A collector will share his watches, but not his name. At least not yet.


LONDON – When is a watch exhibition also a mystery?

When the owner of the collection wants to remain anonymous until just a few days before the opening of the exhibition, and even the museum that will host him is exceptionally light on details.

The exhibition, titled “The Oak Collection”, is to be shown at the Design Museum in Kensington, central London, for one week only, from December 10-16. Entrance will be free.

Soak in and you can miss it. Questions to the museum’s curator about the collection went unanswered and his public relations department said only the collector’s representatives based in Switzerland could answer the questions in detail.

A few weeks before the event, even the information on the museum’s website was minimal. Four clicks after the landing site opened a page that described the “inaugural display” of an unidentified collector’s “carefully curated” lot of more than 100 “of the world’s finest watches.”

He said the exhibition would be organized into chapters capturing “the collector’s appreciation of specific types of watches – from simple three-hand models to more complicated pieces,” including some by Patek Philippe and François-Paul Journe, and ending by a section on independents like Kari Voutilainen, a Finnish watchmaker now based in Switzerland.

The website also mentioned that the collection would go ‘around the world’, but details on subsequent locations or even descriptions of the watches to be displayed were missing. There was a photo of an intriguing Patek Philippe pocket watch, but no caption.

Then some of the mystery was solved.

The collector is a European who kept details of the exhibit under wraps as he wanted to “share it first with family and friends,” Marine Lemonnier-Brennan, spokesperson for the owner, said via email. Her identity will not be made public until December 4, she said.

The London opening is organized much like an art collector’s preview, which gives a select audience a private preview of the paintings before the public is allowed in. The collector “even wonders why watch collectors don’t do it” this way more often, the spokesperson said.

The name of the Oak collection does not refer to a material or a person, but rather a “One-of-A-Kind” collection, and around 160 of its watches will be on display, Ms. Lemonnier-Brennan wrote. The collection was never evaluated as a whole, but many watches have set price records and their value has increased over time, she said.

One example that will be on display, she writes, is a platinum Patek Philippe tourbillon chronometer pocket watch that once belonged to Henry Graves Jr., the New York banker and renowned watch collector. The watch, delivered to Mr. Graves in 1935, had already won first prize in the Geneva Astronomical Observatory Timing Competition, setting a world record that lasted for several years.

(Mr. Graves also owned what is now known as Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication, a Patek Philippe sold by Sotheby’s in 2014 for the equivalent of $ 24 million, setting a record for a watch at auction. does not belong to this European collector, said Ms. Lemonnier-Brennan.)

As for the pocket watch presented on the museum’s website, she writes, it is a Patek Philippe “with enamel representing a geisha under a cherry tree, circa 2018”.

A poster created for the London exhibition includes a rendering of the Oak Collection logo and three wristwatches identified by Ms. Lemonnier-Brennan: a yellow gold Patek Philippe with a rare cloisonne dial showing stylized palm trees and a distant island; a 1971 Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman” “designed for the Peruvian Air Force”; and a Patek Philippe World Time Ref. 2523 from 1953 in yellow gold with a blue enamel center.

The museum, which focuses on contemporary products and architectural creations, is no stranger to watches: the museum’s chief curator, Justin McGuirk, said last year his collection numbered around three dozen timepieces. – including a plastic Casio F-91W and a Braun DW30 – although not all of them were on permanent display.


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