Patek Philippe’s sixth and latest grand exhibition, held from 10 to 25 June in Tokyo, was a fascinating love letter to Japan. Here’s a look at the manufacturer’s enduring relationship with the country at the showcase’s highly anticipated opening
The Japanese have long held a fascination for Patek Philippe’s timepieces. In the watchmaker’s customer registers, records of patrons from the Land of the Rising Sun date as far back as the late Edo period and the Meiji Restoration, corresponding to the earliest decades of the Manufacture’s activity.
It all began when statesman and Ambassador Iwakura Tomomi led a delegation of over 50 senior government officials to the United States and Europe in 1873. The goal was to learn more about the political, military and educational systems of the Western world in order to revise the Unequal Treaties and re-establish themselves among the dominant world powers.
Part of the itinerary of the Iwakura Mission was a visit to Patek Philippe’s Geneva headquarters. Guided by its visionary Founder Antoine Norbert de Patek, the meeting was reported in detail across three pages in the official journal Beiou-Kairan Jikki. Soon, Japanese dignitaries were acquiring Patek Philippe’s watches – directly in Europe or through the intermediary of European trading companies active in Japan.
This admiration for the Swiss watchmaker only grew over the years, prompting the brand to officially import its timepieces into Japan in the 1950s and establish its Japanese subsidiary PP Patek Inc. in 2003. Today, Japan represents a key market for the brand – a market of connoisseurs that treasures rare handcraft and appreciates the savoir-faire contained in a Patek Philippe timepiece. The snaking queue of about 200 people that formed outside its Watch Art Grand Exhibition in Tokyo on the opening day is further proof of the Japanese’s reverence for the brand.
Honouring A Legacy
Patek Philippe reciprocated the love at its sixth grand exhibition in Tokyo. Held inside the Sankaku Hiroba (or Triangular Plaza) within Shinjuku Sumitomo Building, it is the Manufacture’s largest showcase yet, spanning over 2,500 square metres. The opening date, 10 June, was also chosen for its significance in Japan – it’s the day locals call Toki no Kinenbi (or Time Day), which was established in 1920 to commemorate the use of the first water clock in the country and mark the importance of time.
Through 11 themed spaces, the Watch Art Grand Exhibition immerses visitors into the Patek Philippe universe as it recreates the renowned sites and symbols associated with the Manufacture, such as Geneva’s famous flower clock, its historic headquarters in the rue du Rhône, the Manufacture at Plan-les-Ouates and the Patek Philippe Museum. More than 500 timepieces and objets d’art are showcased, including special pieces on loan from Japanese collectors, those owned and worn by great historical figures such as Queen Victoria, as well as some of the world’s oldest watches.
For many in attendance, a highlight of the exhibition was the Rare Handcrafts room, which showcased a stunning 40-piece collection of one-of-a-kind horological creations inspired by Japanese culture. There were dome clocks depicting cherry blossoms and old stamps, a table clock that features a stylised rendering of the Tokyo street plan, and pocket watches featuring scenes of the Japanese landscape or history. Each one was made using remarkable intricate techniques such as hand engraving, guilloché work, gemsetting and enamelling – handcraft that Patek Philippe has meticulously preserved.
Timepieces aside, the people of Patek Philippe received just as much attention on opening day. President Thierry Stern was there, greeting and taking photographs with enthusiasts. Philip Barat, Patek’s Head of Watch Development, and Peter Friess, Director and Curator of the Patek Philippe Museum, gave visitors walkthroughs. Renowned enamel artist Anita Porchet was also present to talk about the rare handcraft she worked on.
As with previous grand exhibitions, Patek Philippe released six special-edition watches for the Tokyo event. Among these are two world-firsts: the Quadruple Complication (ref. 5308P-010) and the first World Time watch (ref. 5330G-010) equipped with a date display.
An entirely new reference in the Patek Philippe catalogue, the Quadruple Complication is a step-up from the Triple Complication (ref. 5208), combining a minute repeater, an instantaneous perpetual calendar in apertures and a twin chronograph. Featuring a 42 mm rose-gilt opaline dial, it houses the new calibre R CHR 27 PS QI movement, which comprises 799 parts, and is limited to just 15 pieces.
While not the flagship complication of the Tokyo grand exhibition (the aforementioned Quadruple Complication is), the World Time ref. 5330G-010 Limited Edition Tokyo 2023 saw as much buzz as for boasting a never- before-seen feature in a Patek Philippe world timer: the date display synchronised with local time. This unprecedented function is made possible by a new movement, the ultra-thin self-winding calibre 240 HU C, which incorporates an innovative, patented differential system. Limited to 300 pieces, it has a plum-coloured dial embellished with a hand-guillochéd centre.
The collection of Tokyo-exclusive special editions is completed by four other wristwatches: the World Time Minute Repeater (ref. 5531R-014) with a Grand Feu cloisonné enamel decoration representing the historic Chuo district in the centre of Tokyo; a refined reinterpretation of the ladies’ Moon Phase model (ref. 7121/200G- 010); and two elegantly understated Calatrava models (ref. 6127G-010 and ref. 7127G-010).
Concluding the Tokyo showcase on 25 June, Patek Philippe recorded its highest footfall ever for its grand exhibitions, drawing in approximately 60,000 guests, visitors and media. The next destination on the grand exhibition calendar is Milan in 2025. This bustling metropolis, celebrated for its fashion, design and rich cultural heritage, promises to provide the perfect backdrop for Patek Philippe’s continued quest to inspire creativity and embrace the essence of horological artistry.