WATCHES – A Timely Celebration
Geneva’s Patek Philippe Museum celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2021. Jetsetter introduces some of the museum highlights…
The world’s most esteemed watch brand, Patek Philippe, deserves a museum worthy of its rich heritage, which dates back to 1839. Inaugurated in 2001, the Patek Philippe Museum houses one of the world’s most important and prestigious horological collections. Situated over four floors at 7 rue des Vieux-Grenadiers in the Plainpalais district of Geneva, this building, which dates back to 1919, has been occupied by watchmakers and artisans throughout its history and was acquired in 1975 by the maison. Inside is a watch lover’s paradise, with more than 2,500 watches, automata and portrait miniatures waiting to be discovered, taking in five centuries of Genevan, Swiss and European horological art.
An Extraordinary Private Collection
The Patek Philippe Museum was born of a man’s passion for horology. That man is Philippe Stern, former president of the Geneva manufacture and now its honorary president. Stern began assembling the collection well before thinking of a museum. He initially concentrated on Patek Philippe watches, particularly the complicated models. In 1980, he enlarged the scope of his search to take in all timepieces that had left their mark on watchmaking history since the 16th century. His aim in bringing together all these technical and aesthetic masterworks was not solely to satisfy his personal tastes but also share his love of the watchmaking art and ensure this cultural heritage is handed down to future generations.
Under the leadership of Philippe Stern and Peter Friess, director and curator of the museum since 2014, new acquisitions have continued to enrich the collections. The layouts of the two main collections have been reorganised, each now comprising 20 themed areas reflecting particular aspects of the watch’s history or the world of Patek Philippe. To complement the wide choice of guided tours, the museum has also introduced an audio guide, accessed via a tablet. The audio guide currently offers 20 hours of accompaniment in English, French or German. Other languages will be available from 2023. Users may compose their own itinerary or choose a pre-set route, such as the one suggested by Philippe Stern himself. About 10,000 photographs complete this application, enabling the user to zoom in on details or examine features that may not be visible in the display cases, so visitors have the freedom to tailor their visit to their particular interests.
Celebrating watchmaking traditions
The Patek Philippe Museum is unique in presenting five centuries of horological heritage and decorative arts traditionally associated with watchmaking such as engraving, enamelling, gemsetting and guilloché work. The collections are divided into two complementary sections: on the second floor, a tour through the history of the portable mechanical timepiece, from its origins in the 16th century down to the early 19th century. On the first floor, visitors will find some of Patek Philippe’s most beautiful creations made between 1839 and 2000. On the third floor, meanwhile, a library of more than 8,000 works on horology and related subjects underlines the museum’s educational role.
Public guided tours take place every Saturday in French and English or may be booked in advance in seven languages (French, English, German, Italian, Spanish, Chinese and Russian). Themed tours are also on offer, ranging from enamelling to the magic of automata.
On the occasion of its 20th anniversary, the museum will issue two new 100-page publications. One is devoted to the antique collection, the other to the Patek Philippe collection. Available in English in 2022, each have a print run of 10,000 copies and will be sold together in a presentation box, or separately. patekmuseum.com
Museum highlights: Three don’t-miss pieces
The Grandmaster Chime:
The most complicated Patek Philippe wristwatch (20 complications, including five striking modes), launched as a limited edition in 2014 for the manufacture’s 175th anniversary and now in the current collection.
Venus Binding the Wings of Cupid:
A pocket watch depicting this classical scene in miniature painting on enamel with pearls and turquoise, made in Geneva circa 1815.
Made in the 1800s, this ladies’ timepiece enabled the owner to tell the time with their fingertips. The case is circled by 12 precious stones, whose initials form an acrostic saying “heures d’amour”.
Inside the museum
Showcases antique workbenches and tools, and a restoration workshop, where visitors can admire the work of watchmakers that specialise in restoring the watches on display.
Explore the Patek Philippe collection, from 1839 to 2000. There are around 1,150 timepieces (pocket watches, pendant watches, wristwatches, small table clocks) displayed over 20 themed areas.
Discover the antique collection, from the 16th to the mid-19th century, which features 1,200 exhibits of the portable watch, including the first examples of miniature painting on enamel on watch cases and dials.
Admire Patek Philippe’s historical archives, together with the library and the collection of portraits and snuffboxes in miniature painting on enamel. There’s also a faithful reconstruction of Henri Stern’s office, grandfather of the current Patek Philippe president, Thierry Stern.