IF YOU’RE A WATCH ENTHUSIAST, you might want to read on. Last night in Melbourne, luxury watch retailer Kennedy played host to an exclusive new exhibition celebrating the art and craft of Swiss watchmaking excellence with Patek Philippe, an 184-year old watchmaker and one of the last truly independent, family-owned Genevan watch brands in existence. 

Those in attendance—and subsequently those who will secure their spot to attend the exclusive exhibition titled ‘A Passion for Workmanship’—were offered a glimpse into a curated collection of over 100 exceptional Patek Philippe timepieces, some unique limited-edition pieces on display for the very first time in Australia. The amalgamation of Patek Philippe’s storied history and modern day innovation will come to life through a special display of its 2023 novelties, as well as its foundational collection including Gondolo, Calatrva, Aquanaut, Twenty~4, Golden Ellipse and Nautilus timepieces, with Patek Philippe’s mastery in complications also on offer, including perpetual calendars, grand complications and chronographs.

Each timepiece represents a watchmaking feat of art and precision, at the hands of skilled artisans who dedicate their life to an unparalleled level of craftsmanship and horological excellence.

“For us at Kennedy, when we talk about workmanship, it’s really about celebrating the savoir faire of the watchmaking industry. It is centuries old, but even to this day, we rely heavily on antique expertise. Yet there’s always opportunities to add a modern spin to it,” explains Kennedy General Manager of Timepieces Debbie Kok.

“We would love to encourage organic conversations about watches. It’s rare that Australia gets to experience something like this so we’re very proud of this special exhibition and it’s a huge mark of trust that we’re able to bring this here on behalf of Patek Philippe.”

Esquire sat down with Kennedy’s general manager to discuss the intricacies behind this special watch exhibition and how the market for luxury timepieces is only growing in Australia.

Esquire Australia: Can you tell us a bit about what watch enthusiasts can expect to see at the exhibition between Kennedy and Patek Philippe?

Debbie Kok: Kennedy has been in talks with Patek Philippe in Geneva about doing something to this scale for some time. We’ve always come from a background where we wanted to provide more custodial education in the arena of watchmaking. And so it just seemed really natural to celebrate our decades long relationship with Patek Philippe in this way. And it was really important to pay homage to the dedication of the craftsmanship but also to Kennedy as we approach our 50th year anniversary, we’re still going strong with not only nurturing watch enthusiasts in Australia but really bringing some of the best collections of exclusive watchmaking brands into Australia.

Kennedy works with a great number of watch brands that pride themselves on craftsmanship and workmanship. In the spirit of this exhibition, what does workmanship mean to you and to the Kennedy brand?

I think our industry, like no other, is such a tactile group of individuals. We need to see, look, feel and talk about a watch to bring life to it. So for us at Kennedy, when we talk about workmanship, it’s really about celebrating the savoir faire of the watchmaking industry. It is centuries old, but even to this day, we rely heavily on antique expertise. Yet there’s always opportunities to add a modern spin to it. We will always celebrate the craft of an industry that can only be created by hand. This is not something that can really be replicated. And for us, it’s really about the never ending quest for expertise, precision, innovation, and artistry, yet still maintaining that great respect for those who have come before us.

Kennedy offers customers an insight into the world of luxury watch brands, all of which have a profound sense of history. But really, their success lies in the ability to interpret their history in contemporary ways—Patek Philippe does this exceptionally well, wouldn’t you agree?

Absolutely. When you look into the archives, Patek Philippe really is the ultimate exemplar of history married with innovation. If you look at the Calatrava ref. 96 for example, it was first launched in 1932… so that’s almost 90 years old and it looks almost exactly the same as the Calatrava that is so loved today. So I don’t think in any other industry, you could really take a design that’s lasted for over nine decades and people still are knocking on doors to get one.

Are you seeing a trend of customers wanting a more refined, elegant timepiece as opposed to watches that are bigger, bolder and louder?

