‘Best kept secrets’ unveiled in new exhibition of rare watches at Design Museum

By Juliet Herd | 18 May 2022 | Design

The OAK Collection exhibition, entitled ‘One of a Kind’, showcases an extraordinary array of vintage and contemporary museum-quality watches

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More than 160 of the world’s finest watches will go on display at London’s Design Museum this week for the first time, ranging from unique limited edition and personalised contemporary models to handcrafted and rare pieces by renowned makers such as Patek Philippe, Francois-Paul Journe and Kari Voutilainen.

The exhibition is all the more exceptional because of how unusual it is for owners to share such rare and valuable pieces but this particular collector, French businessman Patrick Getreide, is making them freely available as part of a unique international touring show. 

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The display is divided into 11 sections, each of which represents a ‘chapter’ of time, encapsulating the collector’s appreciation of a variety of watch-making styles and models. It includes unrepeatable special orders, the most valuable examples of their type and the largest number of Patek Philippe pieces once owned by the celebrated collector and railroad tycoon Henry Graves Jnr. to now be held in private hands. There are also vintage Patek models once owned by the likes of the musician Eric Clapton and the actor Jean-Paul Belmondo.

All the watches are in impeccable condition, with most being new or virtually unworn, and are serviced regularly by a highly experienced watch maker whose working life is dedicated to maintaining the collection, considered to be one of the watch world's 'best kept secrets’. 

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Getreide, who owns more than 500 precious timepieces, first became fascinated by horology at the age of ten after spotting an Omega in a shop in Switzerland, where he went to boarding school. While he couldn’t afford to buy a watch then, it incentivised him to become an entrepreneur.

"As a young boy at boarding school in Switzerland, I lived among the children of some of the world's wealthiest people - but all I had was a small, weekly pocket money allowance,” he says. “I didn't feel envy, but I did want to be like these people and their parents. It gave me what I call 'the Count of Monte Cristo syndrome', a determination to achieve a level of success that would give me freedom to do the things I loved." 

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"As soon as I achieved a moderate level of success, I began to buy watches at prices I could afford," he continues. "Gradually, that amount increased and, little by little, the watches became better and the passion for collecting them became stronger. Perhaps strangely, I never thought of the financial aspect or that values might rise - but, thankfully, I seem to have bought the right ones at the right time!”

He recalls his excitement on spotting rarities such as the Patek Philippe Reference 130 Sector. "As I travelled the world on business, I would always look for watches - but it was at a flea market in France 35 years ago that I think I acquired my greatest bargain,” he says of the watch. “When I saw it, I began to shake. 

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But while the collector focuses strongly on the work of Patek Philippe, he’s also a Rolex connoisseur and has allocated three sections of the exhibition to its pieces. The display ends with a look to the future and the contemporary watchmakers that Getreide supports as the next generation of master craftspeople. 

"I see being able to send The OAK Collection exhibition around the world both as a reward to myself for building it and as a unique opportunity to share it with the many people who are just as passionate about watches as I am, but have not been as fortunate as me in having the time and the means to acquire so many special pieces,” he says. “I really do see owning them as an honour and, with that, comes an obligation to let others enjoy them."

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The OAK Collection is on display at The Design Museum, London W8 6AG, from 19 May to 25 May.

designmuseum.org