Many years ago, I had the opportunity to meet Philippe Stern at his home, and was profoundly impressed by the quality of his person and his foresightedness. He was a man of stature and I just an ordinary person, and yet we conversed with ease, as equals. Not once did he take on airs, and I was touched by what I would call the charm of discretion. An artisan of exceptional value at the greatest Maison in the history of Fine Watchmaking, Philippe shares with his son Thierry a remarkable capacity for communication, as recently confirmed by the interview Thierry Stern gave in Les Temps, during the Basel watch fair.
I truly believe we can pit ourselves one against the other without becoming a turris eburnea, an ivory tower in the middle of nowhere.
Of course, certain comments concerning his neighbours and other players in our field weren’t especially charitable: Vacheron Constantin, a competitor of old, was on the receiving end of one cutting remark. I shall, however, leave it to these two Maisons to debate in private any eventual sticking points, and simply highlight another aspect of this interview that made me feel rather uncomfortable, namely the clear division – one could say isolation – that emerges between Patek Philippe and other representatives of Fine Watchmaking.
While Patek Philippe is undoubtedly at the forefront, its history is nonetheless founded on the values which Fine Watchmaking, and watchmaking in general, have inherited. The genius loci, the spirit of the place, is –however modestly – part of a brand’s DNA. It is vital that we highlight each individual identity, but to cut oneself off, in this day and age, is not a sign of progress to my mind. I truly believe we can pit ourselves one against the other without becoming a turris eburnea, an ivory tower in the middle of nowhere.
In the Song of Songs, the purity of ivory and the inaccessibility of the tower take on a positive aspect. Perhaps, though, we should change metaphors, as we live in a world where isolation can lead to profound incomprehension. Better a bridge than a drawbridge.
Domus Aurea… this is certainly the loveliest image I could use to define Patek Philippe: Fine Watchmaking’s golden palace which, unlike an ivory tower, stands not in the middle of nowhere but deploys its power, strength and beauty by sending its message out into the world. Not as the conqueror of a kingdom whose members are its subjects, but as ambassador for a citizens’ republic.