RARE HANDCRAFTS IN GENEVA
Patrick Cremers, Director of the Patek Philippe Salon in Geneva, discusses his role at the famed boutique and how Patek Philippe develops its Rare Handcrafts. We spoke with him during a three-day exhibition of fifty Rare Handcrafts pieces at the Salon.
Can you tell us how Patek Philippe combines its Rare Handcrafts with its complications?
We have started this already in the Grand Complications collection. For instance, the ref. 5370 is a chronograph split second that has a beautiful black enamel dial with Breguet numerals applied. We have the ref. 5374, a minute repeater with perpetual calendar. This also has a beautiful black enamel dial. Starting with this type of complication that already has an enamel dial, we thought we could go a little bit further. So, with a minute repeater or with a tourbillon we will give a priority to creating a beautiful dial. There are three Grand Complications, ref 5538, each with different scenes of eagles flying. These are made with cloisonné enamel—and are gorgeous. These were requests from customers.
Where else do the Rare Handcrafts design ideas originate?
Sometimes directly from the artisan, the enameller, the engraver or from the wood marquetry artist. I know Thierry and Sandrine (Stern) are inspired frequently when they travel. It is not ideas that we lack here at Patrick Philippe, it’s how much time do we have to create them. When we speak about movements we know exactly what we will do until the year 2030. We have many ideas, and we need to prioritize. But most of the ideas come from the artisans or from the Sterns.
How do you preserve the craftsmanship?
For most of these crafts, there is no schooling anymore. That’s why we need to transmit this know-how to younger artisans. We always try to find new artisans, and we are on the lookout for those able to create at this high level. Our wood marquetry artisan is the only one we know of doing this at this micro-level. Also, we always challenge of our craftsmen and women. If you look at a dome clock made of grisaille enamel, this year we added beautiful domes, in silver, hand-engraved and applied. So, it’s not just grisaille technique, it’s at another level –remember the Brooklyn Bridge piece, where we added gold powder to the dome clock, which was stunning.
Can you tell us more about the Patek Philippe Salon in Geneva?
We welcome between 36,000 and 38,000 visitors each year to the Patek Philippe Salon in Geneva. That’s about 100 to 150 visitors per day. We are very lucky. We have the opportunity to meet so many customers every day. I always say that Geneva is a small town, but a very international one. We have sold watches to people from 100 different countries and I’m not sure you find this variety in boutiques in other cities. For any sales adviser, it is a fantastic experience to sell a watch to an Australian, then to someone from Vietnam and then someone from Switzerland, and so on.
Yes, many of them are here for the first time. And if you are in Geneva just to visit Patek Philippe, you can also visit the Patek Philippe museum, and if you were invited with a retailer maybe even visit our manufacture.
This exhibition (of Rare Handcrafts) is unique, it’s the first time we have done something like this here. Ordinarily, every year the only chance to see the entire collection is to visit Baselworld. Otherwise our customers may not get another chance to see the full collection, including these one-of-a-kind pieces. Because for these pieces, typically they go back to the manufacturer and then Thierry Stern allocates them for sale to the end customer.
How does Patek Philippe allocate these Rare Handcrafts?
This year we have eighteen unique dome clocks, eight unique pocket watches and twenty-eight wristwatches, all in limited editions. After one week at the Baselworld, we had fifty to sixty customers asking to purchase each dome clock or one of the pocket watches. This is a fantastic situation, but imagine that in just a few weeks Thierry Stern has to allocate each piece to just one person. It is almost mission impossible.
We tried to be fair every year to allocate each piece to a different customer. This customer has to be a loyal, passionate customer who we know will enjoy the clock or watch, maybe even exhibit it at home. Or he will enjoy wearing the wristwatch.
Do you have input into this allocation process?
All the markets across the world get requests from end customers through their retailers. We also transmit requests from end customers of the Geneva salon.
The manufacturer has a list of customers who have a piece already and those who are requesting one for the first time.
And no, the Salon does not get the first choice at these pieces. Patek Philippe has respect for its retailer network, which I would say is the opposite of the other groups. Sometimes we have customers who think they can go to the Geneva salon and get whatever they like. That is not the case. We have our allocation like a retailer and we have a long waiting list like a retailer. We are treated like a retailer. This is very important to the Sterns. We at the Salon also hope we get allocated some of these pieces as well. Now, in terms of size and number of customers, we may have an advantage by proportion.
Just to give you an example, last year we got two dome clocks. So it’s not like we got all of that production. Of course, last year was a bit different because of the Grand Exhibition in New York. So last year half of the production was allocated for American customers.
Mr. Stern is going to look at the profile of the customer. The customers here who got our dome clocks were longtime customers who never got a dome clock previously. In fact, they have requested a dome clock for many years. One of those customers has been a regular here for fifteen years, and the other for twenty years.
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