The OAK Collection, one of the world’s most spectacular collection of unique watches, is exhibited at London Design Museum, 19-25 May, 2022
While many collectors of fine and rare watches prefer to keep their possessions locked in their safes or in banks, there is one sharing his passion with the world.
French businessman Patrick Getreide has spent 40 years and a part of his fortune to build one of the world’s most relevant and valuable private watch collection. The best part is that part of this collection is now made public in an exercise meant to share its immeasurable value with the world.
The OAK Collection exhibition – for ‘One of A Kind’ – comprises 160 ‘best of the best’ 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’.
The owner of the collection admits his passion is seeded since a very early stage in his life.
“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.” The collector achieved his goal as an entrepreneur by exploiting a natural flair for commerce that enabled him to acquire companies that he believed had the capacity to realise far greater potential if their existing business models were intelligently improved upon. Almost invariably his methods were successful, and he eventually attained the freedom he had dreamed of as a schoolboy. “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”.
Over the decades the collector has built up a small, tight-knit network of experts who 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 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. It was a steel Patek Philippe Reference 130 3 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. I really do see owning them as an honor and, with that, comes an obligation to let others enjoy them.”
Although the collector 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.
Visitors to the OAK Collection exhibition take part in a ‘world first’ event, because never before has a privately-owned collection of such exceptional watches, all in impeccable condition, been made available to the public. It is also unlikely that such a comprehensive
and carefully curated collection encompassing the best of the best of both vintage and modern watches will ever be compiled within the lifetime of current generations. As a result, the exhibition undoubtedly sets a new benchmark for quality, rarity and scholarship in the field of watch collecting. The OAK Collection is displayed within a series of bespoke-designed, interconnected rooms that are recreated at each location and take the viewer on a tranquil horological journey comprising 11 sections, each of which could be described as a chapter’ of time that encapsulates the collector’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, with many examples owned by the collector having been made specifically for him in close, creative collaborations with the manufacture – a process available only to a small number of the
firm’s most respected clients. Vintage Patek Philippe models, meanwhile, 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 enamelling and engraving. Also remarkable is the OAK Collection’s extraordinary holding of Patek Philippe watches that once belonged to the legendary patron Henry Graves Jnr, the late banker and railroad tycoon who, between 1922 and 1951, commissioned no fewer than 39 watches from the revered maker. Of those, only around 30 are believed to have survived, five of which form part of the OAK Collection.
The only larger 5 selection of Graves watches belonging to a single entity is that on show at the Patek Philippe museum, which holds 13. 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. The collector’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 10 unique pieces with dial names as diverse as Kari Voutilainen,
H.Moser, and Chanel.