Written by Paul Kerton
Everybody has a watch, but not everybody sports a $44,900, 18kt white gold, Patek Philippe Twenty-4. Everybody drinks out of a glass, but not everybody sips sundowners from an elegant, Baccarat Abysse crystal tumbler. Everybody sleeps, but not everybody retires to a hand-made Hästens bed…
The difference between an ordinary anything and a luxury something is the pedigree: the skill of the artisans involved, the quality of the raw materials used and the overriding craftsmanship that has been handed down from generation to generation, sometimes for two or three centuries, not forgetting the time taken to innovate, design, develop and perfect the production process.
TIME MARCHES ON
At the end of the 19th century, the fastest moving industry – the Silicone Valley of the era – was horology, as the seemingly perennial pocket watch gave way to a new era of classy wristwatches and innovative design.
In 1839 Polish pioneer, Antoni Patek, was making pocket watches in Geneva when he joined forces with the inventor of the keyless winding mechanism, French watchmaker Adrien Philippe. In 1851 they founded Patek Philippe & Co. setting the most stringent standards for the Swiss watch-making industry. Today, a self-winding watch runs for 1 200 hours before it leaves the workshop where 600 skilled Patek Philippe watch experts agonise over every piece.
It was a time for great partnerships and in 1852, watchmaker Constant Girard married Marie Perregaux. Together they formed Girard-Perregaux in 1856, throwing themselves into designing and manufacturing quality timepieces. A seismic breakthrough was in the air.
It was, however, Patek Philippe who pioneered ahead and created the world’s first wristwatch in 1868, condemning the humble pocket watch to yesterday’s fashion. They also pioneered the perpetual calendar, split-seconds hand, chronograph and minute repeater, among other watch technologies. But the wristwatch was the iPod moment of the time and it didn’t take too long before other top luxury brands, most notably Cartier, followed suit.
In 1904, while celebrating his ‘conquest of the air’ – a flight that rounded the Eiffel Tower – pilot Alberto Santos-Dumont complained to his friend Louis Cartier about the difficulty of checking his pocket watch while trying to control the plane. Cartier designed a wristwatch with a leather band and a small buckle. Santos-Dumont never took off again without his Cartier wristwatch. Cartier’s watch-making pedigree was born.
Apart from a useful daily tool and credible fashion statement, as an investment asset, watches are right up there with high art and property development. Early examples of Piaget, Rolex, Cartier, and Girard-Perregaux can fetch hundreds of thousands of dollars at today’s auctions.
In 1923, Patek Philippe produced a 24-function pocket watch for banker and railroad mogul, Henry Graves Jr. who wanted to outdo his friend, automobile mogul James Ward Packard. Packard countered by commissioning an even better, bigger, more expensive and more ‘complicated’ watch. Then Graves struck again, commissioning the world’s most intricately complex pocket watch known as ‘The Supercomplication’ that took five years to design and manufacture. In watch-making circles, the term ‘complication’ refers to extra features over and above hours, minutes, and seconds, one of which was a celestial chart based on the night sky over Manhattan. The Supercomplication was auctioned at Sotheby’s in December 1999 for US$11 000 000, (pls double check) by far the most expensive timepiece ever sold.
On April 10, 2008, “Sky Moon Tourbillon”, Patek Philippe’s first ever double-faced wristwatch in platinum, made the world record as the most expensive modern wristwatch sold at Hong Kong Sotheby’s for US$ 1.49 million. There are only four of Patek Philippe’s 5002P (which is the world’s most complicated double-faced wristwatch) – one in each metal – and these now retail for US$ 1 500 000.
One of the most famous, bespoke furniture makers in the world, is the Queen of England’s nephew, Viscount Linley. Not to be mistaken for a humble, jobbing carpenter, Linley is a Master Cabinetmaker with eye-watering prices to match. Working with only the finest woods and veneers, he produces beautiful, handmade, custom pieces, using the same techniques as Thomas Chippendale, the famous 18th century Yorkshire craftsman. Chippendale’s revolutionary book, published in 1785, The Gentleman & Cabinetmaker’s Director, (reprint available on Amazon US$15.61), is still revered as the foremost guide to furniture design. Carved tops, family crests and intricate knobs are all essential to Chippendale furniture, although his signature is the ‘cabriole leg’. Straight or curved, it always ends in a distinctive lion’s paw.
