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Amazing trompe-l'oeil Azulejos in genuine enamelBASELWORLD 2017: The Calatrava "Azulejos" Ref. 5089G

Timed to coincide with Baselworld 2017, Patek Philippe is presenting two limited edition Calatrava models that combine the legendary ultra-thin self-winding caliber 240 movement with a further special skill promoted by the manufacture that is of great significance from a cultural history standpoint: artisanal decorations that at Patek Philippe are collectively referred to as rare handcrafts.

The category embraces techniques such as engraving, enamel arts, and guilloching, to name just a few. All of them are being kept alive with great dedication and handed down from one generation to the next to prevent them from becoming extinct. In the case of the new Calatrava "Azulejos" Ref. 5089G-61 and -062, it is the art of miniature painting on enamel which gained world fame in the 18th and 19th centuries and now, for the first time, is being used to depict so-called azulejo motifs.

Azulejo refers to a form of artistry of Arabic origin which in Portugal and southern Spain gained widespread recognition. Individual square ceramic tiles are assembled in a mosaic-like fashion to create murals that adorn extravagant villas as well as many buildings, walls, and façades in public spaces. The fascinating tile ensembles are extremely weather resistant and can withstand significant temperature fluctuations, torrential rainfall as well as the salty air in coastal regions. They can easily survive even centuries of exposure. Azulejos can be multicolored or monochrome, whereby blue is particularly commonplace. For Sandrine Stern, Head of Watch Creation at Patek Philippe, it was particularly enticing to reproduce this art in miniature painting on enamel, a rare handcraft to which the manufacture is deeply committed. Together with her husband, manufacture president Thierry Stern, she was determined to create a series of rare handcrafts wristwatches in limited editions featuring dials with azulejo motifs in fascinating blue nuances.

Art for the watch

To craft a wristwatch dial in genuine ceramic would be illusory. But reproducing a monochrome blue azulejos mosaic with miniature painting on enamel is an artisanal discipline now experiencing a world premiere at Patek Philippe. The two Calatrava models – Ref. 5089G-061 (The barge) and 5089G-062 (The porter) – exhibit the uniqueness of this art form. Each portrait is applied to a thin round plate in 18K gold that serves as a canvas for the miniature enamel painting. As a first step, the back of the plate must be covered with a so-called contre-émail coating that prevents the deformation of the dial in the subsequent firing passes at 800 to 850°C in the enamel kiln. This is followed by the application of a white enamel primer on the front side. Layer by layer, the artist then adds enamel paints in various shades of blue to recreate, with as much fidelity as possible, the template – a large-format azulejo – on the confines of a small dial. Using the trompe l'oeil technique, the ceramic look is imitated to a stunning degree, as if the dial were composed of many tiny tiles. When performing this precision work, the enamel artist relies on a binocular microscope and uses brushes that consist of a single badger hair when painting particularly minuscule details. The enamel compounds for the different colors are prepared with finely ground glasslike powders blended with metal oxides and specific oils to obtain the desired hues. The artist must also consider in advance that firing can change the saturation and shade of the individual colors, so the constituents of the compound must be adjusted accordingly. In a painstaking process, one enamel layer after another is applied and fired, always with the risk that the smallest mistake in the oven settings would cause irreversible damage to the dial. The creation of a single azulejos dial calls for a dozen firing passes. After each one, the workpiece must be slowly cooled in a controlled manner to prevent stress cracks in the enamel compound. In the end, the finished miniature is sealed with a highly transparent enamel coating that preserves the beauty of the motif for all time.

Art in the watch

To keep the focus on the magnificent enamel dial, the classic round Calatrava case in 18K white gold is very understated with a smoothly polished bezel and lugs that are gently fluted from the caseband. The same applies to the puristically straight Dauphine hands in 18K white gold. In the Ref. 5089G-061 (The barge), they have a silvery shine. In the Ref. 5089G-062 (The porter), they stand out with a blue PVD coating. They are advanced precisely and reliably by the caliber 240, an ultra-thin self-winding movement with an off-center recessed minirotor in 22K gold. Even though it is celebrating its 40th anniversary in 2017, the caliber fulfills all of the requirements of the Patek Philippe Seal, known to be the strictest set of quality specifications in the industry. They assure not only superb rate accuracy (-3 to +2 seconds per day) but also mandate perfect finissage with decorative Geneva striping, polished chamfers, gold-filled engravings and much more. The movement showcases its beauty with the sapphire-crystal case back protected by a hinged cover in 18K white gold. The exquisite appearance of these watches is underscored by a hand-stitched black alligator strap with large square scales, traditionally secured with a prong buckle in 18K white gold.

With their azulejo-style enamel dials and the ultra-thin anniversary caliber 240, the new Ref. 5089G Calatrava watches are true masterpieces that will never cease to attract the attention of collectors and watch enthusiasts. And even though these watches are being offered in limited editions, each one is truly unique because every single dial is crafted by hand and no two dials are ever identical.