Six centuries of the world's greatest watches (photos)
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.
Traveling set with square clock
This is a rectangular travel set that includes a table clock and two tools needed for writing with a fountain pen, a square ink bottle and a sand bottle. It dates to between 1550 and 1555.
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.
Hexagonal table clock
This is a hexagonal table-clock, made in Aix-en-Provence, France around 1540. It is an hour-striking clock with circular foliate and alarm. It is attributed to watch maker Pierre de Fobix.
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.
Enamel watch with diamonds
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.
"My heart beats" watch and case
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.
The Square Watch
This is a square watch made in Paris around 1660. It has scrolled decoration, and was signed by Auguste Bretonneau. It is made from iron, gold, enamel, and rock crystal.
Anthony and Cleopatra
This is the Anthony and Cleopatra watch, made in London around 1745. It is made of gold and enamel.
Sacrifice for Love and Fidelity
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.
Louis XVI style watch
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.
Sacrifice for Love
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.
Peacocks of Day and Night
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 was elaborately made in the shape of a rose, with automata and music. It was made in Geneva in 1815 for the Chinese market. It is made of gold, enamel, and pearls.
This is one of a pair of ornamental watches in the collection that are in the shape of perfume-sprinkling flintlock pistols. They were made in Geneva in 1805 from gold, enamel, pearls, and agate.
Tightrope walker by a lake
This is an "Empire"-style quarter-repeating watch with automata and music. It was made around 1815 of gold and enamel.
Walnut and the magician
This watch is made in a walnut shell and incorporates a magician automaton and music. It was made in Geneva in 1810 of walnut shell, wood, and enamel.
"Medallion savonnette a tact"
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.
The Portable Harp
This decorative pendant watch is done in the Viennese style. It is made of gold, enamel, and pearls, and was made in Geneva in 1830.
The expanding hands watch
This is an oval watch with expanding hour and minute hands. It was made in London around 1794 for the Chinese market.
Handmade wooden watch
According to a Patek Philippe Museum guide, this handmade wooden watch was not made by a professional watchmaker, but by herdsmen looking for a way to occupy a long winter.
Wooden watch face
Here, we see a reflection of the face of the wooden watch. Its numbers are reversed because of the reflection.
Ostrich feathers fan with a watch
This elaborate ostrich feather fan is hiding a small watch. It was made in Geneva around 1845 of gold, enamel, and diamonds.
The Caliber 89
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.
The Caliber 89 is a double-faced watch showing a star chart on one side with the Milky Way and 2,800 distinct stars.
Inner workings of star chart
Here, we see the inner workings of the star chart watch, including the functions of the sidereal calendar.
This is a Patek Philippe pocket watch with a pierced and engraved caliber. It is known as a skeleton watch. It was made in Geneva around 1975 from gold and enamel.
Each of these watches were worn into outer space, according to the certification letter displayed alongside them.