2 - Inspiration

Rare handcrafts artisans today

Thierry, Sandrine and Philippe Stern discuss what inspires the family to nurture and safeguard rare handcraft skills for the future.

For decades, Patek Philippe has been helping to preserve age-old decorative skills by regularly commissioning pieces from artists who are either independent, creating in their own studios, or who are based in the company’s Geneva workshop and dedicated to rare handcrafts. How does Patek Philippe ensure that these skills continue to flourish? 

Unique designs

Each year, around 40 one-of-a-kind pieces are created with contemporary enthusiasts in mind. In addition, new models incorporating rare handcrafts also join the regular collection. The aim is not to follow fashion or capture a general trend, but rather to project a strong, unique identity founded on tradition.

Creation here is all about teamwork, led by Sandrine Stern, Head of Watch Creation at Patek Philippe, and her husband, Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe. In constant dialogue with the artisans, they suggest ideas which are then translated into formal designs, and oversee the projects and the quality of the final results. 

The domed table clock – the perfect medium

The ideal showcase for decorative techniques is the domed table clock, owing to its dimensions. The generous rounded surfaces offer a perfect canvas for the virtuoso skill of enameling (cloisonné enameling, in particular). Animal and flower motifs are classic Patek Philippe designs, alongside newer themes. The museum’s collections are a source of inspiration, but so are far-off places, as interest from other parts of the world is occasionally reflected in the designs. The creative team knows well that one decoration in a particular color, or with a certain exuberance, will please in one culture, while restraint is preferred in another. One scene may emerge from the craftsman’s imagination, while another will be the faithful expression of a great work of art, on an astonishingly reduced scale.

Similarly, pocket watches offer the artist a larger working surface than the compact wristwatch. They are now prized by collectors: not actually worn, they are primarily works of art – stunning examples of a combination of techniques, embracing enameling, guilloché, engraving, and gemsetting. 

The artisans’ inspiration

There are no set rules behind each design. The Stern family and the artisans develop ideas, having absorbed the company’s creative culture. This inspires them to reinterpret and push their concepts further, always bearing in mind both the constraints and the potential of the disciplines involved and the talents of each specialist craftsman.

There are, however, creative differences between working on a new model that will be included in the current collection and creating a one-of-a-kind piece. As the aim of the first is to offer watches decorated with rare handcrafts to a greater number of enthusiasts, there will be numerous restrictions, linked to the production of more than one example. Numbers remain limited, since these pieces will always be rare.

It is difficult to take an existing model and add a finely handcrafted decoration. Except perhaps in the case of engraving; and even then, the material must be of the right thickness. It is necessary to plan ahead, and in general models must be deliberately constructed for the proposed decoration, whether it is deep relief engraving, enameling, or precious stones. 

Rare – for a reason

Demand in this area far exceeds supply. Artisans practicing their craft at this level are few and far between, and Patek Philippe will never compromise on quality by sacrificing its standards and increase production quantities. Rarity is the common denominator: in the finely tuned skills, the artisans who master them, and the products that are a testament to their abilities. 

See ref. 982/161G-001

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