Geneva Recap 2004: Watch Out

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March 14, 2004

Text by Jason Teller

The press days at an auto show (while a privilege to attend) are essentially a large gathering of journalists and company officials, automobiles themselves (while sometimes stirring us both emotional and physically) are really only a form of transportation and Geneva (while recently voted as one of the top cities in which to live in the entire world) is about the same city on the fifth trip as it was on the very first trip.

I’d be exaggerating to say that this is my true perspective, but darn it if there doesn’t come a point after attending nearly all of the major US and European auto shows over the past 6 years that I’ve found myself in need of some new perspective. A re-calibration of sorts.

So after seeing the newly redesigned A6 in the flesh courtesy of Dr. Pischetsrieder’s first night kick-off party in Geneva for VAG’s closest five-hundred or so journalist friends, and being at once relieved and at ease with the styling which had appeared overbearing in some photos, I was left to ponder how my own account of the A6 unveiling might compare to Audi’s own glowing A6 press release. Question to self: why fly half way around the world to look at a new car?

My answers – my requisite re-calibration – came from an unlikely source, one shaped by Charles IX’s expulsion of the Huguenot’s and their subsequent settlement near Geneva where one skill in particular would be cultivated and eventually become renowned throughout the world. To have a door into the inner circle of fine watch making opened, if only briefly, would be interesting in its own right, but since the particular door in question led to the manufacturing facility of the only remaining Swiss independent watch maker it was nothing short of once-in-a-lifetime experience. Let me be succinct and say thank you Audi for organizing a trip to legendary watchmaker Patek Philippe.

Previous trips to Geneva are scattered with recollections of late night window shopping, typically tipsy from the excellent French or Italian wine and full of admiration for window upon window of finely crafted timepieces staring back from inside the glass like aristocratic puppies inside some horological pet store. From the sometimes absurdly exotic Franck Muellers to the bulletproof Rolexes to the elegant Piaget and Vacheron Constantin timepieces, it is impossible to stroll the streets without finding one (or two or three or more) watches that should by all rights be making the trip back across the Atlantic on the passionate purchaser’s wrist.

The socioeconomic positioning of the typical Audi owner probably means that he or she knows a little something about the finer things in life, including fine watches. Swiss watches are the yardstick by which all others are measured; yet even amongst all Swiss watches there is a spectrum of styles, features, prices and, perhaps most often overlooked, skills and components required to produce one. Make reference to my introductory paragraph and ask yourself whether a watch is simply a method of keeping time, no more no less?

It is so much more.

At Patek Philippe they manufacture each and every component required to assemble their watches and then workers with incredible skills put it all together. Manufacturing tolerances being what they are (in most cases as inconceivably close to zero as one can possibly imagine) and craftsmanship being what it is (they laboriously decorate both sides of the internal mechanism, for instance, even though only one side will ever be seen by the owner), it takes an exceedingly short amount of time to understand that the timepieces being produced are as much an expression of “what is possible?” and “how beautiful can we actually make it?” as they are a tool to convey the passing of time.

You can purchase Patek Philippe watches in most shapes and sizes, choosing white gold, yellow gold, rose gold or platinum. Your watch might be adorned with precious gems or be understatedly elegant. A tourbillion could be inside to isolate the “engine” from the uneven effects of gravity produced by the never-ending movement of your appendage. For those with more sophisticated needs (and a good deal of patience, for these types of watches are built on order and can take up to a year to deliver) complications such as minute repeater, moon phases, power reserve indicator, perpetual calendar and even chimes are all possible and indeed packaged so precisely that the resulting timepiece exemplifies both technological marvel and fine art.

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