Two Dreamy Days in Tucson With Patek Philippe

On Feb. 5, while I was in Tucson for the annual gem shows, I received an email from my PR contact at Patek Philippe asking if I was available to join a golf event the brand was organizing on March 18–19…in Tucson?

“It will be a great opportunity to spend time with collectors,” she wrote.

I thought about it for about two seconds before replying with a resounding YES. First of all, passing up the chance to mingle with Patek Philippe’s West Coast retailers and their best clients would have amounted to professional negligence. Second, I dig Tucson. After more than a dozen years of writing about the gem trade, I’ve grown to love the rough-around-the-edges college town. The idea of being there in March—i.e., outside of gem show season—was intriguing.

That the brand had chosen to stage its 2013 Patek Philippe Golf Outing—a biannual tradition for Patek’s Western retailers and their top clients (the East Coast gets its own golf outing)—at the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain, a 3-year-old property tucked into the jagged, Saguaro-studded hills north of Oro Valley, was the sugar on top. (As a 22-year-old, I cocktail-waitressed at the Ritz in Marina del Rey, Calif., where I dreamed about being a guest of the luxury chain one day—to me, it seemed the ultimate proof of having “arrived.”)

The saguaro-studded hills surrounding the Ritz-Carlton Dove Mountain

The best part? I wasn’t actually expected to play golf. (I’ve got four words for you: horrific hand-eye coordination.) Instead, I opted to join the Monday afternoon horseback ride at nearby White Stallion Ranch, a 3,000-acre dude ranch set amidst a landscape of stark, otherworldly beauty. It seemed a good omen that my horse, an unflappable white Palomino, was named Keystone.

The view from Keystone’s saddle

As our group of 20 ascended the beige and green hills, the shrubs and spindly trees began to look more and more like a coral colony that had been drained of its color, and I was reminded of something I’d read years ago: Parts of the Sonoran Desert were once covered by an ancient sea. I marveled at the serenity of the place as we rode in reverent silence.

After the horseback riding session, we took a hayride to dinner.

A lovely al fresco dinner on ranch property followed. Over prickly pear margaritas, I chatted with some of my fellow guests, including Mark Ginsberg from Iowa City, an Innovative Retailer in our March 2012 issue, and Shreve & Co.’s Diane Adams, who’d brought along two cool clients: Susie, a friendly blonde who said she’d seized the opportunity to attend the outing even though her husband, also a Patek fan, couldn’t make it, and David, the owner of a San Francisco technology company who regularly gifts his top-performing salespeople luxury watches.

Al fresco dining at the White Stallion Ranch

The highlight of the evening—at least as far as Patek’s gracious PR manager, Jessica Kingsland, and I were concerned—was a post-dinner performance by a local cowboy (and sometime Cirque du Soleil player) named Luke, who lassoed, whipped, and twirled his six-shooter in a mesmerizing demonstration of Wild West talent.

Tuesday began with a private yoga class on a green lawn overlooking the Tortolita Mountains. When the bulk of the Patek crew retired to the golf course, I joined the non-golfing women at the hotel spa, an oasis of calm that exceeded every Ritz-related expectation I’d ever had when it came to aesthetic charm and service.

 

The spa at the Ritz Carlton Dove Mountain

The Tucson excursion concluded with a delicious buffet-style dinner in the hotel’s ballroom, presided over by Larry Pettinelli, Patek Philippe USA’s affable president, after which the brand treated its guests to a tasting of Louis XIII de Rémy Martin, including a private lesson on how the costly amber blend is produced.

 

Enjoying my thousand-dollar sip

I carried my pricey glass of cognac outside to the s’mores station set up on the terrace, and thought about how effortlessly Patek combines highbrow sophistication with down-home comfort. This is the characteristic that most endears the brand to me—and, as Billy, a Los Angeles–based real estate developer, affirmed when we sat next to each other at dinner, its collectors feel the same way.

It was almost time to retire to my room when I noticed that the hotel had arranged for two local astronomers to set up medium-powered telescopes on the terrace lawn, so Patek’s guests could enjoy a bit of stargazing. I promptly crossed the lawn and climbed a short, portable set of stairs to reach the eyepiece on the first telescope, only to confront a dramatic vision of the first quarter moon, its sunlit half magnified to a scale that threw its seas and craters into stark relief…and took my breath away.

Then a lovely little thing happened: As I stood there gazing at the moon’s pockmarked surface, searching in vain for the Sea of Tranquility, the guitarist who’d been serenading our group of watch lovers with rock ’n’ roll classics all night long broke into a gentle rendition of The Police’s 1979 classic “Walking on the Moon”:

Giant steps are what you take
Walking on the moon
I hope my legs don’t break
Walking on the moon
We could walk forever
Walking on the moon
We could live together
Walking on, walking on the moon

I drained my Louis XIII, ate one last s’more, and bid farewell to the stalwarts still gathered around the fire pit. My two days in Tucson hadn’t involved any formal watch reviews, nor any “work,” per se, but I had gained an understanding of how one of the world’s finest watchmakers (some would say the finest) works its magic—and, yes, I had officially arrived.

P.S. On an unrelated note, I’d like to give a huge shout-out to my wonderful parents, Leonard and Natasha, who celebrated 40 years together this past Saturday. What an inspiration!