GaÏa Prize: A year of festivities at the MIH

May 2024

GaÏa Prize: A year of festivities at the MIH

The Gaïa Prize, awarded annually by the Musée International d’Horlogerie, is celebrating its 30th edition in 2024. The La Chaux-de-Fonds-based museum’s famous building is itself celebrating its 50th anniversary. To mark the occasion, we are launching a series of of tribute pieces on some of the eminent Gaïa prizewinners of the past. We begin with a portrait of Dr. Hans Boeckh, a recent prizewinner, written by Peter Friess, Director of the Patek Philippe Museum.


t’s a year of major festivities at the Musée International d’Horlogerie (MIH) in La Chaux-de-Fonds. While the museum itself was founded as an institution in 1902, it has occupied its famous building for exactly 50 years. But that’s not all: the year is also marked by the 30th edition of the Gaïa Prize, which rewards some of the most deserving figures in the watchmaking industry.

Throughout the year, we will be paying tribute to this prize, sometimes considered the “Nobels” of watchmaking, awarded in three categories: Craftsmanship-Creation, Entrepreneurship and History-Research. And what better way to “celebrate this celebration” than by profiling some of the historic winners. That’s what we’ll be doing in each of our issues until December. Choosing them from this already strict selection is undoubtedly the most arduous of tasks, and we won’t be able to spotlight all of them by far – but don’t hold that against us.

The series begins with a portrait of Dr Hans Boeckh, the recent winner of the 2023 Gaïa Prize in the History-Research category. Peter Friess, Director and Curator of the Patek Philippe Museum, has kindly given us permission to print his presentation speech.

Dr. Hans Boeckh
Dr. Hans Boeckh

Dr. Hans Boeckh
Gaïa Prize 2023 in the History-Research category
By Peter Friess, Director of the Patek Philippe Museum

“Creativity, innovation, reflection, originality. Every year, the Gaïa Prize celebrates the world of watchmaking and its dynamism. Presented since 1993 at the autumn equinox, the Gaïa Prize has established itself as a benchmark award in the vast domain of time measurement. This unique award honours those who have contributed to the importance of watchmaking, be they craftsmen, entrepreneurs or researchers.

Dr. Hans Boeckh is the 2023 winner of the Gaïa Prize in the History-Research category. From 1997 until his retirement in 2008, Hans Boeckh was one of the key players in the creation of the Patek Philippe Museum, inaugurated in 2001.

The jury of the Gaïa Prize honours him for his exceptional career, conducted with humility, and his ability to combine the rigour of historical research with a precise knowledge of the diverse techniques involved in watchmaking, and also for encouraging collaboration between the various private and public institutions charged with conserving the heritage of watchmaking.

Born in Heidelberg in 1937, Hans Boeckh trained as a jeweller and goldsmith in Pforzheim, a centre renowned for the quality of its goldsmithing and watchmaking. After military service, he continued his training in draughtsmanship, engraving, and enamelling at the École des arts appliqués. In 1962, he obtained his master’s degree, followed by a diploma in engraving. From then on, he worked on jewellery and watch designs in Geneva, Lucerne and Rio de Janeiro. Hans BoeckhVs interest in art history, especially in Geneva’s contributions to European art, prompted him to study not only art history itself, but also contemporary developments in classical and early Christian archaeology. These studies culminated in a doctorate in art history in 1980 from the University of Freiburg im Breisgau. His thesis, on enamel painting on watches in Geneva in the 17th and 18th centuries, inspired a cultural exchange exhibition between Switzerland and the Soviet Union, held in St Petersburg, Moscow, and Tbilisi. Since then, he has specialised in researching iconographic sources for European enamels in the 17th century, drawing on major collections, including those in Geneva, Paris, London, Stockholm, Dresden, and Vienna.

But the Gaïa Prize is far from Hans Boeckh’s first award. Rather, it was the crowning honour of an exceptional career, not only in historical research but in design at the goldsmith’s bench.

In 1966, his renown as a world-class jewellery designer received numerous accolades: two honorable mentions in the Geneva Grand Prix for his creative talents: one in the “precious metal necklace without stone” category and the other in the “enamel cup” category. In 1978, the jury for the Prix de la Ville de Genève also awarded him five prizes and eight mentions. Only Genevan jeweller Gilbert Albert has equalled this record. The Geneva City Council had no choice but to include him on the jury. But Hans Boeckh did not stop there: he also won the De Beers Diamonds International Award in New York and the Goldene Rose in Baden-Baden.

He continues his tireless research into the pieces held in the Patek Philippe Museum, and his expertise in pocket watches decorated with enamel and miniatures continues to be called upon by curators and museum directors in Switzerland and throughout Europe. Hans Boeckh’s unique combination of deep historical knowledge, design skill, and technical craftsmanship have given us precious new insights into the watchmaker’s art through the centuries.”


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