Linley has elevated the craft to a supreme level while adding his personal signature and a modern twist. Examples include his ‘Pont du Gard’ side-tables that take inspiration, elegance and detailing from the Sheraton style. Named after another English cabinetmaker – Thomas Sheraton – who, not to be outdone by Chippendale, also penned his own tome, Cabinet Maker’s and Upholsterer’s Drawing Book in 1791, (remarkably, also still available on Amazon US$ 26.63). Linley’s piece de resistance is his ‘Mozart Bureau’, celebrating the life of the composer, with velvet-lined drawers and secret compartments, using over twenty veneers in marquetry inlay.
(David Albert Charles Armstrong-Jones, Viscount Linley (born 3 November 1961), known professionally as David Linley, is an English furniture maker and chairman of the auction house Christie’s UK. The son of Princess Margaret, Countess of Snowdon, and Antony Armstrong-Jones, 1st Earl of Snowdon, he is a grandson of King George VI, and is 15th in the line of succession to the British throne and the thrones of the 15 other Commonwealth realms and heir-apparent to the Earldom of Snowdon).
MIGHTIER THAN THE SWORD
British company De La Rue claims to have developed the first practical (non-leaking) fountain pen in 1881, becoming a leading manufacturer of fountain pens marketed under the famous ‘Onoto’ brand. De La Rue ceased production in Britain in 1958, concentrating instead on manufacturing special papers for banknotes and ATMs, and holograms for credit cards. Onoto, however, still produces pens in the UK and is stocked at quality retailers such as Asprey of Bond Street.
It was Parker pens, founded by George Safford Parker in Wisconsin in 1888, that revolutionised writing. By creating quick-drying ink (‘Quink’) the need for blotting was eliminated and the Parker 51, the most widely used fountain pen in history, was developed – generating US$ 400 million worth of sales in a 30-year marketing cycle.
But by this time Montblanc had already cornered the market for luxury penmanship with their telltale snowcap branding, sleek designs and non-leak mechanisms. Montblanc, a German company – originally marketed under the less glamorous and desperately uncatchy name of ‘Simplo Filler Pen Company’ – was launched in 1908. The company’s first model was the Rouge Et Noir in 1909, and the first fountain pen, called the Meisterstück (German for masterpiece), was produced in 1925.
SUPERIOR NIGHT’S SLEEP
Hästens were making saddles long before making mattresses filled with the same horsehair. Founded in 1852, it is one of the oldest manufacturers of beds and mattresses in Sweden, guaranteeing its global clients a very sound sleep, every night. Hästens beds are filled with natural horsehair, flax, cotton and linen, and have met rigorous standards set by Oeko-Tex (limiting the use of toxic chemicals), and Mobelfakta (the international standard for environmentally-friendly furniture). All Hästens beds are hand made as the company believes that no machines can match the skill of their expert production team.
TOP OF THE GLASS
If you think the crafts of watchmakers and cabinet-making have a long history, then consider Baccarat. In 1764 (20 years before the French Revolution), the superior French crystal glassware people were producing luxurious items. Famed for crystal chandeliers that illuminated the grand halls of palaces throughout the world, today the glassware company boasts spectacular modern and classic creations by design darling Philippe Starck. All of Baccarat’s artisans undergo an eight-year apprenticeship before they become Master Craftsman – a thought that puts the expertise behind all craftsmanship well into perspective.
Break out quotes
“In 1868, Patek Philippe created the world’s first wristwatch, condemning the humble pocket watch to the back burner. It was the iPod moment of its time”
“All Hästens beds are hand-stitched as they believe that no machines can match the skills of their expert production team
Written by Paul Kerton