With Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming production of the present watch with white lacquered dial and Roman numerals in 1986 and its subsequent sale on 26 March 1991.
The art of enamelling is an old and widely adopted technology with a history of more than 3000 years. All ancient cultures have known and applied enamel to decorate and provide luminosity and colour for jewellery and decorative ornaments.
Enamel is a vitreous substance based on silica sand and is transparent. Colour in enamel is obtained by the addition of various minerals, often metal oxides, which are pounded into a fine powder, mixed with water or oil to form a paste. When applied to a base in metal, glass or ceramics and fired in a kiln at temperatures usually between 750 and 850 °C (1,380 and 1,560 °F), the powder melts and fuses itself to the base resulting in a vitreous coating which is smooth, hard, resistant and durable. Unlike paint, enamel does not fade under ultraviolet light and therefore has long-lasting colour fastness.
When pocket watches became popular in the 16th century and were prized largely as luxury objects, craftsmen were asked to produce lavish cases of various materials and decorated in different techniques which reflected the wealth of their owners. Enamel, with its distinctive properties, became one of the mediums of choice, in particular, in the form of miniature paintings on enamel. With the varied palette of enamels yielding splendidly subtle shades, reminiscent of those of a watercolour, patrons gave free rein to their imagination and customized their cases with portraits, landscapes, seascapes or even reproductions of painting by famous artists.
The technique was developed in France in the 1630s and the savoir-faire was brought to Geneva by Huguenot immigrants fleeing religious persecution. Since the 17th century, the Geneva school of enamelling is renowned for the production of the finest miniature enamel paintings on pocket watches, which due to a new technique, possess additional durability and a unique brilliance which is highly prized.
Of all the enamel techniques, miniature painting on enamel remains to this day the rarest and most difficult of the decorative arts, merging technical virtuosity and artistic sensibility. According to Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe, being an enameller is the hardest job in the world: “This is the great terror of enamelling. Yes, on the one hand, you have to have the patience of a saint; yes, you need nerves of steel and a steady hand; yes, you have to be blessed with rare artistic talent; but above all, you have to be able to live with the fear that the very process that perfects your work can just as soon destroy it. And that there’s nothing you can do about it.” An intricate design or painting can necessitate up to 25 times in the kiln and any variation in temperature, drafts of air or even a speck of dust can wipe out the work of one whole year.
The house of Patek Philippe, ever since its founding in 1839, has thrived to continue this Genevan tradition of “belle horlogerie”, or "beautiful watchmaking" by pairing the best watchmakers with the most highly-skilled craftsmen in their specialties – engravers, goldsmiths, enamellists and gem-setters. In particular, their Grand Feu miniature enameling is considered the best in the world and only a handful of the most highly-skilled enamellists were selected to sign their works for Patek Philippe. The search for perfection, the investment in time – it takes up to one year to finish an enamel miniature, high production costs and the dwindling number of highly skilled enamellists ensure that these pieces are produced in very limited numbers and can be considered amongst the most covetable possessions in the world.
This presently offered pocket watch, with its beautiful scene of a boat regatta at sea, is most likely based on a 19th century painting of this popular genre. The miniature is the work of renowned enamel painter G. Menni, one of Patek Philippe’s most distinguished enamellers, who painted for the manufacture in the 1980s and 1990s. Together with Suzanne Rohr, Menni is considered one of the most gifted enamellist to have worked for Patek Philippe. Examining the three sailing boats through a high-powered loupe (magnifier), fine details of the enamel reveal themselves, unseen by the naked eye - the silhouettes of the crew on the boats, every rope of the cordage that connects and manipulates the sails, and every white crest of wave on the water. The delicate colours and transparent luminosity of the enamels fully bring to life the spirit of the regatta with its white billowing sails in the wind.
This dedication to the search for perfection is the definition of both Patek Philippe and Christie’s. It is therefore fitting that in celebration of the 30th anniversary of Christie’s Asia, the Hong Kong watch department offers to watch collectors and lovers this rare and artistic timepiece, the decoration of which additionally has the most auspicious meaning of “ ????” or “having a favourable sailing all the way”.