Patek Philippe Keeping Time In New York City

NEW YORK MINUTE. Once again, Patek Philippe opens its doors—along with its rich history and marvelous novelties—to an admiring public. Joezer Mandagi reports from New York

The main entrance of The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition at Cipriani

The main entrance of The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition at Cipriani

There was something different in New York City this July. Keen-eyed observers might notice that among the thousands of iconic yellow taxis making their way through the city, quite a few sported blue ad boards plastered with the words: “The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition. Discovering the World of Patek Philippe.”
So, after Dubai, Munich and London, it was New York’s turn to host the monumental exhibition showcasing the history, heritage and horological marvels of the last family-owned Swiss company. Like its previous iterations, The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition in New York was open to the public and was also completely free of charge. Still, it can be argued that the word “grand” doesn’t even begin to describe this Grand Exhibition.

Larry Pettinelli and Thiery Stern

Larry Pettinelli and Thiery Stern

The 11-day event took place at Cipriani, on 42nd Street, where a massive two-story structure has been erected inside the former Bowery Savings Bank building. It turned out that the popular event venue, while perfectly located to attract visitors, simply didn’t have the area required for the exhibition. Indeed, The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition in New York encompassed ten major rooms, each presenting a unique segment of Patek Philippe’s watchmaking know-how or a part of the watch manufacturer’s history—particularly in the United States.

“From its earliest days, when our founder Antoine Norbert de Patek made his first journey to America in the 1850’s until today, the importance of America to Patek Philippe can be seen through our history exhibited in the Grand Exhibition in New York,” said Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe, who actually trained in the United States when he started in the company. “New York was a logical choice for the U.S. Grand Exhibition, as this was one of the first landing spots for Patek and Philippe in the 1800’s when they began to explore the new world,” added Larry Pettinelli, president of Patek Philippe U.S.

Of the exhibition itself, Pettinelli said that it was meant “to educate the public not only about Patek Philippe, but also the historical significance of timekeeping through the ages.” With that in mind, it was time to explore.

the Reference 5531R World Time Minute Repeater New York 2017 Special Edition

The Reference 5531R World Time Minute Repeater New York 2017 Special Edition

A History Lesson
While there is obviously no right or wrong way to explore the Grand Exhibition, the default path through the venue was designed to really allow visitors to immerse themselves in the world of Patek Philippe. The first space that visitors would likely encounter would be the Film Theater room, where a short video chronicling the history of Patek Philippe—from its initial founding in 1851 to the time it entered the American market in 1935—was shown in a small, cozy chamber. It was certainly the perfect primer for the wonders to come.
Then came the Current Collection room, which, as the name implies, showcases the brand’s collections currently on the market. It was a nice contrast to the previous room’s look to the past and, to be perfectly honest, was quite enticing for anybody with a newfound interest in the brand. It was certainly a room that many people, including me, returned to later in the day or on the way out.

“The undisputed favorite at the Grand Exhibition was hands down the U.S. Historic Room”

The next space was where most visitors truly began to grasp just how far Patek Philippe has gone to create a most immersive experience. See, the Napoleon Room was modeled after the Patek Philippe Salon on the Rue du Rhone in Geneva, with large screens emulating the building’s windows by showing a live feed of the view over Lake Geneva. Watch enthusiasts, however, might spend more time looking at the watches on display, as these were limited edition timepieces made specifically for the U.S. market.

The World Time Minute Repeater Ref. 5531 New York 2017 Special Edition, for instance, features both a minute repeater and world time function and also came with a dial adorned by an exquisite cloisonné enamel motif. The 600-piece limited edition Men’s Calatrava Pilot wristwatch Ref. 5522 New York 2017 Special Edition, meanwhile, is a pilot watch aficionado’s dream come true with its various references to the livery and equipment of American fighter planes and pilots from the 1930s.

The Movement Room

The Movement Room

Then came the aptly-named Museum Room, featuring a wide range of historical timepieces—some from the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva—including a selection of the earliest watches ever made, followed by historical Patek Philippe timepieces that go all the way to the company’s founding in 1839.

