Brand Sto­ries

Patek Philippe’s elab­o­rately crafted dome ta­ble clocks are the per­fect can­vas for fine ar­ti­sanal skills

Philippine Tatler Homes - - VOLUME 12 -

Up­dates from global brands B&B Italia, Gagge­nau, Patek Philippe, Po­liform, and Sub-zero

Since the 1600s, Geneva has been a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence for rare hand­crafts, and through­out its own his­tory, watch man­u­fac­turer Patek Philippe has flown the flag for the ar­ti­sans and their incredible work.

THE ENAM­ELLER

From the sev­en­teenth cen­tury on­wards, enamel was much in de­mand to adorn watch­cases and dec­o­rate di­als. To­day, enam­elling is an en­dan­gered craft—but not at Patek Philippe.

Enamel is a vit­re­ous sub­stance based on sil­ica sand. It is trans­par­ent (known as fon­dant) and may be coloured by adding me­tal ox­ides. Crushed to a fine pow­der and washed re­peat­edly, it is mixed with wa­ter to make a paste. Af­ter the sur­face of an ob­ject is metic­u­lously pre­pared and a base coat added, the paste is ap­plied to the ar­eas to be enam­elled. Once dry, this paste is fired in a kiln at tem­per­a­tures ex­ceed­ing 800°C, fus­ing to the me­tal base and be­com­ing ex­tremely hard and sta­ble. De­pend­ing on the in­tri­cacy of the de­sign, a model can re­turn to the kiln up to 12 times.

Enam­elling was fash­ion­able in the Byzan­tine era and came to full flower at the end of the Mid­dle Ages, par­tic­u­larly in re­gions where porce­lain was made. But the tech­nique has re­mained in use to the present day, es­pe­cially in watch­mak­ing.

His­tor­i­cally, paint­ing on enamel has al­ways been a Genevan spe­cial­ity, and Patek Philippe has de­ci­sively con­trib­uted to its preser­va­tion

THE Enameler’s TECH­NIQUES

The enam­eller uses some tra­di­tional tech­niques, or per­haps a com­bi­na­tion; but rare is she—in the watch­mak­ing world, most enam­ellers are women – who masters them all.

In the cloi­sonné tech­nique, a fine wire, usu­ally gold, mea­sur­ing less than 0.5 mm in di­am­e­ter, is bent to form a de­sign and fixed to a base plate coated with a ground layer of enamel. Af­ter the first fir­ing, the cells formed by the wire par­ti­tions are filled with se­lected enam­els. Ac­cord­ing to the type of enamel, the colours and the de­sired ef­fect, sev­eral suc­ces­sive fir­ings may be needed. With each fir­ing, de­tails are fine-tuned, colours evolve, the play of trans­parency and depth in­ten­sify, and the fi­nal ef­fect is en­hanced.

The next tech­nique is pail­lonné ( enamel­ing, fea­tur­ing a host of tiny pieces of gold leaf cut out in var­i­ous forms). Th­ese lit­tle span­gles, called pail­lons, are then em­bed­ded in lay­ers of trans­par­ent enamel.

The rarest tech­nique is minia­ture paint­ing on enamel, which is dis­tinct from the rest. In fact, it can be con­sid­ered as an­other craft en­tirely. From the out­set, the enamel is worked dif­fer­ently, be­ing mixed with oil rather than wa­ter. It is then ap­plied with a very fine brush on a ground layer of enamel. In this way, as demon­strated mag­nif­i­cently at Patek Philippe, great works of art can be re­pro­duced in minia­ture form, as can ex­pres­sive por­traits, land­scapes, and crowd scenes.

PRE­SERV­ING A GENEVAN SPE­CIAL­ITY

Th­ese tech­niques may be used to­gether in a sin­gle piece, and this has al­ready been seen. The enam­els mix well, achiev­ing ex­traor­di­nar­ily sub­tle shades, like those of a wa­ter­colour. All th­ese pro­ce­dures re­quire time and pa­tience given the num­ber of steps in­volved, and each trip to the kiln is a lit­mus test. A speck of dust, a sud­den draft, a knock at the umpteenth fir­ing, and one must start all over again. The risk is ever-present. Hence the enam­eller’s smile of sat­is­fac­tion and pride once a piece is com­pleted.

His­tor­i­cally, paint­ing on enamel has al­ways been a Genevan spe­cial­ity, and Patek Philippe has de­ci­sively con­trib­uted to its preser­va­tion. Yet to­day, of all the fine crafts, this is the one at great­est risk in terms of its trans­fer­ence to fu­ture gen­er­a­tions. At the level achieved by the artist-crafts­men who built its rep­u­ta­tion, it calls for an ex­per­tise that can only be ac­quired through years of train­ing and prac­tice. It also re­quires artis­tic in­tu­ition and tal­ent, and th­ese can­not be taught.

FROM LEFT

The Mother and

Child dome ta­ble clock fea­tures Ro­man nu­mer­als that frame a dial cen­tre guil­loched un­der translu­cent mauve enamel;

Moresque Gar­dens in cloi­sonné and

pail­lonné enamel; back view of the

Mother and Child dome ta­ble clock in Li­mo­ges painted enamel

FROM LEFT An im­pres­sive view of the en­trance to Patek Philippe’s

Man­u­fac­ture in Geneva; the in­tri­cate art of cloi­sonné

enam­elling

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