The name Patek Phillipe is associated in our minds with all things beautiful, chic, exclusive and elite. This is a brand that has become synonymous with class, and the name doesn’t need to be shouted out, or surrounded by flashing neon lights to be known. At Momentum we value all the best names in vintage watches, but in our opinion, this independent company deserves a special note. This article investigates why this brand is so successful and so consistent.
The company has belonged to the Stern family for four generations (since 1932), and their approach has been a little different to that of their competitors. In a recent interview, company president Thierry Stern mentioned that the company does not pursue celebrity endorsement – instead, their consistent quality and company pedigree tends to speak for itself. According to Stern, Patek Phillipe enthusiasts “appreciate quality and aesthetics in all domains, and they are cultured, well informed and well-travelled.”
Over the years, Patek Phillipe has made some of the most expensive and complicated watches in the world. At the most exclusive auctions their immaculate vintage timepieces continue to set and to break record sales figures, not least of all the famous Graves Super-complication that sold for close to $12 million a few years ago, and last year again it went under the hammer for approx. $24 million dollar.
What is unique about Patek is that they keep their production numbers low – around 55,000 a year, where Rolex, for example exceeds 1.4 million per year. They are some of the most difficult watches to obtain – whether new or vintage.
The Stern family keeps a tight reign on their output – and if you want to own a Grand Complication, the Sterns will have to personally approve the purchase. All this makes it difficult to own one, and more importantly, to speculate at Auctions, and keeps the demand high while the supply remains at a rate that the family can personally manage. Although the company size has grown to around 2,000 employees in recent years, it is still basically a traditional family business. Stern himself goes as far as maintaining the tradition of personally sound testing every timepiece produced with chime complications, the same way his father and grandfather did before him.
While the world around them continues to become ever more corporate and mass-produced, Patek Phillipe adheres to traditional values, and looks to innovate along the lines of the purely micro-mechanical genius and traditional, rather than follow the rest of the world. They survived the introduction of electronic watches, iphones and smart watches, and continue to build on their strong foundations.
Their incredible design and production facility at Plan-les-Ouates, about a 20-minute drive from Geneva is where the magic continues to happen. Here the old world meets the new. 3D printing and computer aided design live side by side with pencil drawings and tried and tested schematics from days gone by. Each tiny part is expertly crafted, nothing is bought from outside suppliers. Every step of the highly complicated production process is minutely overseen, perfected, catalogued and preserved. They pride themselves on being able to service any model of watch that Patek has made since 1839.
Together with their uniquely beautiful and complicated design ethic, Patek Phillipe remain true to their traditions – something quite rare in today’s world. This is their secret.
Their philosophy has kept the company successful since the start, and continues to do so today. Celebrating their 175th year, and still going strong, the words of company president Thierry Stern still ring true: ““This is about passion – I mean it really — it is a dream.”