Sunday, April 3, 2016

A Crazy Time At M.A.D Gallery, Geneva

Our final day saw us with stunning blue sky again and free time until our departures.

I set off for a walk around the main part of Geneva with plans to stop at the Patek Philippe boutique and the Vacheron Constantin boutique.

Looking back across the bridge.

My first stop was the Patek Philippe Boutique. Located on Rue du Rhone and facing the lake, the salon has maintained the heritage feel of the building and the interiors. Gorgeous embossed and gilded wall paper and many antiques fill the space. 

Watches are elegantly displayed and service is impeccable.

After Patek Philippe I headed to the Vacheron Constantin Salon where I was wanting to see the vintage pieces they had for sale. It was great to see a high end brand actively buying, servicing, restoring and reselling their own historic pieces.

While the salon is housed in an old building the interior is thoroughly light and modern with subtle references to the past.

Then it was time for a bit of exploring. Walking the cobblestoned streets was an exciting experience and great way to see the town.

I found Christie’s Auction house.

Perched on the hill above the city is the Cathedral of Saint Pierre. Builtin the 12th century, the Cathedral became the local seat of the Protestant church in the 16th century when it also underwent some modifications. Unfortunately I didn’t have time to climb the 157 steps of the north tower for the views over the city and lake.

The Palais de Justice, the courthouse of Geneva and the street out front of it. The cafes were quite busy.

Then it was time to head to M.A.D. Gallery and visit Max Busser.

The items for sale in M.A.D. Gallery are very eclectic and quite visionary. The Machine Lights by Frank Buchwald are quite amazing and I could see some of these looking great on a mantlepiece.  Prior to making these unique lights Frank Buchwald was a freelance artist and science fiction illustrator. He then moved on to making metal furniture and in 1993, entirely self taught, he started producing the lamps.

Machine Light Type No. 1. I could see this in a movie featuring a mad scientist.

Machine Lights Type No. 3, this would sit nicely on a mantelpiece.

While the art is important at M.A.D. Gallery, Max Busser also has the fantastic mechanical wrist art that is M.B&F Watches. It was great to again see the HM6, also known as Space Pirate, that I saw in Singapore earlier this year. Max was inspired to design this watch by a cartoon he used to watch as child called Capitaine Flam.

The front two bubbles tell the hour on the left and the minutes on the right. The central sapphire crystal dome houses a tourbillon which has an articulated titanium cover that can be raised and lowered by the wearer. The rear two bubbles contain the twin spherical turbines that automatically regulate the winding system in case of excessive speed to reduce stress and wear.  Very technical and very complicated.

Watches like this continue to astound me due the amount of research that goes in to the design and the movement. The sapphire crystal is incredibly hard to do as each dome is shaped from a block of crystal. Out of every 100 there is a 80 % reject rate. Incredibly time consuming and costly. Makes you appreciate why mechanical timepieces like this cost what they do.

Who doesn’t love robots, especially these Melchior ones. These are table clocks that put boring run of the mill table clocks to shame. The dome on the head houses the movement . The body has jumping hours and minute indicators and the eyes are retrograde seconds indicators. The left forearm detaches to become the winding key. The good thing? With 40 day power reserve you don’t need to wind it too often.

And Max’s latest idea was a clock in the shape of a spider. Called Arachnophobia, Max Busser’s over active imagination was inspired by the giant spider sculpture “Maman” by Louise Bourgeois and bought to life by L’Epee. The legs are articulated and it can either sit on a desk or be mounted on a wall. 

Arachnophobia on the wall and Damien Beneteau’s  kinetic sculpture ‘Spatial Variation’ in front.

Some of myfavourite pieces were the ‘comma men’ by Chinese artist Xia Hang. These delightful, highly polished stainless steel sculptures are quite whimsical and fun.

Hanging on one wall was one of the most unique musical instruments I have ever seen. UlrichTeuffel began making and designing guitars when he was 14. At age 30 he radically changed his approach to guitar making by focusing on conceptual design. His BirdFish design is now ranked among the best guitars in the world and used by people such as Billy Gibbons(ZZTop), David Torn, Kirk Hammett(Metallica) and many more.

