New Watch! • 14 Dec 2015

Arts And Craft: 3 Patek Philippe Grand Complications With Hand-Engraving

by Low Ka Wei

Throughout the 20th century, the advent of industrialisation in watchmaking slowly rendered redundant an army of craftsmen who did one thing but that one thing superbly, whether it’s enamelling or engine-turning beautiful designs on dials, or engraving intricate patterns on cases.

Then in the ’70s and ’80s the introduction of quartz watches pretty much decimated the mechanical watch market, and with that, the handful of artisans still left in the industry. Early on, Patek Phillippe recognised the importance of saving the techniques of these hand-finishing experts – whose skills take years to master and whose knowledge have to be handed down from generation to generation otherwise they will be lost – without which the horological world would be left much poorer.

For years it has provided work to these artists with commissions that it knows it can’t sell (many are now in its priceless collection at its museum), simply to save watchmaking from such an ignominious future. And thanks to that foresight we can today still enjoy the magnificent creations such as the three pieces below.

Patek Philippe Ref. 6002
There’s no better illustration than this, the Sky Moon Tourbillon. It is one of Patek’s – and the world’s – most complicated timepieces ever, with incredibly lavish decorations to match. The 33 complications including a minute repeater with two cathedral gongs, sidereal time and tourbillon are one thing. But just take a gander at the phenomenal floral-pattern relief engraving that covers every square millimetre of its 18-karat white gold case. Or the luscious blue enamel in the champlevé and cloisonné techniques coating the solid white-gold dial. Patek calls the 6002 a sculpture and I think it’s impossible not to agree.

Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon 6002 Manual winding White gold Crocodile skin Men's watch/Unisex R TO 27 QR SID LU CL Caliber Sapphire Glass Black dial Roman numerals Moonphase Minute Repeater Repeater Tourbillon Date Weekday Month Year Annual calendar 4 Year Calendar Perpetual Calendar
The Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 6002 has 33 complications which includes a minute repeater with two cathedral gongs and a tourbillon. (Credit: Strongestinworld)

Patek Philippe Ref. 5160
Another eloquent example of the Patek style of decoration is this perpetual calendar piece. Sporting an officer’s-style case with a hinged cover, it features free-hand engraving in a motif inspired by vintage firearm decors, on its case bezel, lugs, screwed strap bars, crown, gold dial centre, gold hinged dustcover and even on its fold-over clasp. The artisan first makes a drawing using the help of a compass. Then, the pattern is engraved by hand using a dry point tool. Finally, for a more pronounced 3D effect the surface of the gold components is polished.

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar 5160R Automatic Rose gold Crocodile skin Men's watch/Unisex 324 S QR Caliber Sapphire Glass White dial Moonphase Date Month Year 4 Year Calendar Perpetual Calendar
The Patek Philippe Ref. 5160 features free-hand engraving in a motif inspired by vintage firearm decors on its case bezel, lugs, screwed strap bars, crown, gold dial centre and even on its fold-over clasp. (Credit: Thebeatandbezel)

Patek Philippe Ref. 5951
This perpetual calendar split-seconds chronograph receives its hand-engraved treatment as a model change at this year’s Baselworld. The platinum cushion-shaped case is again beautifully executed through the hands of the engraver; what makes this piece extra special are the hands that hover above the black dial: they are engraved as well.

Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar Chronograph 5951P Manual winding Platinum Crocodile skin Men's watch/Unisex
The platinum cushion-shaped case and hands of the Patek Philippe Ref. 5951 are entirely hand-engraved. (Credit: Thejewelleryeditor)

The Hour Glass is an official retailer of Patek Philippe Timepieces.

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Low Ka Wei

Low Ka Wei is a freelance editor and writer. He cut his teeth at men’s lifestyle magazines NewMan and Arena and last helmed luxury lifestyle title The Peak where he was editor from 2009 to 2014.

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