Creating the Face of Time

Connoisseurs of rare timepieces get a hands-on experience in Greenwich



They’re an elite group of enthusiasts; while many of us check the hour via smartphone, rare watch collectors wouldn’t think of it. They like to adorn their wrists with the best examples of handmade clockwork, and a few select dealers cater to their discerning tastes.

One such retailer, located on the Avenue, is Manfredi Jewels, opened in 1988 by Roberto Chiappelloni, a timepiece collector himself, who started the business to share his passion with the Greenwich community. He now carries more than 30 brands of luxury, limited-edition watches in his shop.

To simply call them “watches” is to do these elegant accessories something of a disservice. Often made of rare metals, crafted with an almost miraculous precision, and adorned with precious gems, metals, sculpture and miniaturized, hand painted decoration, they are works of art.

One Swiss maker, Jaquet Droz, celebrates its 275th anniversary this year. The company’s namesake sealed his reputation in the 18th century, with his unique, beautiful, and intricate timepieces; his early clients included Chinese emperors and Spanish kings. Manfredi is one of just a handful of dealers in the East to offer contemporary Jaquet Droz collections.

“Some of the early work, which includes automata such as flying birds, is just incredible,” says Manfredi’s manager, Robert Weintraub. “It is difficult to believe that Jaquet Droz was able to craft timepieces of such amazing precision and beauty without the use of computers. Everything was done by hand.”

Continuing this tradition, one of Jaquet Droz’ current collections—Les Ateliers d’Art—features watch faces that are hand painted with exquisite miniature scenes. The company has a series of videos, and there’s one about the art of these timepieces, including hand painting, here.

On October 18, a select group of clients and collectors will be treated to champagne, hors d’oeuvres and dinner, as a Jaquet Droz artisan teaches them some of the fine points of hand painting a watch dial. Each guest will have the opportunity to try this art, using paints, tiny brushes, and a dial template; after the guests’ efforts are kiln-dried, each participant gets to take home his or her own handiwork.

Jaquet Droz

“It’s a lot of fun,” says Weintraub, who notes that the painting class and dinner is shaping up to be an annual event.

And, while the class-plus-dinner on the 18th is invitation only, even a novice collector can learn a great deal from a browsing session at Manfredi; the shop’s trained and knowledgeable staff can point out the details and delights of the characteristics that make rare timepieces so engaging and collectible.

Manfredi is open Tuesday through Friday, 10-5 and Saturdays, 10-5:30.

 

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