by Jamie Nonis
For Sandrine Stern, managing artists’ egos is par for the course in her role as head of creations at Patek Philippe. “It’s hard to find the right [master craftsman] and to also find someone who is open enough to listen to feedback. Because when you are an artist, sometimes you prefer to do your job on your own and do what you want to do. But when you work with a brand like Patek Philippe, you have to be open-minded and listen to the comments and listen to the will of the brand,” she says.
And it’s not always the strongest will that wins.
“It’s also a question of trust; the artist [has to] trust us and we trust in the artist. So, it’s an exchange; a constant dialogue with the artist,” she adds. Stern has worked in the family business for 25 years and is married to its president, Thierry Stern.
Traditional craftsmanship and artisanship are clearly celebrated at Patek Philippe, and it is a commitment to these that continue to buttress the brand’s preeminence as one of the most highly revered watchmakers in the world.
Its mastery of rare handcrafts such as engraving, enamelling and marquetry – which transform its wristwatches, pocket watches and dome clocks into miniature works of art that both delight the eye and blow the mind – were on fine display at the Patek Philippe Watch Art Exhibition held at the Marina Bay Sands Theatre last September.
Visitors to the exhibition – the fifth and largest of its kind – had a rare opportunity to view the exemplary artistry of the master craftsmen up close and personal as they demonstrated their skills and technique in the rare handcrafts room, and even meet some of the specialist artisans such as renowned enameller Anita Porchet.
Options caught up with Stern at the 16-day exhibition in the company of some of the most prized horological creations ever made by the last independent, family owned Genevan watchmaking manufacturer.
What is the creative process like between Patek Philippe and working with external artisans such as Anita Porchet?
It’s important to listen to the artist and respect the technique because if you want to do only what you want, sometimes you will never achieve the watch. It’s important not to do only what you can do or know how to do but to take some challenges also; listen to the artists, the designer, and listen to the will of Patek Philippe. All put together, it’s a big discussion.
Is there anything that Patek Philippe will never do creatively?
When you do one of the techniques, it has to last a long time. So, [if there’s] something today [that you’re] not [going to be] able to see on the dial in 10 years, we are not going to do it.
Will Patek Philippe continues to focus on its current array of rare handcrafts or would you consider experimenting with techniques like micro embroidery or feather art?
Feather or other techniques, this is not what we want to do. We would like to keep the same technique as in the museum, these are the real techniques. Even if the other ones are nice, you never know in 10 years how it would be. So for us, we must focus on the techniques that are proven; we know how it works and we improve in terms of quality because we are always focusing on the finer and finer details.
Does Patek Philippe have an apprenticeship programme to groom a new generation of artisans?
Does this concern you?
Yes, I’m concerned but for now, no – we do not have time to do it. What I hear from the customer is that they want to have the best quality of the watch and today, unfortunately, you cannot say to a young person that “You will work on a Patek Philippe watch and it will be [showcased] in this kind of exhibition.” It’s not fair for the customer or the collector so all the people we hire in Patek Philippe, they all have a certain level [of expertise] and then we increase their level by giving them the chance to work on beautiful watches. Of course, if we could have a school one day, I will be happy.