Complications for women at Patek Philippe
Patek Philippe's new website is devoted entirely to women and opens a window on a world of fine watchmaking with a distinctly feminine look. One of the most intriguing areas is the section devoted to women's complicated watches, a field in which Patek Philippe is leading the way with the most comprehensive offering of its kind.
Yet it was not so long ago that timekeeping used to be a serious business, best left to men. Charting the progress of the planets in the sky, measuring a sail ship's position mid-Indian Ocean, taking the pulse of a patient and coordinating the trajectories of speeding rail cars were the domain of men. So it is no surprise that serious watches, those with extra functions and buttons and bristling with complex dial markings, looked masculine and technical, just how men like them.
There were, of course, very refined women's watches, which as early as the 17th century were unabashedly ornate and decorated with precious gemstones, miniature paintings and exquisite enamelwork. More jewel than precision instrument, they were supreme examples of both the craft of the jeweller and the watchmaker. While technically superb, on the whole, women's watches were not made with the purpose of running fleets of ships to split-second precision or guiding explorers in discovering new territories. Delighting and entertaining were their main function, at which they excelled.
Where technical prowess was offered to women with watches such as the 1916 Patek Philippe five-minute repeater, they were highly sought after by the most powerful and forward-thinking women of the time, such as the owner of the repeater watch, the Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. Queen Victoria chose one of Patek Philippe's new-fangled pocket watches, which didn't need a key to wind, and Isabella II of Spain watched the minutes pass on the dial of a Patek Philippe with central day and date indicators.
The two World Wars that brought so much social change also put watches on women's wrists, on practical webbing straps and with no-nonsense dials. As women donned trousers and worked in factories, men were no longer the sole keepers of time. Which is why the arrival of Patek Philippe's 'complicated' and highly technical women's watches marked a historical milestone. As unflinchingly complex as the men's versions, these 'complications' as well as 'grand complications' spanned the divide by managing to also be beautiful and gracious.
Patek Philippe's offering of 'complications' includes chronographs, annual calendars and skeleton movements, while the 'grand complications' that represent the pinnacle of horological mastery include a minute repeater, an ultra-thin split seconds chronograph and a perpetual calendar.
All are undisputedly feminine and, even if not adorned with diamonds or mother-of-pearl dials, are clearly made to be worn by a woman. A small change, perhaps, but a significant step forward in the world of fine watchmaking for women. But like all good things, a Patek Philippe watch takes its time. Each one requires many hundreds of hours of work by a small team of watchmakers and craftsmen, so it will only be a very few lucky women who have the chance to wear one of these miniature masterpieces on their wrists.