I think it’s really interesting looking at the patterns of our sales over the last couple of months. We have really noticed this return to more elegant and discreet timepieces across all of our brands within our portfolio. This year, it’s all about a dramatic uptake in the classic and dress watch category across all brands. And I foresee this trend is here to stay. But when we say elegant and discreet, it doesn’t mean any less significant at all. Clients are wanting to buy better. There is an appetite for more complications on those same watches, [as well as] precious metals or even precious stones. So when you’re looking at dress watches, it might not be their first or their second watch that they’ll purchase or own. And therefore, they’re looking at poetic complications like skeletonised movements, moon phases, small seconds. It almost serves as a talking point, a reference of their maturing collection and their maturing taste.

How would you describe the Australian watch customer?

I think it’s so interesting because it’s really not that simple. It makes our job more fun, but we’re finding the client database varies by state. For example, our Perth clientele is really sort of distinguished and enjoys pieces that are flashy, larger in diameter, perhaps solid gold. But in Sydney and Melbourne, you will always find customers interested in your classic divers, your pilots, which are always the top sellers, but we’re seeing a real shift more in subtlety. Think thin dress watches with a classic leather strap that will go very well under a suit.

How have you seen the watch market evolve in Australia over the last five years?

In my last five years at Kennedy, a lot of people are now really talking about their first watch purchase or their next watch purchase or their milestone watch purchase. It’s become so much more ingrained into Australian culture. I think what we’ve done really well is getting away from that notion of simply owning a watch as a status symbol. Today, you’re really buying a watch that speaks to you. The complications are really poetic. Watch dials are also quite specific, but there’s so much variety in the industry that, with all the information available to customers, you’re no longer just buying one watch that takes you from A to B; there’s different watches that you’ll need for different occasions. The watch industry is also becoming increasingly more transparent. Customers are gaining a better understanding of how watch brands work, what goes on behind the scenes—it’s lifting the veil on a very mysterious industry.

You mentioned that watch exhibitions are a great exercise in building brand awareness. What do you hope visitors will take away from this experience and can we see more exhibitions like this in the future, perhaps?

I think so. When we first launched this exhibition, we weren’t entirely sure if it would appeal to the general public. We knew collectors would love this and it’s rare that they get to experience all of Patek Philippe’s splendour in one location. But what we didn’t expect was that on the first weekend of launching on Eventbrite, our tickets were 50 percent booked out by the general public alone. So I think to your point, yes, absolutely  we will do this again. It’s really important to share, first of all, the values of Patek Philippe and all the values that they hold near and dear about their excellence and their expertise. But it’s also to build stronger relationships, not only between the attendees and the brand, but it’s also about satisfying the element of curiosity and encouraging that element of curiosity. We would love to encourage organic conversations about watches. It’s rare that Australia gets to experience something like this so we’re very proud of this special exhibition and it’s a huge mark of trust that we’re able to bring this here on behalf of Patek Philippe.

As the year comes to a close, what’s 2023 been like for the watch industry, not just from a sales perspective, but from the point of view of new releases and developments?

In 2023, there’s been an increased focus on brands creating novelties, collections that have longevity and that tell a story. It’s been about making timepieces that are not only wearable, but they’re wearable objects of art and they really hold their value. I’m sure you saw last week, the minute repeater that Patek Philippe released with its assortment of rainbow diamonds – it’s the first time we’re seeing an Aquanaut with a minute repeater function. It’s about really combining a lot of complications and making the industry super elevated in a way that has never been done before. Yes, we talk about subtlety and we talk about understated discreet dressing, but there are also clients who are buying significantly better and absorbing a lot more of a qualitative timepiece and buying higher into the portfolio.

It’s also really interesting for us where we saw it’s been a year that ladies watches have continued to become a focus – we’re seeing a wider ranger dedicated to ladies, but also more interesting movements across the category. And I think you would have seen from certain brands this year, it’s about reinvigorating a lot of vintage inspiration and bringing them to life with modern interpretations. From Kennedy’s perspective, this year has been about bridging the gap between our customers and the brands. We’re having more brand-led experiences, brand events, and making sure that the customers are a lot more engaged.

You can experience A Passion for Workmanship Exhibition at The Ritz Carlton Melbourne from 1 to 3 December, by appointment only. Book your tickets here.