There’s nothing like a major milestone anniversary to initiate a retrospective, and Patek Philippe is marking Singapore’s bicentennial with a literal look back in time. As our young nation marks 200 years since Sir Stamford Raffles’ arrival on our shores, the Swiss watchmaker has selected Singapore as the host country for the fifth instalment of its Watch Art Grand Exhibition later this month.
This is a nod to Singapore and South-East Asia’s importance to the maison, both as a market and in recognition of the region’s high appreciation for fine mechanical watchmaking, says Deepa Chatrath, General Manager of Geneva Master Time Marketing, the sole distributor in the region. “Grand Exhibitions are when the brand steps out of Geneva with all the key assets that make Patek Philippe what it is. It is the Genevan tradition of mechanical watchmaking to make watches that are not only accurate, complicated or the slimmest, but also with an artisanal level that is very, very high.”
The Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore promises to be quite the extravaganza. Held over 16 days (28 Sep to 13 Oct) and spread over 1,800sqm, it will feature 10 themed rooms, each with a unique set-up, that will take over – in an interesting choice – not a convention hall in Marina Bay Sands but the Theatre, extending even into the vast backstage area.
Fans of Patek Philippe would probably know from attending or reading about the four previous editions (in Dubai in 2012, followed by Munich in 2013, London in 2015 and New York in 2017) that this exhibition is the stuff of legend. Besides a full line-up of Patek Philippe creations both antique and contemporary, right up to rarely seen supercomplications, the people and processes behind their creation will be in attendance too. Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe, and his father, honorary president Philippe Stern, will also attend.
The Rare Handcrafts room is dedicated to an important collection of rare handcrafted timepieces and artisans will demonstrate techniques such as enamelling, marquetry and other decoration techniques, while the Napoleon Room will transport visitors to Patek Philippe’s salon, with lifelike panoramic views of Lake Geneva as the backdrop for a series of limited special-edition watches created just for the South-East Asian market. There will also be the largest-ever selection of exhibits from the Patek Philippe Museum, including extremely rare pieces that have never before left the renowned horology museum that will tell the history of mechanical watchmaking.
Of special note is the Singapore and Southeast Asia Room – a tribute to Singapore’s 200th anniversary that traces key milestones of the nation’s history in parallel with Patek Philippe’s. It will also showcase the region’s rich tapestry of culture, arts and nature.
Chatrath emphasises that the Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore aims to open the world of artisanship, technical genius and heritage to anyone – and not just watch collectors – and to also showcase the sociocultural aspects and technical developments in the history of timekeeping itself. For this reason, the exhibition will be open to the public, with free admission (free tickets must be booked via www.Patek Philippe. com). Two Sundays (6 and 13 Oct) are dedicated family days, with children’s activities such as clockmaking workshops.
The Singapore edition will be on an unprecedented scale, and the longest running. “We’ll have nearly 500 watches, including the Antique Collection, drawn from our museum, which is the world’s foremost horology museum, to tell the story not just of Patek Philippe, but also the inception of watches,” says Chatrath. “Man’s quest for time and measuring time has been eternal – as you can see from Stonehenge, sundials and the pyramids. For watchmaking – meaning portable timekeeping instruments – there is a 500-year journey, and our museum has the best pieces to tell that story.
“This exhibition also pays tribute to the brightest of minds – astronomers, mathematicians, scientists, metallurgists – who created these pieces on an artistic level, so they don’t just look like technical instruments, but objects of great beauty, with details such as enamel work and engraving. This is the only time that people can come up close, and see the magic of both the art and science of watchmaking in the highest form. So I think it’s not just the collector or people who are passionate about watches or Patek Philippe, but everyone who visits is going to take away something from this exhibition.” We find out more from Chatrath.
You were instrumental in bringing the Watch Art Grand Exhibition to Singapore. What was your clincher pitch?
I have to take you back to SG50, when Singapore was celebrating its 50th year of independence. Never in history has such a young nation built so much economic prosperity and done so well for its people, so Singaporeans were justifiably very proud. I spoke with Mr Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe, and we wanted to do something as a brand. To that end, Patek Philippe created three Rare Handcrafts dome clocks inspired by Singapore – a labour of love by our artisans, and the highest expression of our brand. They were auctioned for heritage- and art- related causes.
We also had a very successful Grand Exhibition in New York in 2017. We had never done this in Asia at this level, and while Japan and Hong Kong are strong markets, the fact that for Singapore, it would fall in the year of the bicentennial celebration was, I think, the clincher. Mr Stern agreed that, given the historic occasion, and the interest in the population and Singapore’s standing in South-East Asia, we should bring our Grand Exhibition here as a tribute to Singapore and the region.
It’s a pity that for all the effort, it’s just 16 short days…
That’s why we’re trying to ensure that as many people as possible are aware of our Grand Exhibition. We’re very lucky that we have 16 days, as previous exhibitions have been only seven to 10 days long. This is really a living exhibition – not a static one that other brands can sustain for a few months. We’re bringing in the beating heart – our people, including our museum guides and director, artisans, the technical team and the Stern family. Some of these artisans work in home studios, and they’ve stepped out of their neighbourhoods, their village or even their country to come all the way to Asia.
Do you expect enthusiasts from overseas to attend?
There’s a lot of interest from India, China, Vietnam and Cambodia, where newer clients are from, as well as established markets such as Thailand and Indonesia. Some people travel a great distance – from the Middle East and Europe, for instance – to attend each Grand Exhibition, because each one is a bit different. Every curation has become bigger as the concept evolved and the collections get richer.
Might a Patek Philippe exhibition be too niche for the man in the street to step into?
From far, Patek Philippe can be an intimidating brand. There’s an aura about it, and it’s true that it’s not accessible to everyone. But, you know, even people who don’t own a Patek Philippe have told me that the brand resonates with them. They connect with the message of our tag line, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” The family values sync with our Asian psyche. A lot of what we do is because we are family owned. Mr Stern has directed that we put Patek Philippe’s very best forward, and this exhibition is a pure labour of love – admission is free, we want as many people as possible to enjoy it. I think it should be a very proud moment for everybody within Patek Philippe and for Singaporeans.
What do you hope people take away from this exhibition?
People from the region will love discovering the story of Singapore through the exhibition, while in the Watchmakers Room, which displays many of the complications, they can learn how, for instance, calendar watches work. The first ideas of day, night and months were initially based on the movement of heavenly bodies, which were not accurate. How were precise calendars on watches such as our Calibre 89 created, that can not only measure leap years and secular years, but also mark the date of Easter? It will be fascinating for people to discover human ingenuity and artisanship. Here, you can also use magnifying instruments and see watchmakers assembling movements – and ask them as many questions as you want.
Of course, watch collectors will be looking forward to the limited editions that will be launched at this exhibition as well as the room dedicated to every grand complication we currently have. Going through the rooms is a journey in itself, and it might be overwhelming for a lot of people to take in all at once. I believe many people will come back a second time.