Anyone who has ever had the honour of owning a hand finished and highly individual Patek Philippe timepiece will know what a marvel of design creativity and watchmaking genius it is.
They are aspirational items; watches favoured by the highest echelons of society and members of royal families for generations. Demand for new Patek Philippe watches is so high that some of the Genevan manufacturer’s most-sought-after items are only available on application, and you join a waiting list that could last years. The process also requires evidence of your credentials as a collector.
How did Patek Philippe become such as illustrious brand, and what’s the story behind the company’s globally renowned expertise?
Defining the indefinable
Among the many reasons that distinctive and distinguished Patek Philippe watches earn such devotion is they are not ostentatiously “high end”. Their genius is often in their understated simplicity of design, to complement the intricacies of their watchmaking craftsmanship.
The words that spring to mind include elegant, unpretentious and confidently genius.
One of the ways that the Patek Philippe company underpins and protects this high value and strong brand loyalty is by not over-producing its ageless timepieces. Only a limited number of watches are crafted each year. In the company’s prestigious 180 year history, less than a million timepieces have carried that distinctive logo.
This has all served to increase the passion to own a Patek Philippe, as demand outstrips supply.
The care and precision that goes into each watch is also another factor that makes the company’s output less prolific than other brands. It is believed that Patek Philippe invests at least nine months of production time in each item that carries its moniker. Some of its more complex timepieces are the result of around two years of professional design, construction and quality checking.
The movements in a Patek Philippe watch are always created by hand, with infinite attention to detail. Each case is usually created in-house from solid gold or platinum.
Many of the skills used today are the same as those employed in the earliest days of the company’s history. Though engineering expertise is important to Patek Philippe, it believes that superlative handcrafting is far more important than the ability of modern technology to “save time”.
It is this incredible expertise in watchmaking that ultimately sets the company apart. It’s the little details that provide evidence that each piece is a “labour of love”, including flawlessly polished hands, faceted batons and intricate multifaceted movements.
The origins of this watchmaking artistry
Patek Philippe is a rare company, in that it has been forging its craft continuously since 1839 and has guarded its fortunes against the interests of bigger conglomerates and brands. It is the last, big independent Swiss watchmaker.
Patek Philippe has been owned by the Stern family for four generations.
Even as recently as May 2019, the current Chairman, Thierry Stern, was vocal in his assertion that Patek Philippe is “not for sale”. Instead, he vowed to guide the iconic brand forwards until his own children – or some other worthy successor – can take the helm.
The announcement was prompted by rumours that Patek Philippe was the subject of a buyout of between $8 billion to $10 billion.
The Patek heritage
This fiercely independent and private owned watch manufacturer began life in the hands of Antoine Norbert de Patek. Patek was born in Poland in 1812 and fought in the Polish-Russian War, ultimately receiving his home country’s highest military honour for his heroism. When the uprising was repelled, Patek settling in France. He later moved again to live in Geneva, Switzerland.
Patek began developing his interest in the intricacies and creativity of Swiss watchmaking. He also soaked up inspiration and new skills from the work of Geneva’s outstanding plethora of jewellers and engravers. In May 1839, in partnership with fellow immigrants and family members, this fascinating man launched Patek, Czapek & Cie – Fabricants à Genève.
Though Patek’s initial partnership and company names were eventually replaced, more than once, this in no way indicates a rocky start to the company’s early years. The watches produced found immediate popularity. This growth was underpinned by success at the French Industrial Exposition of 1844, where Patek earned a Gold Medal for his patented mechanism for winding a movement, and positioning hands, without the use of a separate key.
This success was just one of the ways early Patek watches were cast firmly into the limelight, as Antoine Norbert de Patek was as astute at marketing as he was at watchmaking. He travelled extensively to promote his innovative and handcrafted products, eventually passing away in 1877 at the age of 65.
The Philippe heritage
Jean Adrien Philippe, born in 1815 in France, was also a gifted and visionary watchmaker. While living in Paris, he invented his own winding mechanism, one that enabled pocket watch owners to use a crown instead of a key.
Patek and Philippe crossed paths in Paris, at the previously mentioned French Industrial Exposition of 1844. As a result of their instant mutual respect, the gifted French watchmaker became technical director of Patek’s growing enterprise in 1845.
He was tasked with improving manufacturing methods to develop new models with additional distinctive features. This gave him the opportunity to further perfect his keyless winding mechanism, and to add more patents to the team’s list of watch process innovations. Philippe literally conceptualised the systems that are used to create movement in watches to this day.
The coupling of Patek and Philippe proved to be a “match made in heaven” in terms of superlative watchmaking. Now, the resulting handcrafted products benefited from Philippe’s mechanical genius, as well as Patek’s understanding of decoration, enamelling and jewellery.
