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Patek Philippe's Rare Handcrafts 2024 exhibition is a unique chance to see the highest horological artistry

Handsome detailing
Play Of Feathers pocket watch.

Patek Philippe exuberantly puts its artistic techniques into practice as much as possible. Subsequently, a spectacle of 82 pieces was premiered at the Rare Handcrafts 2024 exhibition held last month at the Patek Philippe Salons in Geneva.

In addition, engravers, enamellers, guillocheurs and wood-marquetry makers showed their prowess during live demonstrations.

Since the 17th century, Geneva has been a centre of excellence for rare handcrafts such as miniature painting on enamel.

Founded in 1839 and in the hands of the Stern family since 1932, Patek Philippe takes pride in being the heir to and guardian of Genevan watchmaking tradition.

Morning On The Beach and Surfing The Waves Calatrava watches. (Photos © Patek Philippe)

The 19th century was a golden age for artisans. Until World War II, meticulously-decorated timepieces were still produced, but to a lesser extent. In the 1970s, the watchmaking industry lost interest in the handcrafts and the artisans had to seek other jobs while the know-how almost disappeared.

Led by fourth-generation Thierry Stern, Patek Philippe continues to safeguard and build on ancestral techniques by annually creating exquisite clocks, pocket watches and wristwatches.

The Rare Handcrafts 2024 collection includes pieces that pay tribute to the maison's home town, such as the one-of-a kind Lake Geneva In Winter pocket watch showcasing miniature painting on enamel over hand-engraving.

The hand-guilloched caseback with a sunburst motif for the sky and a wave pattern for the lake was coated with opalescent enamel to render reflections of soft winter light.

Southern Brown Kiwi Calatrava.

Toiles De Jouy Calatrava.

The enameller then built up the picture in small deft touches using 11 colours, before protecting the scene and intensifying its brilliance with several layers of flux, a transparent enamel, according to the Geneva method.

In total, the caseback underwent 18 firings at temperatures ranging from 800C to 900C, whereas crafting the dial, on a base layer of opalescent enamel, required five base colours and 22 firings at a temperature between 800C and 830C.

The Geneva In Older Times Golden Ellipse limited editions of three wristwatches also feature the miniature painting on enamel technique with the dials in sepia tones, rendered by small deft touches of white, black, medium brown and yellow ochre.

Dark, medium and lighter hues were used for painting harvesting and fruit picking scenes on the dials of two Calatrava wristwatches. The monochromatic style evokes toile de Jouy (cloth from Jouy) crafted in France since the second half of the 18th century.

Geneva In Older Times Golden Ellipse.

Tulips In Holland’s Keukenhof.

In contrast, a dynamic picture of two surfers on another limited edition was fashioned with a palette of 30 colours.

Refined line engraving and miniature painting on enamel on the face of the Southern Brown Kiwi Calatrava echoes a rare circular-shaped stamp depicting New Zealand's native bird.

Another avian, the white egret graces the caseback of the Play Of Feathers pocket watch. The miniature painting is complemented by treating the plumage with grisaille in two white enamels -- the dense shade known as blanc de Limoges.

Recalling feathers, a hand-guilloched sunburst motif is coated with dark-green translucent enamel as an execution of the flinqué technique on the dial.

Patek Philippe draws on multiple sources of inspiration. Its artistic journey celebrates the beauty of the world's gardens by giving a Golden Ellipse quartet vibrant dials, thanks to Grand Feu cloisonné enamel over hand-executed guilloché.

The cloisonné technique involves bending a fine gold wire, according to the design, and fixing it to a base plate coated with a ground layer of enamel. After the first firing, the cells formed by the wire partitions are filled with enamels. Successive firings fine-tune the details, evolve the colours and enhance the final effect.

Guitarist minute repeater.

Bear And Salmon pocket watch.

This painstaking craft is paired with the paillonné technique, which embeds tiny pieces of gold leaf in layers of transparent enamel, on the faces of Mandalas Calatrava and Lake Thun world time minute repeater.

Cloisonné and paillonné enamels along with grisaille enamel au blanc de Limoges lend celestial dials to the 12 Constellations Calatrava wristwatches representing the signs of the zodiac.

Patek Philippe's repertoire of rare handcrafts further include wood micromarquetry, exalted on the back of the Portrait Of A White Egret and Bear And Salmon pocket watches.

For the latter, the marquetry maker cut out and assembled 315 tiny veneer parts as well as 75 inlays, together spanning 38 species of wood in different colours, textures and veining for the hyper-realistic scene with details of fur, fish scales and reflections in water.

Wristwatches boasting wood marquetry include Morning On The Beach Calatrava and Guitarist minute repeater.

Wood marquetry, cloisonné enamel, hand-engraving and miniature painting on enamel on the Billiard Balls pocket watch is a fine example of how the maison has combined different techniques for a unique piece.

After Geneva, the Rare Handcrafts 2024 exhibition will be staged from June 7-16 at the Patek Philippe Salons in Bond Street, London.

Lake Geneva In Winter pocket watch.

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