“My favorite part, to be frank, is to see a little kid coming in and being amazed by what he sees”

As impressive as the Museum Room was, the undisputed favorite at the Grand Exhibition was hands down the U.S. Historic Room. Petinelli apparently shares the same opinion. “If you went to London they had a Royal Room,” he began, referring to the Grand Exhibition in London back in 2015. “Well, of course, we don’t have royalty, but the closest we have are the Kennedys.” And indeed, one of the centerpieces of the room was a quartz desk clock that was presented to President John F. Kennedy when he made the famed “Ich bin ein Berliner” speech during the height of the Cold War. There was also a five-minute repeater owned by General George S. Patton, a pocket watch owned by Jack Daniels (yes, the famous distiller) and many more, including one that New Yorkers will truly appreciate. “We had a friend who had the Joe DiMaggio watch,” Petinelli said excitedly, “which, we thought, for New York, I mean, that’s a home run—sorry for the pun.”

live enameling demonstration

Live enameling demonstration

The Actual Art
You might start to see a pattern here, but as impressive as the U.S. Historic Room was, it was the next section where people seemed to stay the longest. In the Rare Handcrafts Gallery, four artisans gave live demonstrations of their respective crafts, surrounded by timepieces bearing their work. There was a guilloche worker with his machine; there was a hands-engraving station; and there was also a gentleman demonstrating the painstaking art of enameling. And in another corner, another gentleman showcased the art of creating wood marquetry for use in watch dials—something that currently is only done at Patek Philippe.

caseback of the Patek Philippe 5522A Pilot's Calatrava

Caseback of the Patek Philippe 5522A Pilot’s Calatrava

The stations at the Watchmaker’s Room on the second floor also managed to draw in attentive audiences as actual master watchmakers demonstrated the inner workings of various complications, including such technical marvels as the minute repeater. From there, and before heading back to the first floor, visitors could either visit the Interactive room and Manufacturing Film for an immersive journey to the Patek Philippe Manufacture in Geneva, or go the other way to the Grand Complication Room for a rare glimpse at some of the, well, most complicated—and not to mention innovative—timepieces created by Patek Philippe.

One more space remains to be explored, the Movement Room. Here the many different movements created by the brand—from basic Calibres to those intended for mind-boggling complications—are put on display. Additionally, several virtual reality units were made available to give visitors a unique perspective on a number of basic complications. It goes without saying that this corner of the exhibition was particularly attractive for younger visitors. And this brings us to our next point…

The John F. Kennedy desk clock

For Generations to Come
“You never actually own a Patek Philippe,” the brand’s famous logo begins, “you merely take care of it for the next generation.” It was certainly true that The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition in New York was visited by a crowd of both young and old. “My favorite part, to be frank, is to see a little kid coming in and being amazed by what he sees,” Thierry Stern recalled.

the Napoleon Room

The Napoleon Room

The big question then, is whether our next generation are still interested in becoming the next generation Patek Philippe owners. “I think we have to get into the mindset that people may buy watches because they love the technical side, the mystique about it,” Pettinelli began. “So, yes, the technical people will hopefully still love it, but for the 20 to 30 year olds—let’s call them the Millenials—we have to start encouraging them to actually put watches on their wrists, whether it’s an Apple watch or whether it’s some sort of lower level Swiss watch or anything. Eventually we all win because they work their way up the food chain.”

“Maybe today they don’t have the possibility to buy a Patek Philippe,” Stern added, “but in the future, maybe they would say, ‘Now I can buy a watch, and I remember I looked at Patek. It’s a good brand, they’re doing everything well, I would like to buy one.’” From what I’ve seen at the Grand Exhibition, there are, for sure, quite a few new fans of the brand that are now dreaming of the day they can say, “I would like to buy one.”

master watchmakers in the Watchmaker’s Room

Master watchmakers in the Watchmaker’s Room