Cortina Watch celebrates 50th anniversary with Patek Philippe rare handcrafts exhibition

'Once Upon a Virtuosity' includes a look at enamelled dome table clocks inspired by Singapore's landscape.

Three of the dome table clocks that Cortina Watch has collected are intimately connected with Singapore (All photos: Cortina Watch)

Cortina Watch is no ordinary retailer. Founded in 1972 as a humble, single-store family business in Singapore, the group is now a distinguished public-listed enterprise with over 45 boutiques across the region, including in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Hong Kong, Taiwan and Australia, its expanded presence taking into account its recent acquisition of Sincere Watch. Boasting unmatched horological expertise, Cortina, founded by the Lim family, has over the years journeyed with multiple generations of connoisseurs and remains committed to bringing an extensive, intricately curated selection of preeminent haute horlogerie brands to its legions of enthusiasts. Cortina, which remains family-run and owned, celebrates its 50th anniversary this year.

Patek Philippe is no ordinary watchmaker. For over 180 years without interruption, the maison has been working to preserve Geneva’s proud heritage in watchmaking artistry. As the last independent, family-owned manufacturer, it enjoys total creative freedom in the development and production of timepieces that specialists consider to be some of the finest in the world — in line with the ambitions and expectations of the company’s founders Antoine Norbert de Patek (1839) and Jean Adrien Philippe (1845). Thanks to its exceptional know-how, Patek Philippe can look back on a tradition of innovation crowned by over 100 patents. It has been run by the Sterns since 1932.

These two family-run companies have shared a long-standing working relationship based on the shared values of excellence, with the Lims and the Sterns forging a friendship that spans generations. Indeed, it was Anthony Lim’s personal interest in the rare handcrafts used in watchmaking that led him to start building his own collection of artistic timepieces from Patek Philippe, which peaked in Cortina’s acquisition of four exquisite dome clocks over the years.


The Ref 20145M-001 "Singapore Skyline" features some of the island’s most iconic waterfront details

Patek Philippe may be most famous today for its wristwatches, but its dome clocks are just as emblematic of the brand. These clocks, like many of its Rare Handcraft timepieces, are unique creations featuring a multitude of different crafts in one object. One of the most important of these is enamelling, with each landscape on the clock crafted by one single artist, who would work for hundreds and thousands of hours to depict each scene. When considering large-format timekeepers, the dome clock stands shoulder-to-shoulder with two other haute horological icons — Jaeger-LeCoultre’s Atmos and Cartier’s Mystery Clock. Patek Philippe’s dome clocks are exceptionally rare, with very few models made each year.

Three of the dome table clocks that Cortina Watch has collected are intimately connected with Singapore. The first is the Ref 1677M “Esplanade”, created for the republic’s Golden Jubilee in 2015. It features the geometric design of the Esplanade’s shell, with a splash of fireworks across the clock. The second is the Ref 20094M-001 “Bay of Singapore” that was created for the Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition, hosted in Singapore in 2019. Finally, the Ref 20145M-001 “Singapore Skyline” features the island nation’s beautiful urban landscape and was crafted to commemorate 50 years of partnership between Patek Philippe and Cortina Watch.

An upcoming showcase of Patek Philippe’s rare handcrafted timepieces, Once Upon a Virtuosity, includes a look at these stunning creations. Organised as part of Cortina’s 50th anniversary celebrations, the exhibition makes its final pit-stop in Malaysia on Oct 10 and is open to the public to view.

Once Upon a Virtuosity marks the debut presentation of Ref 20145M-001 “Singapore Skyline” to the public. This unique piece, crafted in Grand Feu cloisonné enamel, features Singapore’s waterfront skyline from the Merlion to the Central Business District, the Esplanade and across to Marina Bay Sands. The picturesque scene is depicted in 50 enamel colours, some of which are unique to this clock. On the dome, a cascade of fireworks with 50 gold stars, made with gold and silver dust, celebrate Cortina Watch’s Golden Jubilee. The final dome clock that will be exhibited is the Ref 20040M-001 “Twilight Taipei”, created to commemorate the first Patek Philippe boutique established in the city. Managed by Cortina Watch, it is located in Taiwan’s tallest skyscraper, Taipei 101. Naturally, the retailer acquired this clock to immortalise this important milestone in its history.


The Patek Philippe Ref 5057R-001 in rose gold and Ref 5057G-010 in white gold

Additionally, the exhibition will showcase some of the specialised equipment used by Patek Philippe as well as digital displays showing videos of the maison’s artisans demonstrating traditional techniques, so that audiences can understand the effort and painstaking work each of these timepieces demand. Also on display will be the Silver and Golden Jubilee timepieces created by Patek Philippe for Cortina. The Ref 5057R-001 in rose gold and Ref 5057G-010 in white gold — made for Cortina’s 25th and 50th anniversary respectively — feature a moon phase and analogue date display with power reserve indication, and are unique to to the retailer. Each bears a transfer print on the sapphire caseback referencing the anniversary of the retailer.

Patek Philippe’s rare handcrafts exhibition runs the gamut from guilloché to engraving, marquetry, gem-setting and, of course, enamelling. And among the pieces that are a part of the exhibition, none are as coveted as its dome table clocks, unique creations that represent a true mastery of each craft. It is quite rare to get a chance to see four clocks together, the designs of which are inspired by places that have a connection to us. Watchmaking exhibitions of this nature do not make it to our neck of the woods often enough, especially those highlighting the ancient crafts that the maison champions.

It is gratifying indeed that Patek Philippe and Cortina are presenting local connoisseurs with this opportunity. Then again, Once Upon a Virtuosity is no ordinary exhibition.


'Once Upon a Virtuosity' will be held from Oct 10 to 23 at the Patek Phillippe boutique in Suria KLCC.

This article first appeared on Oct 10, 2022 in The Edge Malaysia.

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