Last month Patrick Getreide, a passionate collector who has spent the past four decades quietly building what is undoubtedly one of the world’s greatest privately-owned collections of wrist and pocket watches, made his collection freely available for all to see in a remarkable international touring exhibition.
The OAK Collection exhibition (OAK stands for ‘One of A Kind’) comprises 160 vintage and contemporary museum quality watches, among which are unrepeatable special orders, ultra-rare limited editions, the most valuable examples of their type and the largest number of Patek Philippe pieces once owned by the celebrated collector Henry Graves Jr. to now be held in private hands.
Every watch is in truly perfect condition, with the majority of examples being new or virtually unworn. All are serviced on a regular basis by a highly experienced watch maker whose working life is dedicated to maintaining the collection which, having been patiently gathered and never previously revealed, could fairly be described as one of the watch world’s ‘best kept secrets’.
Tour coming to U.S.
The OAK Collection exhibition was first unveiled in London on May 19 before embarking on a global tour. (We’ll alert our readers about the location and date for the collection’s stop in the United States.)
Getreide is a remarkable individual filled with exquisite passion to watchmaking and fine horology. He has amassed the OAK Collection (which comprises more than 600 pieces in total) and is happy to share the story of why and how he came to covet, and eventually own, many of the finest watches in the world.
“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. 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,” Getreide says.
“As soon as I achieved a moderate level of success, I began to buy watches at prices I could afford,” he explains. “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 explains.
Over the decades Getreide has built up a small, tight-knit network of experts whom he has come to know and trust and who are now the only people through whom he acquires additions to the OAK Collection.
In the early stages of creating it, however, he would seek-out rarities everywhere he went.
“As I traveled 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. It was a steel Patek Philippe Reference 130 Sector, and when I saw it, I began to shake.
“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 continues, “I really do see owning them as an honor and, with that, comes an obligation to let others enjoy them.”
Showing the collection
Although Getreide has long wanted to show his watches to other enthusiasts, it was his son who originally suggested doing so by means of a global exhibition having spent a lifetime observing his father’s undying passion for horology.
“I have not been involved in acquiring watches for the collection, but I have been on the margins of it for as long as I can remember,” he explains.
“It has taught me that true collectors are a rare breed who simply never lose interest in the subject they love, but only want to learn more about it. There have been many occasions when I have found my father, very late at night or in the early hours of the morning, poring over watch books either alone at his desk or lying in bed, with dozens of reference works spread out around him.
“As a boy, for example, I quickly grew to understand that when he suggested we looked at a few watches on a Saturday afternoon, it would be a case of spending five hours at his side hearing about every detail and every nuance. And as for shopping for watches with him – that was always a painfully embarrassing experience for me, because he would ask endless questions to ensure that whatever he was considering buying met with his exceptional standards. Nothing must have been tampered with, cases must not be polished, dials must not have been retouched. Originality is key and the overall condition must only be pristine. These have always been the golden rules.”
The OAK Collection was displayed at The Design Museum London within a series of bespoke-designed, interconnected rooms that were recreated at each location and have taken the viewer on a tranquil horological journey comprising eleven sections, each of which could be described as a ‘chapter’ of time that encapsulates the Getreide’s appreciation of specific genres of watch, from simple, three-hand models to high complication pieces.
The maker most strongly represented in the exhibition is Patek Philippe. Vintage Patek Philippe models include references once owned by noted individuals including the musician Eric Clapton and the actor Jean-Paul Belmondo, as well as pieces that were developed for particular uses or which display the maker’s mastery of rare hand crafts such as enameling and engraving.
Also remarkable is the OAK Collection’s extraordinary holding of Patek Philippe watches that once belonged to the legendary patron Henry Graves Jr, the late banker and railroad tycoon who, between 1922 and 1951, commissioned no fewer than thirty-nine watches from the revered maker.
Of those, only around thirty are believed to have survived, five of which form part of the OAK Collection. The only larger selection of Graves watches belonging to a single entity is that on show at the Patek Philippe museum, which holds thirteen.
The Patek Philippe models in the OAK Collection account for six of the exhibition’s 11 sections, covering Calatrava, Nautilus, World Time and perpetual calendar/ complication models in addition to the aforementioned Graves and rare handcraft pieces.
But while the collector focuses strongly on the work of Patek Philippe, he does not do so exclusively. As a Rolex connoisseur, he has allocated three significant sections of the exhibition to its pieces, and has also dedicated an area to watches made by the ‘new age’ independents, notably Francois-Paul Journe and Kari Voutilainen. Getreide’s commitment to modern makers is further demonstrated in the fact that, during the eight editions of the biennial Only Watch charity auction, he has been the most prolific buyer, accruing no fewer than ten unique pieces with dial names as diverse as Kari Voutilainen, H.Moser, and Chanel.
Source: The OAK Collection
iW Chats with Patrick Getreide
Vasken Chokarian, Publisher iW Middle East: Since you started buying watches to collect, did you ever imagine or think that you will get to where you are right now?
Patrick Getreide: Never. Absolutely not.
Your Patek Philippe collection at the OAK project presentation in The Design Museum in London is scary. I was stunned to see those amazing one of a kind watches, vintage or modern, collected by one person. Why Patek Philippe?
They are simply the best. They are the “Ferrari” of watches. They are the only ones to produce excellence in every category of watchmaking: complication, sport, classical etc…
Is your passion for collecting fine timepieces driven commercially?
Not driven at all by commercial objectives. I have never sold any of my timepiece except one piece only since I started collecting.
What advice do you give to today’s collectors who find it difficult to acquire watches they wish to collect?
Save money – learn a lot about watchmaking – patience.
Why present the OAK Collection, especially at such a global size and exposure?
To bring forth and present the fine watch making as a piece of art. My second objective was to be able to share it with the public.
Are you still collecting or there comes a time when you say it’s enough?
The more the time passes the more I love collecting watches. The passion remains intact.
What would be the first thing that appeals to you when you decide to go for a watch?
The dial attracts me first, then I feel some chills that make think this watch is for me.
How important are auctions to collectors? What other ways have you followed to collect watches?
Auctions are indeed very important but I also buy from some professionals.
What would you say if someone approached you today to buy it all? Would you sell? Why?
I would say “NO !” – I am not a sales man but a “buyer”…
iW Middle East has been supporting independent watchmakers for more than two decades. However there are so many who popped out during the last decade as independent watchmakers, some making “limited” watch collections and in doing so hiking up prices to unusual and sometimes illogical levels. What is your input on that practice?
That means that the watch market is in big expansion, we never have to complain about that. Moreover certain new indies could be the “big” watchmakers of tomorrow.
Where would you classify your drive and passion when it comes to buying a watch even though you are advised not to?
My experts explain to me about some watches particularities but at the end, it’s only me who makes my decision. Always.
The first that struck me about you is your humble and intellectual personality. How difficult is it for collectors to communicate and deal with watchmaking brands who are famed for their arrogance?
If arrogance is felt, it is very simple, I am not interested. Those who are arrogant – and there are many – I don’t buy their brands. Because I was raised learning that you should always respect the customer.
Which timepiece or an horology piece that you always wanted to have but you couldn’t?
A Patek Philippe 1518R , pink on pink, moonphase.