In Switzerland, the traditional watchmakers’ holidays may be about to begin, but Patek Philippe is already off on its travels and has set up in New York, where it has just opened its Grand Exhibition.
The bestowal of a Patek Philippe Grand Exhibition is Switzerland’s way of paying an international compliment. A monarchy might send its ruler off on a state visit; in Switzerland, they just pack up the best bits of their most sought-after watch brand and re-erect a microcosm of the world of fine watchmaking. I went to Grand Exhibitions in Munich and London and sat in a replica of the historic showroom, complete with a virtual view of Geneva’s famous Jet d’Eau, admired the highlights of the Patek Philippe Museum and saw the artisans go about their business… all under one roof.
The show is a must if you’re even vaguely interested in watches, but what gets hardcore collectors really worked up are the limited edition pieces that Patek puts out to mark the occasion – when the show came to London for instance, a few of the ultra-scarce, discontinued 5970 perpetual calendar chronographs were released: a rare treat if you happened to have a hundred thousand quid or so burning a hole in your Huntsman pocket. But in America the star piece, at least in my view, is the rather more… how does one say… “democratically” priced Calatrava Pilot: yours for a whisker over $21,500.
Made in steel and with an exquisite dial similar to the controversial, vintage aviator-style Patek Pilot Travel Time of 2015, this has a particular place in my affections, because it is the watch that I have been pestering Patek’s CEO Thierry Stern to make ever since I saw the Travel Time in 2015; the same great look shorn of the complication. Perhaps I ought to have added that I would have liked to see it on sale in Europe.
Nevertheless, I salute Thierry’s generosity to the United States. Making this watch available only in Patek’s US retailers provides a rare positive reason to make the trip across the Atlantic these days.