Patek Philippe – Highlights of Watch-Making Excellence

Creating a Foundation

Tradition. Rarity. Quality. Class.  These are words synonymous with one of the world’s most powerful luxury watch brands, Patek Philippe.

The start of the Patek Philippe journey dates back to 1839 in Geneva, Switzerland where two Polish immigrants, Antoine Norbet de Patek and Francois Czapek, established a partnership known as Patek, Czapek & Co.  Patek’s chief responsibility was to run the business and keep up with the integrity and values of the firm, while Czapek handled the watchmaking and technical aspects of production.  The partnership between Patek and Czapek lasted only 6 years, and in 1845 Czapek left the firm. Following the dissolution, Patek was introduced to French watchmaker Adrien Phillipe, whose pioneering keyless winding mechanism had fascinated him years earlier. The two men began their work together, and in 1851 they formed their partnership and renamed the company Patek Philippe & Co.

Building a Future Through Innovation

Patek Philippe built their brand on a set of values that both honoured tradition and embraced innovation. Without compromising the quality of workmanship, they were committed to challenging the norms of watchmaking through new design and mechanical advancements. And with ground-breaking new developments they gained in popularity and even became quite popular amongst royalty.

Queen Victoria Patek Philippe Pendant Watch

One of the most well-known examples of this is the ‘Queen Victoria Pendant Watch’, which is known as one of the first timepieces that featured Philippe’s new keyless-winding mechanism.  The piece is said to have been acquired by the Queen at the Universal Exhibition of London in 1851. The open-face pocket watch is gold with blue enamel, centred on a rose-cut diamond floral motif and suspended from a brooch of similar design.

Henry Graves Supercomplication Patek Philippe Watch

Another notable horological achievement by Patek Philippe was in the year 1868, when they created a watch that no longer had to be attached to a chain or suspended from a brooch, but instead could be worn directly on the wrist. Made for the Hungarian Countess Koscowicz, the wristwatch presented itself as a piece of jewellery, with its small delicate rounded dial set within a rectangular gold, diamond-accented plaque compete with a stationary gold bracelet.

As the company gained in popularity and stature, more demand resulted in the company’s production of custom-manufactured watches for jewellers, as well as a posh showroom that would serve as an exhibition space for their creations and a place of discretion for clients.

A New Beginning

After the economic crisis in 1929, the demand for expensive timepieces greatly diminished, causing Patek Philippe to slow their production – the result of which would cause great financial instability and force the company to seek out a buyer. In 1932, after turning down an offer by David LeCoulture, a watch movement manufacturer, the company was finally sold to the fabricators who exclusively supplied dials to Patek Philippe, Charles and Jean Stern. The two brothers vowed to grow the company while preserving the legacy and principles of its founders.

The Stern’s acquisition of Patek Philippe marked an era of great innovation.  Being a family-run business, they were able to control all stages of their watchmaking process without the influence of outside parties. This autonomy gave them freedom in their production which would be the driving force of their success as a leader in the industry.

By the time the 1950’s rolled around, the company had produced such extraordinary timepieces – perpetual calendars, minute repeaters, split-second chronographs, world time watches, and incredibly intricate hand-painted enamel dials – all so exceptional in their workmanship and aesthetics it was nearly impossible to compete with them.

“Generations”

Today, Patek Philippe’s identity is as strong as ever. Under its current President, Thierry Stern, the brand has continued to embrace new technology and drive the watch industry forward with new developments. Recently, the company introduced a new advertising campaign called “Generations” with a slogan that reads “You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.” Together with imagery that depicts a bond between a father and son, this successful campaign pays homage to the values that the company has represented for four generations.

A Testament to Greatness
Henry Graves Supercomplication Patek Philippe Watch

Last year marked the 175th Anniversary of Patek Philippe. Perhaps the best way to ring in a milestone anniversary was with the sale of their most legendary handmade watch, the Henry Graves Supercomplication. Commissioned in 1925 for a prominent banker, this watch was constructed entirely by hand, with an astounding 24 complications, which makes it not only the most ‘complicated’ watch ever made by a watchmaker, but also one of the most, if not the most, important watch in the world. Auctioned off by Sotheby’s in their November, 2014 Important Watch sale in Geneva, the watch brought a sale price of 24 million dollars, the highest price ever paid for a timepiece at auction.

And the record breaking sales didn’t stop there. Almost exactly a year later, at Phillips’ “Only Watch” auction in Geneva, the hammer came down on a very unique Patek Philippe 5016A stainless steel watch, and at an astounding sale price of £5.5 million including the buyers’ premium. This watch is now known as the most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction.

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About the Author:

Karina is the Director of the Jewelry Department at Borro Private Finance.