On Wednesday, I returned from Geneva, where I attended Patek Philippe’s 175th anniversary gala. After spending six weekends in a row on the go, I’m pooped! And already a little nostalgic.
The Patek soiree was a glamorous cap to six frenetic weeks of travel. Since Sept. 5, I’ve been on 17 flights, including the one I’m currently writing this post on (LAX–JFK). I’ve flown from my home in Los Angeles to New Orleans, New York City, Austin, San Francisco, and Monroe, La., not to mention across the Atlantic to Switzerland.
The event in Geneva, which saw the unveiling of a $2.6 million complicated wristwatch known as the Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime, was spectacular from the get-go. When our group of journalists arrived at the company’s watchmaking facility in the suburb of Plan-les-Ouates, we were ushered into what looked to be a high-ceilinged event space. In fact, we were outside, beneath a luxury tent that was draped across the courtyard in front of Patek’s main entrance.
After about 15 minutes of milling around, sipping champagne and eating canapés, the crowd was shushed still by the start of what turned out to be a mesmerizing illustrated film depicting the milestones of Patek Philippe’s history since its founding in 1839.
Projected on to three walls, the film transported us to the time when the Polish immigrants Antoine Norbert de Patek and François Czapek founded Patek, Czapek & Cie in Geneva. We saw a tall triple-masted ship pulling into the port, a view of Patek’s storefront on Rue du Rhone, and Geneva’s mascot, the imperial eagle, soaring above the city as heraldic music amped up the drama.
The film changed locales—and decades—to Paris, circa 1844 (where Antoine Patek met Adrien Philippe), and New York City, circa 1946 (when Henri Stern established his eponymous agency), before returning to Switzerland, where it gave way to a ballet performance and opening remarks by president Thierry Stern and his father, Philippe Stern, whom he succeeded in 2009.
Together, the Sterns introduced the next film, dedicated to the making of the Grandmaster Chime. What struck me most about the product film was how often it featured close-ups of the human hands that contributed to the timepiece. In light of the watch industry’s newest obsession with smartwatches, it seemed an especially important point to make.
The third and final film I saw at the Patek Philippe party was the most dizzying—literally. A computer-generated 3-D film showing the complex mechanism inside the Grandmaster Chime, the 5-minute video took us flying between levers, wheels, and pinions, as we soared through the movement. The experience didn’t require special glasses or an Oculus Rift–style headset, so I’m not exactly sure how it managed to make me dizzy—but it did, and I wasn’t the only one.
When I wandered outside the party to get a breath of fresh air, I had the good fortune to find Thierry Stern enjoying a smoke break. We chatted briefly about the upcoming sale of the Henry Graves Supercomplication, the challenge of selecting buyers for the six Grandmaster Chime models given how many devoted Patek collectors there are around the world, and the company’s commitment to discretion (Mr. Stern said he already had a buyer in America in mind, but he would never reveal the person’s name) before the subject of the 3-D film came up.
“It almost made a few people in the office sick,” Stern confessed, prompting a laugh. I think we both found the prospect of someone heaving at such a sophisticated soiree pretty funny. And that made me like the president of Patek Philippe even more than I already did.