September 16, 2015
The next day of our training was spent entirely at the Patek Philippe Museum.
Opening in 2001, the museum presents close to 2,000 objects of historical significance. On the ground floor we walk in and around a corner to see an antique watchmaker’s workbench. He was actually restoring a pocket watch from the 19th century. He was almost on display himself, surrounded by glass so we could only look in and observe him work without talking to him. Not only is he working on time pieces from the early 19th century, but he also has tools and machinery that he uses from the same time period. After walking around a bit more on the ground floor and seeing other workbenches and antique tools, we make our way to the third floor to see some historical archives and the library.
There are many astonishing pieces from the archives, including old documents, patents, journals and photos. We saw original stock certificates from Patek Philippe that the Stern family purchased in the late 1920s and early 1930s. There were old accounting documents, expenses and sales receipts, everything beautifully restored over the years. Also on the third floor was a reconstruction of Henri Stern’s office in his New York office at the Henri Stern Watch Agency from the 1940s. Following his office is a library of more than 7,000 works, the oldest of which dates back to the 1530s. Many of these rare books are on loan from collectors all over the world that wish to share these historical masterpieces with the world. Unfortunately, we were not allowed to look at or read any of these books, but the sheer magnitude of the library was impressive enough. Making our way back to the ground floor, we next enjoy a video of Antoine Norbert de Patek’s early days.
The company started in 1839 between Patek and a talented watchmaker named François Czapek. However, the two never got along great, and Patek was quickly looking for another watchmaker. In 1845, Jean Adrien Philippe was the inventor of a pendant winding system that was the first of its kind. Patek had the foresight to see such amazing talent, and the two became partners in 1845, albeit on the down low. In this video we were read letters that Patek wrote to Philippe to be very discrete when he came to town and not let anyone know he was working with Patek. Finally in 1851 when their partnership became official, the company was renamed to Patek, Philippe & Cie. There is a rich and storied history to the Patek Philippe brand, and I strongly recommend reading and learning about it if you are a true connoisseur, but I must continue with the rest of the museum.
We walked down the street to Café des Bains where they prepared a delectable lasagna dish. The best part of the meal was the dessert, a meringue and raspberry dish. It must be a wealthy business area because we were surrounded by businessmen and women wearing Pateks, Rolexes, and a Vacheron. A quick lunch and we walked back to the museum for our afternoon activities.
We learned more about the history of time keeping, not only with regard to Patek. We saw the birth of the “portable” watch with the invention of the mainspring around 1500. We learned of the history of enamel painting, an art that began with the Toutin family. The case and dial could be gloriously decorated with portraits, landscapes, or any other scenery that they wished to depict. Later in the 18th century, new complex decorative techniques of enameling were developed such as cloisonné, email sous fondant, champlevé, flinqué, and paillonné. All of these enamel techniques have their own merits.
Precision became imperative in the late 18th century with the first self winding watches beginning to appear around 1770, and the invention of the Swiss lever escapement in 1782. A French watchmaker named Jean Antoine Lépine built a bridge movement making it easier to make thinner movements. We saw historical artifacts such as old carriage clocks that would hang from the middle of a carriage and large round clocks. The earliest Patek Philippe is in the museum as well, #87 which was produced within the first six months of the company, it is a silver pocket watch. The first bracelet watch was produced in 1868 and was sold to a Hungarian countess Koscowicz. We saw a pocket watch made for Marie Curie, and another for Tzaichovsky. On and on there were pieces throughout the museum of historical significance.
After we toured the rest of the museum we had a contest quiz. It was broken down into different sections and the team with the most correct answers would win, or so we thought. There was also a bonus point if you finished first, and while my team had the most correct answers, we did not finish first. So, the team that had half a point less than us but finished first, won by half a point…I should have just come home then. To be serious, the quiz was very well thought out and taught us even more about the museum and exhibits. If you wish to know more of what I learned please just email or call me at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 816.531.5800 with any questions.
The visit to the museum concluded and we took the bus back to the hotel. That afternoon and evening was a free one so we all went shopping at Globus, which is like Nordstrom or Saks in Geneva. We toured the other shops around our hotel before making our way to a local pizza place called Trattoria. The pizza and pasta was delicious, and we made friends with the neighbors at our table. The walk to and from was a good twenty minutes, so we had plenty of time to talk more with one another in the group. It was truly wonderful getting to know these people from around the country and hear their stories. I am sure I have made some friendships that will last a lifetime.