Behind The Lens: Patek Philippe Rare Handcrafts Ref. 5089G-018 Geneva Harbor Wood Marquetry Watch
What does Patek Philippe mean to you? Lately there has been a great deal of attention paid to the wild speculation surrounding its steel sport watches, with some people going as far as to suggest that the brand will become trapped into being the “Nautilus and Aquanaut company.” For others, it’s a company focused primarily on promoting its watches as aspirational heirlooms to be held for future generations.
For me, Patek Philippe is a firm both mindful of the traditions of horology and focused clearly on its own legacy. This is evident in its creation and ongoing curation of the Patek Philippe Museum, the deliberate but relentless improvement in the mechanical features of its calibers, the ongoing production of ultra-complicated watches and industry-leading chiming pieces, the dedication to restoration of vintage watches, and the Advanced Research programs incorporating novel approaches into limited-series timepieces.
And then there are the Rare Handcrafts: watches and clocks that display traditional arts, including engraving, enameling, micro mosaics, and a favorite of mine: wood marquetry.
If you’ve been fortunate enough to attend Baselworld in past years and gain admission to the interior of the Patek Philippe booth, you might also have found your way to the rear of the display area to see the displays of Rare Handcrafts such as the Reference 992/139J “Roped Alpinists” pocket watch with its case back marquetry consisting of 222 tiny pieces of colored wood.
Seeing beautiful works like these inside of their display cases is a treat, but it’s even better to handle one in person. I recently jumped at the chance to borrow and photograph a friend’s Reference 5089G-018 created for Patek Philippe’s 175th Anniversary in 2014, featuring on its dial a recreation in wood of a vintage postcard of an “old Lake Leman barque in Geneva harbor.”
Marquetry and its use in watches
Marquetry, defined as “inlaid work made from small pieces of variously colored wood or other materials,” comes from the sixteenth-century French word marqueter (“to variegate”). Over the centuries it has primarily found its application in furniture and related objects; packed in storage somewhere I have a lovely Dunhill humidor decorated with wood inlay in the style of a vintage Partagás box.
Taking this craft and miniaturizing it to the size of a watch dial is the domain of a single man, Jérôme Boutteçon, who has worked his magic on behalf of Patek Philippe for well over a decade. I was fortunate to meet and talk at length with Boutteçon at the 2019 Singapore Grand Exhibition and to see him at work sawing tiny pieces of wood and piecing them together to create a dial-sized image of a buck.
It’s difficult to imagine the patience – and the imagination – required to convert a drawing or historical photo into a schematic for wood inlay and then to execute the fine handwork to bring it to fruition as a physical object. Not surprisingly, while I’ve heard there is one other practitioner of the art (a former apprentice of Boutteçon’s), it’s a rare skill and one well appreciated by loyal Patek Philippe customers who vie to buy one of his creations.
Patek Philippe 175th Anniversary Reference 5089G
To celebrate its 175th Anniversary in 2014, Patek Philippe commissioned a variety of Rare Handcraft pieces stretching across the artistic crafts, including four marquetry wristwatch references in limited editions of 40 based on images from early twentieth-century postcards of the Lake Geneva shore:
- 5089G-017: Old Lac Leman barque and Château de Chillon
- 5089G-018: Old Lac Leman barque in Geneva harbor
- 5089G-019: Old Lac Leman barque with view of the Alps
- 5089G-020: Old Lac Leman barque in Geneva harbor
My friend’s piece is Reference 5089G-018 with the boat and the shadows of its sails on the water on the right side and the Jet d’Eau (given the date of the postcard series, this is the second incarnation of the Jet d’Eau installed in 1896) and its reflection on the left.
Zooming in for a closer look, we see the details of the boat and its sails, the quay and spouting water feature, and the buildings on the far shore of the lake.
Finally, if we get really, really close as in the photo below, we can inspect the details of the shadow of the ship’s bow and of its forward sail. I find it fascinating that the artist has selected just the right (and different) wood colors for the two shadows, and how the shapes of the darker wood and the grain within each piece combine to create a perfect illusion of gentle ripples on the surface of the water, in turn harmonizing with the shapes of the shadow of the rear sail and the reflection of the Jet d’Eau that appear in the photo above.
If at any time you get tired of checking out the fine details of the optical illusions and incredibly fine matching of the tiny pieces into a seamless mosaic, you can always step back and consider the full scene framed by the wide bezel of the white gold Calatrava case.
More than just a dial
Yes, it has a great dial, but it’s also a Patek Philippe watch, and an Anniversary edition at that. As part of the latter, it sports a hinged case back bearing a suitable inscription.
Inside, we find Patek Philippe’s classic ultra-thin Caliber 240 micro rotor automatic movement and a mirror-polished inside surface to the case back that allows us to enjoy a few reflections.
For me, there are several aspects to the “back side” design of Reference 5089G that show Patek Philippe’s customary thoughtfulness. First, the commemorative case back is flat and thin rather than curved and raised. Second, the case back hinge, as seen in the image above, is integrated into the side of the case.
Finally, Patek Philippe chose Caliber 240Q rather than one of its thicker self-winding movements. The aggregate result is a watch that is impressively thin despite the thickness of its dial and added solid back, presenting a sleek profile from the rear that makes it tough to tell that the back actually flips open.
Photographing Patek Philippe Reference 5089G
When it comes to shooting Reference 50889G, there are basically only two approaches that I found made any sense: photographs that show the entire Lac Leman image from at least semi-natural angles, and ones that zoom in to show details of the fine craft work.
I skirted the limits with a few photos, like the one below, that present the watch at an angle, but there are none of the deep angle or unusual positioning setups that I use with other watches. In the same way that one wouldn’t shoot the Mona Lisa on its side or from a low angle that risks seeing up the lady’s nostrils, capturing a watch that contains a representational piece of art presents its own limitations to a photographer – at least to this one!
I’m quite envious of my friend, and at some point I would love to own one of Patek Philippe’s Rare Handcrafts watches! For me the limitation, to the extent that there is one, is that I would really have to love the image portrayed by the engraver, enameller, or marquetry artist.
Especially when it comes to the wristwatches, the underlying piece is quite simple: a flat-sided Calatrava case with broad, flat bezel. Appropriately enough, the time-telling is done with two simple hands, so there’s not that much going on horologically, either. It’s all about the image and the craft behind it, so I suspect that it may be a while before I find the exact piece that both speaks to me and that is available at a price I’m able to pay.
That said, if you see an example of Reference 992/118J marquetry “Junks” pocket watch for sale, please call me right away!
For more information on Patek Philippe’s Rare Handcrafts, please visit www.patek.com/en/collection/rare-handcrafts.
Quick Facts Patek Philippe Reference 5089G-018
Case: 38.6 mm, white gold with hinged case back and sapphire front and rear crystals; case back engraved with Patek Philippe 175th Anniversary notation
Dial: wood marquetry dial containing more than 160 pieces, depicting a view of a boat on Lake Geneva and the Jet d’Eau; image based on a pre-1904 postcard from the Musée du Léman in Nyon
Movement: automatic Caliber 240 with off-center gold micro rotor and Gyromax balance; 48-hour power reserve; 21,600 vph/3 Hz frequency
Functions: hours, minutes
Limitation: 40 examples
Price: late 2021 pre-owned asking prices for comparable pieces ca. $120,000
Production years: 2014-2016
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