Six centuries of the world's greatest watches (photos)
Road Trip 2011: While the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva features dozens of that company's best watches, the real treat for visitors is a tour of watches dating back to the 16th century.
GENEVA, Switzerland--If you like watches, and you like history, there may not be a better place to visit than the Patek Philippe Museum here. Those who make the trek to the stately building located a short distance from Lake Geneva will find what has to be one of the most important collections of watches in the world. Six hundred years' of watches, to be precise. And they're not just from Switzerland, although the museum also houses a great collection of Patek Philippe's own masterpieces. And there's even a master watchmaker showcasing his skills for all to see. Altogether, the museum is the famous company's effort to show the tools and techniques used by the craftsmen, the jewelers, engravers, lapidaries and many others who have made the world's greatest personal timepieces since the 16th century.
As part of Road Trip 2011, CNET reporter Daniel Terdiman visited the museum, and over three floors, saw many different themes presented. There are enameled watches, watch cases, snuff-boxes and portrait-miniatures which together illustrate the development of the art of enameling. The museum library includes more than 7,000 books on the study and measurement of time, or horology.
But if you visit the museum, you may also enjoy a small thematic tour, and to have a guide explain the fascinating singing birds, "perfume pistols" and other automata and musical pieces, the enameled pieces, or to tell you more about the history of more than 500 years of humans attempting to capture and understand time in small packages.
This is one of the earliest watches in the museum's collection, which dates back to 1500. It is the "Runde Halsuhr," which was made in southern Germany of gilded brass between 1530 and 1540. Made in the shape of a drum, it has a cover (seen hanging) and what the museum says is a "straight-line foliate" made of iron.
This is a sundial watch made in southern Germany around 1570. It is a drum watch with what is known as a "stackfreed." It features an hour-striking clock-watch with a cover, and has movement with straight-line foliate and power regulation by stackfreed. The watch is stamped "HK," for Hans Koch, and its inside cover has a sundial and a compass. It is signed and dated "MP/1592" for Markus Purman, who died in 1619.
In this picture, we see two spherical clocks. On the left in the back, there is a watch in the shape of a terrestrial globe, which was said to have been inspired by a heart-shaped world map published in Paris in 1526. It is made of gilded brass and features movement with circular foliate and an alarm. The watch is attributed to Jacques de la Garde. On the front and right, we see an hour-striking clock-watch in the shape of a terrestrial globe, also made of gilded brass, with a fitted leather traveling case (in the back right). This watch is also attributed to Jacques de la Garde.
This is an enamel watch with diamonds that would have been worn on a ribbon, hanging from the waist of an elaborate outfit, in the 17th century style. It is attributed to the Parisian School, and was made around 1655.
This is the "mon coeur bat," or "my heart beats" watch and case, made in Paris between 1660 and 1670. It is a square shaped watch. It is made of iron, gold, enamel, and rock crystal. Its original outer, protective case features gold pin work. This set belonged to New York businessman John Pierpoint Morgan.
This is a set of tools worn by the "chatelaine," or lady of the house, in the case of this set, it might well have been a near-sighted lady, since a magnifying glass is included.
This elaborate pair-cased watch with its decorative clasp--which is also called a chatelaine--holds a perfume box known as a vinaigrette, a folding magnifying lass, a crank key, and a seal. It was made in London around 1770 of enamel on gold.
This watch is designed to look like a game board in the "draught-board" stayle, and is enameled using the "ors paillonnes" technique. It is a Louis XVI style center-seconds watch, made for the Chinese market. It was made in Geneva in 1785 out of gold, enamel, rubies, and pearls.
Here, we see a singing bird resting on a watch decorated in gold, enamel, rubies, and pearls. It is a Louis XVI style watch with a singing bird triggered upon request. It was made in Geneva around 1785 for the Chinese market.
These butterflies, made of gold, enamel, pearls, and diamonds, feature compartments, including the one on the front right, that lifts to show a watch face. The others show automata and music. These were made in Geneva around 1815.
This watch, made in Paris in 1800, provided its owner with a tactful way to put a hand in the pocket in order to "feel" the time without having to take it out and read it. It is made of gold, silver, diamonds, and enamel.
This is the Caliber 89, made for Patek Philippe's 150th anniversary in 1989. It is said to be the world's most complicated watch and features 1,728 components along with 184 wheels, 61 bridges, 332 screws, 415 pins, 68 springs, and 429 mechanical parts.
This is a close-up of the inner workings of the Caliber 89. The watch's "complications" include a record-breaking 33 different abilities, including the ability to figure out the date of Easter until 2017, as well as the time of sunset and sunrise, a leap-year correction, the age and phases of the moon, and more.