From visionary founders, to passionate entrepreneurs
Time passed, and the founders, Patek and Philippe, were gone. The venture changed identities again in 1901 from Patek Philippe & Cie to the lengthy joint stock company “Ancienne Manufacture d’horlogerie Patek, Philippe & Cie, Société Anonyme”.
However, the company was fortunate to be in the hands of a new shareholding board of directors who were determined to protect both its future and its integrity.
Then came the Wall Street Crash and the economic hardships of the 1930s. The prestigious watchmakers reached a new watershed moment in its history. The shareholders agreed that a buyer was needed to assure its future.
The directors began talks with one of the company’s leading suppliers, dial manufacturers, Fabrique de Cadrans Stern Frères, which was owned by brothers Charles and Jean Stern. An already mutually beneficial working relationship eventually evolved into the Stern family owning the Patek Philippe company outright, from 1932 until the present day.
This new regime was responsible for the watch known as Ref. 96. The reason this is worth noting is that this product was the prototype for the Calatrava collection, which many argue is the purest line of watches in existence.
The newly reborn company also patented the Gyromax balance, another revolutionary watch mechanism that earned global interest, among other award-winning innovations and industry “firsts”.
Under the Stern family ownership, Patek Philippe also began applying its legendary innovation and vision to other business areas too. This included using the skills of its electronics team to become market leaders in railway and airport information systems.
New engineering focus, for brand betterment
The art of prestigious watchmaking remained the core of Patek Philippe.
One of the company’s most fertile periods of growth and innovation came in the 1970s. This is when engineering prowess was further developed, without compromising any of Patek Philippe’s artisan and sharply honed processes.
Building the firm’s engineering abilities served to protect manufacturing standards, and to ensure that the company’s components, watch servicing and repairs were of an unfailingly high calibre. It also supported a “new breed” of much sought after Patek Philippe watches.
It was during the 1970s that Philippe Stern – a keen sportsman – became determined to create a watch that met the needs of his generation of discerning buyers. From this came the classic “Nautilus Ref 3700/1A” in 1976, sold with the branding “One of the world’s most expensive watches is made of steel”.
The 1970s also saw the launch of the globally renowned ultra-thin Patek Philippe Caliber 240, which included a patented automatic winder.
The innovations continued. In 1989, the 150th anniversary of Patek Philippe was marked by the launch of the Calibre 89, which at the time was the most complex and intricate watch in existence (a record held for 26 years). These watches rarely come up for auction, but a yellow-gold Calibre 89 watch sold for over $5 million in 2009.
This was not a record, however, as a Patek Philippe Ref.1518 fetched $11 million in 2016.
There is more on the history and ethos of the company on its own website https://www.patek.com/en/company/the-manufacture#patek-philippe-key-points and interesting information on Patek Philippe heritage and innovation on Wikipedia. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Patek_Philippe_SA
What is the value of a Patek Philippe watch?
The above examples illustrate an irrefutable fact. Both new and vintage Patek Philippe watches command prices that outstrip other iconic companies in this sector.
This is particularly true of items that stand out for additional reasons, in terms of rarity or commemorative appeal.
According to Christie’s, re-sale of Patek Philippe’s 175th-anniversary collection reached “extraordinary prices” the instant it became available. The iconic company’s 5131 Cloisonné Enamel doubled its retail value at auction within days of its original sale.
This is a watch brand that grows in value very quickly, and substantially. For example, in November 2018, Christie’s illustrated this phenomenon, saying: “An original Nautilus from the 1970s, which originally retailed for less than $3,000, now trades for more than $50,000.”
The high investment potential of a Patek Philippe’s watch is clearly another reason why owners are generally extremely reluctant to sell a timepiece crafted by this prestigious company.
Authenticity and archives
To protect the brand and to enable owners or potential owners to research each individual timepiece, Patek Philippe has an unrivalled system for authentication.
Every watch made by the company has a distinctive feature – almost like a unique fingerprint – that enables it to be individually listed in the company archives. These archive entries are date stamped and ‘searchable’.
If you wish to explore the value of your Patek Philippe watch and potentially secure loan funding from your timeless timepiece, please don’t hesitate to contact the team at Pawnbrokers of Rodeo Drive.
If you are looking to sell your watch in the LA or Beverly Hills area, then we will buy your watch from you today! For more specific information on each of over 43 brands of fine watches we buy or loan against please visit some of the pages of the individual brands: Harry Winston, Hublot, IWC, Jaeger Le Coultre, Omega, Piaget, Roger Dubuis, Nardin, A Lange & Sohne, Preziuso, AudemarsPiguet, Bamford, Blancpain, Breguet, Breitling, Bvlgari, Cartier, Franck Muller, Panerai, Patek Philippe, Richard Mille, Rolex, or Vacheron Constantin to name just a few of the many brands we buy or loan against.