I have a thing for steam engines and had previously looked at these Bohm Stirling pieces on line. They do not rely on water to generate energy but heat from a small flame that heats up the engine and gets it going. There was even one that can be placed over a mug of coffee and is activated by the heat rising off the hot liquid, also acts as a coffee insulator.

Also on exhibit were the works of Damien Beneteau. Originally a photographer, Damien began working with light and creating kinetic ‘light sculptures’. Moving parts within the pieces change the way light plays on them. Quite mesmerizing and somehow hypnotic.

Videos of the pieces can be found at the following link:

For more on the artists featured at M.A.D Gallery including ones I haven’t mentioned visit their website

After a look around the gallery it was great to enjoy a catch up and lunch with Max. 

I had a wonderful 5 days in Geneva and were very glad to have had the chance to go.

I would like to thank James Kennedy and the wonderful team from LK Boutique for inviting me on the tour, Patek Philippe for their wonderful hospitality and the opportunity to visit the factories and learn more about their watch making and design processes. 

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Patek Philippe Factory Tour Day 4:

Day 4 saw us waking to sparkly blue skies again.

After our breakfast it was back on the bus and then to Plan les Ouates for our final visit to the Patek Philippe factory.

The morning saw us broken in to two groups again. One group went over to the service department while the other group was taken for a talk about the design and research and development of new watch models.

Our group first went for the design/R&D talk. Very interesting to hear how a watch is designed from sketch to model and then to prototyping. Sketches and 3D printed models are presented to a panel of 6 that includes Heads of design, R&D, Watchmaking,  Mr and Mrs Stern. After deliberation and critiques, go ahead is either given or the piece goes back for refinement or changes. Some pieces may take a year or two of playing around with before the final design is set.

It was very interesting to see and handle the 3D models. Several sizes are presented; a life size one, a large one, and then case and bracelet(if not on a leather strap) separately. Prototypes are made from a base metal after the go ahead is given and mock up movements are installed. These are then presented and critiqued again.

Dial designs and prototypes are also presented. We were able to see the samples of some of the enamel dials and the steps in their making. Enamelists are true artisans and the work they do on a small scale is astounding.

After our time learning about the design process it was time to swap with the other group and head to the service department.

In the service department we learnt about the amount of work and quality control that goes in to servicing Patek Philippe watches. We were then taken to see the head of servicing for the vintage watches. A team of 3, one master watchmaker and two junior watchmakers handle repairs and restorations of the vintage timepieces.

On display were some of the botch jobs that they are sent from people who just go to a bad watchmaker. One watch had a paperclip used in the repair!

The head watchmaker is so skilled at his work that he is able to tell when a part he is machining is not right just by the sound it makes. He is also able to hear it across the desk on work one of the junior watchmakers is doing.

The restoration department has a ‘library’ of information built up by the head watchmaker. While some parts are available, quite often the restoration department needs to manufacture their own parts based on the components in the watch they are restoring. This requires meticulous measuring and skilled hands and eyes. This information is then stored for future reference in the ‘library’.

After our visit to the restoration and service department it was time for lunch. This time we had a three course lunch in the cafeteria.

Entrée was a tasting plate or borscht, foie gras mosse on a croute, salmon and cream cheese roulade.

Main was duck breast with plums, roesti and seasonal vegetables.

Dessert was a delicious orange and chocolate ring.

After lunch we stretched our legs and had a look at the site where Patek Philippe is constructing a new expansion of the factory. This new building will see Cadrans Fluckiger move from St. Imier to Geneva, the case and jewellery departments will also move to the main site, relocation of the service centre and a watchmaking school.

We then jumped on the bus for the short drive to the case and jewellery departments. We saw first hand the machining and finishing of the cases, from a lump of precious metal or a lump of steel the case comes to shape in a CNC machine. It takes hours for the case be finished in the CNC before it heads off for polishing.

The polishing department was quite fascinating as well. Depending on the type of finishing (shiny, brushed, matt) the polisher will have a different approach and finishing method to the process. Some pieces such as the Nautilus bracelet require both a brushed and shiny finish, this then requires the futher step of ‘blocking’ the polished areas before applying the brushed finish.

