Today will be a truly special installment of The Collector’s Series. The kind of person and watch collection you’ll see once in a lifetime… Many people are collecting watches, but few of them have turned watch collecting into as much of an art as Patrick Getreide. The French businessman who started collecting four decades ago is not driven just for the sake of owning timepieces but by passion. We were lucky enough to meet him and take a look at his collection in Geneva a few days ago. Watch collectors are notoriously secretive, and their collections are rarely seen by anyone outside the collectors’ close circle. So it was a moment of sheer indulgence for us to take a look at so many exceptional timepieces gathered in the same place.
The good news is that Patrick Getreide has made a selection of watches and will be exhibiting them at the Design Museum in London in May. And there is much to look forward to. The OAK collection – which stands for One of A Kind – comprises 160 best-of-the-best vintage and contemporary museum-quality timepieces, including special orders and ultra-rare limited editions. Patrick Getreide also owns the largest number of Patek Philippe pieces (5 watches) once owned by the celebrated collector Henry Graves Jr.
Xavier Markl, MONOCHROME Watches – What is your background?
Patrick Getreide – I am Parisian, from a family of six children, and I started working very early. My father was my hero. He was ill and could no longer work, so I had to stop my studies at16. I entered professional life without graduating or going to university.
My love for watches started when I was 10 when I saw an Omega in a shop in Switzerland; it was instant love. With some help from my parents, I saved money and bought it. Unfortunately, it is no longer in my possession. I liked watches, but not as passionately as I do today. Another early memory was my dream of buying a Cartier Tank. So one day, I bet on our family horse that won a race and bought the Tank. Then things had to stop because I had to focus on working and couldn’t afford to buy watches. However, slowly but surely, I started to buy watches again. From Cartier to Universal, I bought watches from 50 different brands. And then one day, I came across Patek Philippe. I was in Paris; there was this 3970 chronograph perpetual calendar. It was magnificent. I ordered it, I had to wait, and when it came in, I did not have the money to pay for it. I made a deposit and paid for it over 18 months: but I got it.
It was hard to buy the watches I wanted in Paris. Watches were out of stock, or you were put on a waiting list. One day, I met Thierry Stern in the Patek Philippe Place Vendôme boutique during an event. We had a long conversation and I told him about the difficulty of buying watches. He told me to come meet him in Geneva, where I also met Patrick Cremers at the Geneva Boutique. Since then, we have met regularly and established an excellent relationship. What is extraordinary with Patek Philippe is that they make the best watches and the people are fantastic; this is very important. To me, it is not just about buying watches. The people making these watches are really important to me too. I genuinely love the people at Patek Philippe.
How was this passion for collecting ignited?
Naturally. It is only today that I realise what I have put together. I was just buying and storing the watches in a safe. Now that we are organising this exhibition, I realise what I have gathered over the years. I am very proud. I have been very consistent in acquiring exceptional watches, in superb condition, produced in very small numbers.
What are your guiding principles for buying.
As said, I only buy rare watches, produced in small numbers, in excellent condition. Then I am guided by passion. For example, the Patek Philippe 96 was not originally a watch I was dreaming of; 31mm feels a bit small for me. But after a while, I figured out that since I have one of the most exceptional collections of Calatravas in the world, I had to have this historically essential model. I got a platinum model first, and then, by a stroke of luck, I was offered a pink gold one in perfect condition from Gobbi Milano. Then I got a steel one, and more recently I bought a yellow gold one with the Gay Frères bracelet. So, I have the four metals today. To give you another example, I have two references – 2510 and 2511- for which I have two one-of-a-kind editions but missed out on other iterations. They are on my list, and if the right opportunity arises… This is how I buy watches. At other times, I simply fall in love with a watch. I am very demanding about quality.
Do you have a grail watch?
Impossible. There are too many I love.
Which are your favourite watches in your collection?
That’s impossible too. I could not pick. There are too many that I truly adore. For instance, I have exceptional one-of-a-kind Calatravas, and I could not pick a favourite. I have this superb pair of 570s from the 1940s, and when Thierry Stern offered me modern remakes of these (under reference 5196), I was thrilled.
I adore chronographs and chronometers. I have six different iterations of the reference 1579, including a one-of-a-kind. I love this reference. There are the 1518, the 2499 or the 3970… and then there are the cloisonné enamel watches. Initially, I was not into these enamel watches, but Patrick Cremers taught me to love these. As you can see, education is key.
You have been secretly collecting watches for years. Why do you plan to show them to the world?
This could not have been possible before. “A secret life is a happy life” has always been my motto. You will find very little information about me on the internet. I handed over the management of my businesses to my son. I did not want him to take over when he was over 50 years old. As I have more time, I realised that I had something truly exceptional in my hands. I consider watches as art pieces. I find it very strange that no watch collections are displayed in museums. It became an obsession for me to showcase watches as art pieces in a museum. It is also about sharing the passion with people. There are private collections of paintings in museums but not watches. Why?
You have been collecting for years. What is your perception of the evolution of the market?
I have lived it. What I can say is that watches are getting nicer and nicer. Modern watches are exceptional. I don’t know if this is true or simply because I am becoming more educated. There are so many brands to buy. I buy a lot from Patek, Rolex and independent watchmakers, but there are so many other brands. But from time to time, I buy from other brands; from Vacheron Constantin and others. I love Tudor too. They make beautiful, understated watches.
You were mentioning independents?
Once again, Patrick Cremers helped me a lot in understanding the independents. I have watches from Kari Voutilainen, Rexhep Rexhepi, from F.P. Journe, from Philippe Dufour…
How do you look after your watches?
This is essential for me. My watches are all in perfect condition and functioning. If they are not running, my watchmaker repairs them, and if this is not possible, he sends these to the brand for repair.
Who do you buy watches from? Auction houses?
I buy from different sources. I buy new watches from Patek Philippe or Rolex. There are people I trust from whom I buy watches. I prefer not to buy at auction because it is less discreet. However, if I see a watch I like at auction, I buy it. I have been buying watches from Aurel Bacs for years. There are few people like Aurel. He has a talent for finding exceptional watches, and he gives me precious advice.
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