What’s the best way to please your existing fan base while also attracting a new generation of watch collectors? Patek Philippe arrives in Singapore to show us how it’s done.
As the last family-owned independent watch manufacturer in Geneva, Patek Philippe maintains a special place in the world of fine watchmaking. The brand’s singularly elegant and artistic design language has always defined its products; centuries of experience mean the technical know-how is innate, a tradition of innovation represented by more than 100 patents.
Put simply: Nobody does it quite like Patek.
All that history and grandeur goes on display at the Watch Art Exhibition. This traveling show, which began in Dubai in 2012, and has since visited Munich, London, and New York, offers free public admission and an opportunity to view some of the rarest and most iconic pieces from Patek’s archives. This year, the exhibition rolled into Singapore, and Watch Journal was on the ground to experience it firsthand.
According to Patek, this was the ideal location for the 2019 show. For starters, it’s the Singaporean bicentennial—an important event in what’s become one of Patek’s most important retail markets. But the brand didn’t just grow here overnight. In fact, the relationship between Singapore and the watchmaker goes back to 1965, when the city-state first became a sovereign independent republic separate of Malaysia. Mr. Philippe Stern, the current ownership group’s third-generation patriarch, arrived on the scene to start a new sales network. The watches were a hit, Singapore grew into a booming financial hub, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Today, the bonds between country and brand is stronger than ever before. This much was clear inside the iconic Marina Bay Sands Hotel, which served as the base of operations for the Watch Art Exhibition. Inside, the venue’s 24,000-square-foot performance space was transformed into an extension of the watchmaker’s legendary museum and the grand salons of its Lake Geneva store. Important historical pieces were brought in from Switzerland; the accomplishments of scientists, metallurgists, and astronomers were proudly on display. There was even a live show presenting rare handcrafts, with master artisans practicing age-old crafts of enameling and engraving and marquetry.
In terms of programming, this resembled the previous events in London or New York. But the local flavor at this year’s Watch Art Exhibition was next-level. The entrance at Marina Bay Sands paid tribute to the spirit of Singapore, with hundreds of colorful paper flowers, called Majulah Singapura, installed for the occasion. (“Majulah Singapura” means “onwards Singapore,” the opening refrain of the national anthem.) Beautiful papercraft continued in the lobby windows, which were filled with artistic representations of birds and flowers. Also on display were new and rare pieces from the Patek Philippe Museum collection, along with unique timepieces created for Southeast Asian collectors in the past.
There were treats for the region’s current—and emerging—crop of brand aficionados as well. At the show, Patek unveiled a smattering of exclusive pieces, including six limited-edition watches created specially for Singapore. (Among them: Ref.5930G-011, a red-dial Worldtime Chronograph; Ref.5167A-012, a steel Aquanaut with bold red coloring; Ref.5067A-027, a red Aquanaut Luce with a diamond bezel; and Ref.7234A-001, a stunning blue Calatrava Pilot World Time.) More exclusive debuts, which ranged from dome table clocks to pocket watches and chronographs, offered a selection of rare handcrafts inspired by cultural and artistic expressions of Southeast Asia.
But in terms of high-watchmaking, the new Minute Repeater Ref. 5303R-010 managed to steal the show. Limited to a total of 12 pieces, this grand complication debuted an exceptional manually wound caliber; it displays the gong hammers on the dial side, exposing the entire repeater mechanism and tourbillon. The rose gold case and matching gilded baseplate are contrasted by a minute track running along the exterior, and a black leather strap with matching red stitching.
Predictably, all of these new designs kicked off a frenzy, with collectors and enthusiasts flying in from all points of the globe. But the ultra-desirable pieces (including the #trending red Aquanaut) were available exclusively to the residents of Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Vietnam, the Philippines, and Indonesia. Which is to say: Best of luck getting your hands on any of them.
Still, western collectors—and, really, anybody who cares about craftsmanship, design, or horology—could appreciate the Watch Art Exhibition. Patek’s history and products offer a unique perspective on humanity’s creative pursuits, and a small company that’s spent centuries honing its trade. Amid the monuments to that pursuit, the brand’s current patriarch, Thierry Stern, paused to reflect on the Patek Philippe magic.
“It’s a family taking care of the business,” he said. “I have two people who know how to design. So we talk. Knowing them so well, and them knowing me so well, the image appears in front of us. After all these years, you simply know how to do it.”