Patek Philippe (Est. 1839 – ) There is little doubt that had Antoine (Antoni) Norbert de Patek (1815? – 1894) and Adrien Philippe (1812 – 1877) never met and worked independently, each man would have been successful in his own right. However, their collaboration, existing today as the last independent, family owned, Geneva, Switzerland watch manufacturer, is the stuff of legend.
Polish watchmaker Antonin Patek began his timepiece career in Geneva in 1839 making pocket watches with the Czech-born watchmaker François Czapek. Together, they created Patek, Czapek & Co., where, with a few assistants and colleagues, they produced about 200 high quality watches per year until they ended their working arrangement in 1844.
In 1845, Patek began his association with French watchmaker Adrien Philippe who had invented the key-less winding mechanism. Philippe became head watchmaker and with Vincent Gostkowski, Philippe and Patek signed an agreement to collaborate. One clause of the agreement stated that Patek would navigate the general direction and marketing of the firm, while Gostkowski would oversee accounting and correspondence, and Philippe would be responsible for the watchmaking.
Patek was the only person who could make executive decisions even though Gostkowski and Philippe each received one third of the company’s profits. During these years the company bought unfinished movements from companies that included Louis Audemars, Vacheron & Constantin, Breguet, Doloche, Dupan et Haim, Piguet et Fils, Le Coultre, and others because it did not produce its own movements.
Patek-Philippe’s fortunes began to grow when, in 1850, Philippe introduced the first ebauches distinct movements with machinery he had obtained for the company. The firm of Patek Philippe & Co was established in 1851 and its first watches were stamped with “PP” on the dial plate.
The two men attended many international trade exhibitions that, in the 19th Century, were among the best ways to promote goods to new markets. As a consequence of their 1851 visit to the Great Exhibition of London, they began selling watches to Queen Victoria and her consort, Prince Albert.
Queen Victoria acquired a key-wound Patek Philippe watch created in a pendant style. The queen also purchased another exclusive Patek Philippe timepiece intended to be pinned to clothing and suspended from a diamond and enamel brooch.
After this, Patek Philippe almost immediately gained prestige. The company`s name changed to Patek Philippe & Cie and it introduced its products to several new markets including Russia, France, Spain, and Germany. The firm entered the Latin American market when it established business relations with distributors Gondolo & Labouriau in Rio de Janeiro.
The company also extended its reach to America and became one of the first watchmaking companies to do business in the US. It began an association with Tiffany & Co. of New York who wanted its own Patek Philippe pocket watch. A dinner Patek attended in New York resulted in Tiffany appointing Patek Philippe as its principal supplier of pocket watches for the next several years.
In 1870, the world was divided into 24 time zones and many watchmakers began developing devices that could tell time in at least two different cities in the world. Louis Cottier, an independent Geneva watchmaker created an original universal time display mechanism that allowed watches to show local time in several cities simultaneously. Cottier created several series of universal time watches for Patek Philippe.
In 1868, Patek Philippe achieved an important watchmaking milestone when it made a watch for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. Her watch was revolutionary in that it was designed to be worn on the wrist not suspended on a chain like a pocket watch. Patek Philippe had produced the first wrist watch more than thirty years before Rolex existed.
Patek died in 1877. With his son, Philippe continued to operate the company until the elder man died in 1894. In 1901, Patek Philippe and Co. became a limited company and adopted a new name, Ancienne Manufacture d’Horlogerie Patek Philippe & Co.
As the trend to wear a wristwatch grew, watchmakers began finding ways to integrate more complications into these new timepieces. Patek Philippe introduced its first perpetual calendar wristwatch in 1925. It showed the day, date and month and could display the number of days of each month as well as the 29th of February in leap years. Patek Philippe chronographs could also show the ages and phases of the moon.
The early twentieth century in the United States also saw a proliferation of wealthy business magnates who used part of their fortunes to become collectors of art including watches. For example, between 1900 and 1927, James Ward Packard, an automobile engineer, commissioned Patek Philippe to create numerous complicated watches.
His most famous Patek purchase was a double-faced pocket watch with 10 complications. The reverse side had a celestial chart for Warren, Ohio, Packard’s birthplace. It displayed more than five hundred stars perfectly calculated in magnitude. This timepiece is now among those displayed in the Patek Philippe Museum. Packard’s collection also included a model with a musical alarm that plays one of his mother’s favorite tunes.
