Monday, April 4, 2016

Patek Philippe Factory Tour: Day 4

The fourth day of the tour saw me waking to sparkly blue skies again.
After breakfast it was back on the bus and then out 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 of borscht, foie gras mousse 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 on 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. 
Being a die hard watch fanatic I  had a few 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. I was able to grab a few early evening shots before our group got on the bus.
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.
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. 
We had a choice of 6 desserts served from the dessert trolley. We were also offered grappa and house made Limoncello with dessert. I chose my favoruite Italian dessert, tiramisu 
After a fabulous dinner it was back to the hotel for the final sleep in Geneva. 

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

Patek Philippe Factory Tour: Day 3 Dials, Chocolate and Cheese

Day 3 saw the group have an extra early start. We had a 2 ½ hour drive to the dial factory at St. Imier in the Canton of Jura. Under grey skies and a light shower we boarded our bus and headed out of Geneva along the lake. Once we were out of the city we drove through beautiful green countryside with the occasional rainbow.  
Cadrans Flückiger S.A. is a subsidiary company of Patek Philippe. They specialize in the manufacture and finishing of dials. Not only do they make dials for Patek Philippe, they also do dials for companies suchas Audemars Piguet and IWC amongst others. It was fascinating to learn that a dial can have anywhere from 40 to 70 processes applied to it. 
Enamelling and engraving are also carried out at Cadrans Flückiger and we were fortunate to be able to see the artisans working at both techniques. Enameling is very pretty but the amount of work involved explains why the pricing can be quite a bit more for a watch. The engraving studio also had several guilloché machines dating back to the 1800’s still being used.

Lunch was at a hotel i stayed at several years ago, the Beau Rivage Neuchatel. Not associated with the Beau Rivage Geneva, this stately hotel is also situated by a lake, Lake Neuchatel to be precise. It was nice to return even if for a little while.
Memories of  dinner on my last visit had me anticipating the wonderful lunch that awaited us. 
The wild mushrooms in puff pastry were really tasty and the freshness of the mushrooms was evident in the level of flavor.
Main course was a simply prepared chicken supreme, with vegetables and a chorizo cream sauce. The sauce had a nice spiciness to it.
Dessert was an apple tart tatin, beautifully presented and very delicious!
After lunch we had time for a quick walk outside.
Views of the beautiful town of Neuchatel.
After our fantastic lunch it was back on to the bus. Our next destination was to a visit to the chocolate factory of  Maison Cailler, located in Broc, up in to the mountains of La Gruyere. Part of the Nestle Group, Maison Cailler was founded in the early 1800’s by Francois-Lois Cailler. Over the next 100 or so years the manufacturing of chocolate was perfected with the ultimate secret to creaminess being the use of condensed milk made from the high quality milk from the cows of the region.
We took part in a tour of the factory which started with a series of rooms, each depicting a different period in the history of chocolate. From the Aztecs to the Conquisatadors, the arrival of chocolate in Europe, right up to the founding of Maison Cailler and the 20th century. Very interesting and well done.
 After the history rooms you start in to the factory proper. Glass walls separate the factory from the tour area where displays and samples of ingredients are arranged. An audio device is given to each tour member at the start and when held to an icon at each display you learn more about the ingredients and where they are from. There is also information on the farmers/growers and their locations in the world.
And of course you can’t finish a chocolate factory tour without trying some freshly made chocolate.
We also had time for a bit of chocolate retail therapy.
After visiting Maison Cailler it was time to head to the hill town of Gruyères. Located in the Canton of Fribourg, in the foothills of Mont  Moléson, the medieval fortress town is perched atop an 82metre hill.
It is a fascinating old town with many of the buildings being beautifully maintained in their original style and old cobble stone streets that make 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 us 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. We were fortunate that 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 country 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 Gruyère cheese.
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 bythe waitress who came around with a wooden bowl that the cream had been set in and the scooped out with a paddle shaped spoon. Very naughty but sooo good!!

Walking outside after dinner it was lovely to see the town lit up in the twilight.
Day 3 was a very long dayfor our group as we returned to the hotel around 1030 but a day that was really fascinating and fantastic.