Patek Philippe and the Sterns: A Jewish question

November 24, 2016 23:06

There we stood, a group of four, gormlessly peering into a glass cabinet which contained the Patek Philippe exhibition’s crowning glory.

The Grandmaster Chime – which is now being displayed at the Saatchi Gallery on London’s King’s Road – is the most complicated wristwatch the luxury Swiss firm has ever made.

The double-face reversible watch – launched to mark the company’s 175th anniversary – has proved to be the exhibition’s focal talking point.

Beneath its ornately engraved 18-carat gold case, tick 1,366 movement components. It boasts a perpetual calendar, second time zone, leap year cycle and alarm clock set to impress even the most mechanically minded – except the man who had his nose pressed against the glass opposite me.

“Bet it weighs a ton! I wouldn’t wear one,” he snorted. “Would rather have a Rolex,” he added, walking off.

With all due respect, I do not think he had a choice in the matter.

A Grandmaster Chime takes no less than seven years to make – and the last watch (yes, it is still a watch) retailed for no less than £1.7 million. One exhibition guide told me that the figure was “nothing” compared to what it would sell for now. There are only two in the world (one is on display) and another four are in the process of being made.

Patek Philippe has long looked after society’s upper echelons. At the Watch Art Grand Exhibition, you will also find Queen Victoria’s royal blue pendant watch and a pearl bracelet watch owned by Queen Elizabeth – a piece of jewellery so beautiful, I stopped the queue behind me for longer than was courteous.

And it is clear that the company’s success lies in the vision of the family who run it: the Sterns.

The company, we were told, has been owned by the Stern family since 1932. Its President Thierry Stern took over from his father Philippe in 2010.

“Definitely Jews,” said my friend. “What makes you so sure?” I replied. “Don’t be ridiculous, of course they are. The Sternsssss” he added, waving us onto the next room.

Well, these Sterns are not.

Working at the JC, I often have to put a cringe-worthy question to unsure PRs.

“Hope this is not too awkward – a bit of a silly question I know,” I grimace. “But you know the people you work for, the creatives, the businessmen and women, the celebrities who have done more in life than be born into a religion – I just wanted to confirm, well, are they Jewish?”

The question can be instigated by a surname – or a tip-off from a caller.

Take for example, Kate Middleton. I still get asked whether the Duchess of Cambridge – whose can trace her family history back to a ‘Goldsmith’ – is a Jewish princess?

Well no, she is not either.

The fact remains, our community loves to claim Jewish people. We take pride in knowing that David Beckham’s dad is Jewish. People enjoyed watching Natalie Portman play opposite Scarlett Johansson in ‘The Other Boleyn Girl’ – partly because, they are both Jewish girls too.

And staying on topic, no Jewish princess worth her salt would bypass the chance the spot a sparkler set off by Graff Diamonds, which yes, is owned by British Jew Laurence Graff.

But today, I have refused to let the Sterns not being Jewish stop me writing about the wonderful exhibition at the Saatchi Gallery (which yes, was opened by Charles Saatchi, a British Jew).

The Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition runs at the Saatchi Gallery until June 7

November 24, 2016 23:06

Want more from the JC?

To continue reading, we just need a few details...

Want more from
the JC?

To continue reading, we just
need a few details...

Get the best news and views from across the Jewish world Get subscriber-only offers from our partners Subscribe to get access to our e-paper and archive