almost magical depth of the motifs. Think of any place at night with as little light pollution as possible, be it a beach in the Maldives or the Namib Desert. Just as the stars shine there, they sparkle on the dials here. This is made possible by a whole range of different enamel works.

The midnight blue base is provided by grisaille enamel, in which three different shades of blue and the particularly dense white ‘Blanc de Limoge’ enamel create a starry sky and the respective star sign symbol. The cloisonné and paillonné techniques were used to capture the position of the stars, which are made of 24-carat gold and connected with wafer-thin gold wires.

Some zodiac symbols – such as Libra (Ref. 5077/100G-068) – leave comparatively large amounts of room for the night cosmos, while others – such as Aquarius (Ref. 5077/100G-072) – are much more prominent as figures. There may also be other manufactures with outstanding zodiac watches, such as Van Cleef & Arpels’ ‘Midnight Zodiaque’, but there is hardly a more exclusive and sophisticated mini-collection of earth, water, fire and air signs.

A bow to your colleagues:
The reference 10034M-001 in blue, red and green

The fixation upon the arts within the Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts collection is something that makes these timepieces incredibly attractive. It is all about achieving decorative perfection. In view of this densely concentrated beauty, Patek’s master watchmakers are probably happy to step back and allow the craftsmanship to take central stage. It’s all about celebrating the beautiful exterior.

At the same time, there are no mechanical timepieces without movements. Two table clocks stand out in this context: the optional blue, red or green versions of reference 10034M-001 exude a very special charm. There may have been more complex enamel work in 2024. Even tinier motifs and colour nuances that are more difficult to match. But how nice is it when the artisans bow down to their watchmaking colleagues? At least that’s how the perfectly symmetrical arrangement of 452 different parts of an Haute Horlogerie movement can be interpreted.

All of the unique pieces showcase Grand Feu Cloisonné enamel of the finest quality. In the context of the overarching question of what makes watchmaking so fascinating for so many, these watches are so much more: they bring together the interior and the exterior, and they unite, if you like, the departments of technology, design and decoration. They express the respect that all those involved have for each other. Factoring all of these characteristics, these table clocks are really exemplary of the fascination for Haute Horlogerie worldwide – and more specifically, the enthusiasm for Patek Philippe, which impeccably cultivates these crafts.