The jewellery department is where those pieces that require stones to be set in the dial or case are finished. Cuff links and ladies jewellery pieces are also produced here. We were very lucky to be able to meet the gemologist for Patek Philippe. He travels the world looking for some of the most amazing stones. For example a row of around 20 flawless Zambian emeralds, a suite of 6 perfect ‘pigeons blood’ rubies and flawless diamonds. The stones don’t always get used straight away, it may take several years before a design comes along to utilize them. We were able to see one of the stone setters working on a pave diamond bracelet for a watch. 

After our tour of the case and jewellery departments it was back to the main factory for the final part of our afternoon and tour. An hour of inspecting the current novelties and standard production finished watches.

Trays of watches were passed down each side of the table, with plenty of time for looking, handling and asking questions. There were lots of exciting pieces to contemplate. 

Of course being a watch fanatic so I had around 8 favourite pieces.

After that it was back downstairs for our final farewell to our guides and rush back to the hotel for our final dinner of the trip.

Our venue for dinner was Auberge d’Onex, located in the suburb of Onex on the southern side of Geneva. Nestled amongst a lush garden, Auberge d’Onex  is housed in the building that was originally the clubhouse of the first golf club in Geneva. Cuisine is Italian and the owner/maître d’ is a very vivacious host. Prosecco was served on arrival in the front garden.

Auberge d’Onex is a homely and cosy restaurant, dark wood exposed beams on the ceiling, floral curtains, white clothed tables with comfortable wooden chairs. 

Red wine was the drink of the night, a lovely 3 year old Castello di Gabbiano Chianti Classico.

Baskets of bread were dotted around the table with some fantastic olive oil to dip it in. Antipasti was served from platters and included, grilled asparagus, grilled witlof, burrata cheese, artichokes, sausage, salamis, whitebait, grilled eggplant. My favourite had to be the burrata cheese, so creamy and soft. Servings were quite generous.

Main was a large whole fish that the staff bought out on a trolley and served to us with some caponata.

Before dessert bowls of peaches, plums, grapes, fresh dates, kiwi berries and small mangoes, were placed on the table. 

There was a choice of 6 desserts served from the dessert trolley. We were also offered grappa and house made Limoncello with dessert. I had the Tiramisu for my dessert, tasted fantastic even if it looks a bit messy on the plate.

After a fabulous dinner it was back to the hotel for our final sleep in Geneva.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Day 3 Part 2: Dinner in Gruyères

After our visit to Maison Cailler it was time to head to Gruyères. Located in the Canton of Fribourg, in the foothills of Mont Moléson, the fortress town of Gruyères is perched atop an 82 metre hill.

It is a fascinating old town with many of the buildings being beautifully maintained in their original style and centuries old cobble stone streets that made for an interesting walk.

The largest building in the town is Chateau de Gruyères (castle) built between 1270 and 1282 and now home to a museum.

Chateau St Germain, another important building within the town, was acquired by the artist H.R. Giger and now houses the H.R. Giger Museum and the Giger Café/Bar. Sadly time did not allow for a visit to either museum, which gives me a reason for a return trip to do so.

Gruyères is of course the area where that fabulous cheese of the same name comes from. Given that we were in Gruyères, it was only natural that dinner would be fondue. Our restaurant was Café – Restaurant des Remparts which, like many buildings in the town, is built in to the external wall of the town.

The outer walls of the town are situated on the edges of the hill and thus give amazing views out over the surrounding countryside. Our group was fortunate as soon after sitting down, the clouds parted and we were able to enjoy the view with a little sun before it set.

The interior of the restaurant is very traditional Swiss style. Lots of wood, red and white, lace and very homely touches. The ladies who served us were dressed fairly traditionally as well.

An entrée of salad and platters of cold meats with pickled onions and cornichons was presented first, shortly followed by fondue of vacherin and While I usually have 2 or 3 fondues a year at home, it was a revelation to have it in Switzerland. Steamed chat potatoes are served along with bread cubes. The fondue itself was thick, cheesy and creamy and totally delicious.

All that cheesy goodness was followed by a dessert of wonderful fresh berries, topped with luscious, thick Gruyère cream. The cream was served at the table by the waitress who came around with a wooden bowl that the cream had been set in and the scooped out with a paddle shaped spoon. The dollop of cream was VERY generous.

Walking outside after dinner it was lovely to see the town lit up in the twilight.

Day 3 was a very long day for our group as we arrived back at the hotel around 1030, but a day that was really fascinating and fantastic.