Europe Monday, October 17th 2011
Research, design, enterprise... once again the Gaia Awards have marked out exceptional individuals whose work is a source of inspiration. Details of prize-winners and their achievements!
The three winners of the 2011 Gaia Awards © MIH
On 15 September this year, at the Club 44 in La Chaux-de-Fonds, directors of the International Watchmaking Museum (MIH) invited friends of the industry, communal authorities, the media, etc, to honour the three winners of the 2011 Gaia Awards, namely Pierre-Yves Donzé in the History and Research category, Philippe Stern for the Spirit of Enterprise, and François Junot for Workmanship and Design. Three people who in different fields have had an impact on the watch industry in terms of promotion, design, heritage preservation, development and research.
History and Research: Pierre-Yves Donzé
Currently a research fellow at the University of Osaka (Japan), Pierre-Yves Donzé has had a busy career, including spells as a scientific collaborator at the Universities of Lausanne and Neuchâtel and as a visiting researcher at the University of Kyoto and Rutgers University (USA). His work as a researcher and historian has focused on two clearly distinct fields: medicine and watchmaking.
As a doctoral student, Pierre-Yves Donzé worked as an archivist at the MIH, where he discovered the fascinating world of watchmaking and its industry. However his early research concerned primarily the history of hospitals and medicine. His studies at the University of Neuchâtel gave rise to a doctoral thesis on surgeons and development of the hospital system in the canton of Vaud from 1840-1960.
This early research and contributions in the field of watchmaking were produced in parallel with his other publications in the field of medicine. Since 2004 he has regularly published articles and books about the history of industrial relations and training in the watch industry. His work "Watch Industry Employers in La Chaux-de-Fonds: the Social Dynamic of an Industrial Elite (1840-1920)", published by Editions Alphil in 2007, draws on this field of study. However, what also sets his research apart is his openness to industry in other parts of the world, in particular Japan. His research therefore sheds light on an unexplored corner of watchmaking history, examining the economic, technical and cultural aspects of an important Japanese industry in relation to similar features of European, and more particularly Swiss industry. In addition, in 2009 he published an important work entitled "History of the Swiss Watch Industry: from Jacques David to Nicolas Hayek (1850-2000)", which revisits and summarises the history of the Swiss watch industry from an economic, technical and competitive standpoint.
From Japan, he edits the History and Watchmaking collection of Editions Alphil, Presse universitaire suisse.
Spirit of Enterprise: Philippe Stern
The President of Patek Philippe from 1993 to 2009 and now the manufactory’s Honorary President, Philippe Stern is known to one and all. He is one of the great figures of watchmaking and a fervent supporter of mechanical movements and their masterful and sometimes sonorous complications. Bold and independent by nature, his enterprising approach brought out the best in the family heritage and led him to play a leading role in the development and promotion of Switzerland’s great watchmaking art.
When he began his career as a young business and economics graduate of the University of Geneva, Philippe Stern was no stranger to watchmaking. His grandfather Charles Stern, and also the latter’s brother, both dial makers, bought out Patek Philippe in 1932, and his father Henri Stern, son of Charles, took up the torch in 1958. However in accordance with family tradition, Philippe Stern began by working his way up the echelons of the manufactory, from the bottom to the very top, his acknowledged position today.
In the 1970s, when the arrival of quartz shook the foundations of the watch industry, his visionary approach saw him continue not only to produce, but also to develop mechanical movements. He was convinced that if every other manufacturer of mechanical watches were to go under, one would remain, namely Patek Philippe. Buoyed by this sentiment, he continued to innovate and to write the rich history of the Geneva manufactory.
While an enterprising nature is what set Philippe Stern apart, he also contributed greatly to the popularity and knowledge of prestige watchmaking as a collector and as the founder of the Patek Philippe Museum. Here, in the first instance, he exhibited the brand’s collections. But he decided very quickly to bring the sublime art of watchmaking to a wider audience. In 2001, in Geneva, he opened the Patek Philippe Museum, a veritable temple of horology which presents some of the finest examples of watchmaking through the ages and houses the largest library devoted to the industry, with nearly 8,000 works.
A keen sportsman (he was a member of the Swiss national skiing team and has won many sailing competitions) Philippe Stern cultivated similar values within his manufactory: independence and excellence. Values that have allowed this great industrialist, man of culture and defender of the qualities of Swiss prestige watchmaking to win the 2011 Gaia Award.
Workmanship and Design: François Junod
A maker of automata is a highly unusual job and one that François Junod never dreamt of doing when he was a student. Technical College, School of Fine Arts and an apprenticeship in the repair of automata trace the path of an education that finally led him to this profession. Based in Sainte-Croix, the region par excellence of automata, he tackles multiple projects with a group of collaborators, completing orders for wealthy private collectors, firms and local authorities. His designs are a blend of imagination, poetry and reverie. But let there be no mistake, these creations inspired by history or the modern world contain hidden gears and wheels of such perfection that they take several years to design.
Among his designs, three works stand out in particular. Firstly the Tapis Volant (2000) produced to mark the one hundredth anniversary of La Semeuse in La Chaux-de-Fonds, an automaton based on tradition which features a Turk on a magic carpet quietly sipping his coffee. In 2007, below the antique clock of the Town Hall in Leganés, in the suburbs of Madrid, François Junod installed six life-size automata which appear in procession twice a day. Later, in 2010, he unveiled to huge acclaim the most accomplished android ever made: Alexander Pushkin, who not only writes, but does so autonomously, complicating the art of the automaton to an almost unbelievable level (24 words give him 1,458 combinations with which to create short poems of two stanzas, which he signs with his initials). An absolute marvel!
To reward personalities who have contributed or continue to contribute to the renown of watchmaking, its history, its techniques and its industry, the MIH created the Gaia Awards in 1993. The principle is simple: on the basis of applications submitted by third parties, members of the jury (Swiss and foreign personalities from different fields) make an objective assessment of each individual’s contribution and pick a winner, or more than one in the case of several complementary candidates. Each winner receives a translucent "Sphere" depicting Gaia, the primordial earth goddess of Greek mythology, the personification of the Earth and wife of Uranus, the Sky.
At the end of the evening the event’s partner, Julius Baer Bank, presented a bursary to a promising young watchmaker from Lucerne, Adrian Lang. The latter created a very elegant skeleton table clock whose great originality is to have a dial showing the seconds which moves around the dial of the clock. ■
Article published in FH Revue, 13th October 2011
Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry FH