Day 4 saw us waking to sparkly blue skies again.
After breakfast it was back on the bus and then to Plan les Ouates for our final visit to the Patek Philippe factory.
The morning saw us broken in to two groups again. One group went over to the service department while the other group was taken for a talk about the design and research and development of new watch models.
Our group first went for the design/R&D talk. Very interesting to hear how a watch is designed from sketch to model and then to prototyping. Sketches and 3D printed models are presented to a panel of 6 that includes Heads of design, R&D, Watchmaking, Mr and Mrs Stern. After deliberation and critiques, go ahead is either given or the piece goes back for refinement or changes. Some pieces may take a year or two of playing around with before the final design is set.
It was very interesting to see and handle the 3D models. Several sizes are presented; a life size one, a large one, and then case and bracelet(if not on a leather strap) separately. Prototypes are made from a base metal after the go ahead is given and mock up movements are installed. These are then presented and critiqued again.
We also saw examples of dial designs and prototypes. We saw samples of some enamel dials and the steps in their making. A sample piece (around 10cm x 10cm) is made first and then sent for approval. A sample strip of the colours used is also made up which is also presented witht he sample piece. Enamelists are true artisans and the work they do on such a small scale is astounding.
After our time learning about the design process it was time to swap with the other group and head to the service department.
In the service department we learnt about the amount of work and quality control that goes in to servicing Patek Philippe watches. We were then taken to see the head of vintage watch servicing . A team of 3, one master watchmaker and two junior watchmakers handle repairs and restorations of the vintage timepieces.
On display were some of the botch jobs that they are sent from people who just go to a bad watchmaker, rather than send their watch back to Patek Philippe. One watch had a paperclip used in the repair!
The head watchmaker is so skilled at his work that he is able to tell when a part he is machining is not right just by the sound it makes. He is also able to hear it across the desk on work one of the junior watchmakers is doing.
The restoration department has a ‘library’ of information built up by the head watchmaker. While some parts are available, quite often the restoration department needs to manufacture their own parts based on the components in the watch they are restoring. This requires meticulous measuring and skilled hands and eyes. This information is then stored for future reference in the ‘library’.
After our visit to the restoration and service department it was time for lunch. This time we had a three course lunch in the cafeteria.
Entrée was a tasing plate or borscht, foie gras mousse on a crouton, smoked salmon and cream cheese roulade.
Main was duck breast with plums, roesti and seasonal vegetables.
Dessert was a delicious orange and chocolate ring.
After lunch we stretched our legs and had a look at the site where Patek Philippe is constructing a new expansion of the factory. This new building will see Cadrans Fluckiger move from St. Imier to Geneva, the case and jewellery departments will also move to the main site, relocation of the service centre and a watchmaking school.
We then jumped on the bus for the short drive to the case and jewellery departments. We saw first hand the machining and finishing of the cases, from a lump of precious metal or a lump of steel the case comes to shape in a CNC machine. It takes hours for the case be finished in the CNC before it heads off for polishing.
The polishing department was quite fascinating as well. Depending on the type of finishing (shiny, brushed, matt) the polisher will have a different approach and finishing method to the process. Some pieces such as the Nautilus bracelet require both a brushed and shiny finish, this then requires the futher step of ‘blocking’ the polished areas before applying the brushed finish.
The jewellery department is where those pieces that require stones to be set in the dial or case are finished. Cuff links and ladies jewellery pieces are also produced here. We were very lucky to be able to meet the gemologist for Patek Philippe. He travels the world looking for some of the most amazing stones. For example a row of around 20 flawless Zambian emeralds, a suite of 6 perfect ‘pigeons blood’ rubies and many flawless diamonds in all sizes. The special stones don’t always get used straight away, it may take several years before a design comes along to utilize them. We were able to see one of the stone setters working on a pave diamond bracelet for a watch.
After our tour of the case and jewellery departments it was back to the main factory for the final part of our afternoon and tour. An hour of inspecting the current novelties and standard production pieces.
Trays of watches were passed down each side of the table, with plenty of time for looking, handling and asking questions. There were lots of exciting pieces to contemplate. I had two favourites, both from the ladies Gondolo range with a real art deco feel.
Of course Mr. CA4G is a watch fanatic so he ended up with a dream wish list of around 8 favourite pieces.
After a mesmerising hour and a half of watches, we wrapped up the official part of the tour and headed back to the hotel for a short respite before dinner.
Stay watching for our final dinner at Auberge D’Onex.