19/11/2019 10:34

Patek Philippe’s largest exhibition to date transported visitors to a magical realm of timepieces and watchmaking excellence.

“Tropical Island”, a table clock inspired by the underwater world

As one of the most renowned names in the watch industry, 180-year old Geneva-based independent watchmaking manufacturer Patek Philippe has become synonymous with haute horology, rarity, superior quality, technological advances and the fine art of traditional techniques. It is a rare opportunity to be able to view the full range of Patek Philippe’s historical timepieces - one can either visit the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva or attend their worldwide grand exhibitions, such as the fifth Watch Art Grand Exhibition, held from September 28 to October 13, 2019, in Singapore. 

I was lucky enough to attend this biggest watch event in Southeast Asia. Held at the Marina Bay Sands Theater, the exhibition’s ten themed rooms spanned 1,800 square meters. Here, aficionados of watchmaking artistry could immerse themselves in the world of Patek Philippe as if they were visiting the company’s historic salons on Rue du Rhône in Geneva, their factory in Plan-les-Ouates or the Patek Philippe Museum to view their most exclusive designs.

At this event, selected exquisite treasures of the Patek Philippe Museum were transported from Geneva and displayed in the Museum Room. Among them, Queen Victoria’s Pendant Watches (No.4536 and No.4719) were not to be missed. The Queen bought them right on the spot at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851, when Jean Adrien Philippe was just a new watchmaker but had produced the world’s first keyless watches, which caught Victoria’s eye. I stood for a long time admiring these two pendant watches with beautiful decorated cases that looked like pieces of jewelry. Their backs feature a bouquet of rose-cut diamonds set on a blue enamel background.

Another milestone watch of Patek Philippe I was fortunate enough to view in the Museum Room was the world’s first Swiss wristwatch, made in 1868 and presented to Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. It was an ornate item with a baguette-shaped, key-wound movement, a cylinder escapement and eight jewels. The watch’s case and bracelet were made of yellow gold and the dial was protected by a hinged cover adorned with large diamonds.

Other famous timepieces on display included the Calibre 89, created in 1989 to celebrate Patek Philippe’s 150th birthday and considered one of the most complicated portable mechanical timepieces in the world, with 33 complications, and the Star Calibre 2000, a double-faced pocket watch with six patented innovations.


Apart from the Museum Room, other rooms such as the Grand Complications Room and the Current Collection Room showed off some of Patek Philippe’s latest collections. I was particularly interested in the Rare 

Handcrafts Room, which exhibited unique table clocks with references to Southeast Asian cities including Singapore, Kuala Lumpur, Manila, Jakarta, Bangkok and Hanoi. These vintage table clocks were decorated by cloisonné enamel and flinqué technique. Taking a closer look, I could see tiny roads and waterways made with flat gold wire.

Coinciding with Singapore’s Bicentennial year, the grand exhibition also had a dedicated room for the host country– the Singapore and Southeast Asia Room. A selection of timepieces that were displayed together for the first time paid tribute to not only Singapore, a cosmopolitan city with a diverse culture, but also the entire Southeast Asia region, which is distinguished by its passion for fine workmanship, rare handcrafts and artisanal skills.

Among the watches on display were the “Thai Ornaments” dome table clock in black and gold in grand feu cloisonné enamel inspired by Thai ornaments; the “Peranakan Culture” dome table clock in cloisonné enamel paying tribute to early Chinese immigrants to Malacca, Penang and Singapore; the unique flora and fauna of the “Farquhar Collection”; and the underwater world of “Tropical Island.” A one-of-a-kind table clock, “The Esplanade-Singapore,” represented breathtaking panoramic views of modern Singapore, taking in the familiar sights of the river and the city’s distinctive architecture.

These dome table clocks were meticulously decorated with exemplary artisanal techniques that have been used for more than four centuries, passed down from one generation to the next. To learn more about this traditional craftsmanship, I visited the Rare Handcrafts Room.


There is no better way to conserve the traditional watchmaking skills of Geneva than through practice. These skills, however, are in the hands of just a few masters, which Patek Philippe showcased through the Watchmakers Room and the Rare Handcrafts Room, offering a behind-the-scenes glimpse of the intricate work and passion that goes into their timepieces. Here, visitors could enjoy seeing watchmakers and artisans demonstrating their skills.

The grand exhibition also offered Family Days activities, in which children could have fun participating in clock making workshops and receiving watch sticker "tattoos." Inspiring young people to enter the world of mechanical watchmaking was a message from Thierry Stern, the CEO of Patek Philippe in his address to the exhibition. Seeing the young people at the exhibition, including Stern’s own son, I was reminded of the watchmaker’s famous slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”

Giang Le

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