During its first ninety years, Patek Philippe pioneered the perpetual calendar, split-second hand, chronograph, and minute repeater in their watches. However, in the late 1920s and early 30’s, as the Great Depression took its toll and business slowed, the firm was put into the position of having to reject a takeover bid by Jacques David Le Coultre. In 1932, the firm was sold to brothers Charles and Jean Stern who rescued Patek Philippe during the worst days of the Great Depression.
Under the Stern brothers’ leadership, Patek Philippe rapidly regained ground as the Sterns invested in innovation. In 1933, Jean Pfister, former head of the Geneva branch of Tavannes Watch Co., became President of Patek Philippe.
In 1933, continuing its historical heritage, the Stern brothers built a watch for another magnate, the American banker and art collector, Henry Graves, Jr. Known as “The Graves,” this timepiece remained the world’s most complicated watch for fifty-six years. It had twenty-four complications and took three years of research and five years of construction to complete.
This double-faced pocket watch contained more than nine hundred parts. Its 24 complications included a grand strike with four-gong chime; an alarm on a fifth gong; a split-seconds chronograph; and a perpetual calendar. In addition, the reverse side presented sidereal time, the equation of time, the times of sunrise and sunset in New York, and a rotating chart of the portion of the nocturnal sky visible from Henry Graves Jr.’s home.
When. In 1999, “The Graves” was sold by Sotheby in Switzerland, the sale smashed the world record for the most expensive watch ever sold at auction breaking its own previous auction sale record. The new sale was made to Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani of the Qatari royal family for $11 million.
Patek Philippe timepieces have consistently recorded high prices in auctions worldwide. A large part of this demand is driven by Patek Philippe itself since it tries to purchase its own timepieces for addition to the collection housed in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.
In 1958, Henri Stern succeeded Jean Pfister as president of the board and, in 1977, Philippe Stern succeeded his father as head of the company. For Patek Philippe’s 150th birthday, the company created the second example of the most complicated pocket watch with the Calibre 89. This watch contained 39 complications surpassing “The Graves” with an additional fifteen complications.
The new features included the date of Easter, time of sunrise, equation of time, sidereal time, and many other indicators. Its 1,728 unique parts show a chart of 2,800 stars and can also add a day to February for leap years while leaving out the extra day for every 100 year interval.
Under the Stern family that today still leads Patek Philippe (Thierry Stern is current President and his father, Philippe Stern, Honorary President), the company has introduced many more developments and innovations. These include several iconic watches, among them the Calatrava, the Nautilus, and the Grande Complications.
In 2008, the “Ref. 5002P Sky Moon Tourbillon,” a platinum tourbillon wristwatch set the world record as the most expensive modern wristwatch sold at Hong Kong Sotheby’s for HK$11.75 million ($1.4 million US.)
Whenever Patek Philippe celebrates an anniversary, it does so by launching a range of innovations. For the brand’s 175th anniversary, it added another aspect to its marketing plan. For the most part, complicated watches are seen as the province of men and often generally associated with competitions, cars and motor sports. In their 175th anniversary year, Patek Philippe introduced a number of feminine interpretations of their complications.
The Multi-Scale Chronograph ref. 4675 has a dial filled with three logarithmic scales – tachometric, telemetric and pulsometric. Its hour markers are composed of baguette-cut diamonds. The combination of the scales and diamonds makes this watch both a measuring instrument and a luxury object of desire.
With its elegant mechanisms and design, it can measure the pulse, speed, and distance at which a given event takes place. It is enhanced with vividly colorful alligator leather straps in bright blue or fuchsia pink.
Patek Philippe has now undertaken a watchmaking approach dedicated to women. Only recently, its ladies’ offerings revolved around the mainly quartz-driven Twenty-4® model. That, in turn made way for a new generation of mechanical Patek Philippe watches for women named Ladies First and also often fitted with complications.
The first of these was the Ladies First Chronograph model in 2009. It had a hand-wound movement in a square gem-set case with rounded corners that radiated feminine appeal. Then came a perpetual calendar, a split-second chronograph and a minute repeater. The finest Patek Philippe complications were reworked and redesigned to adorn the feminine wrist.
Another model, the World Time Moon reconciles two fundamental aspects of watchmaking. On a practical note, it indicates what time it is in each of the planet’s 24 time zones. Readable at a glance, it is, simultaneously, an astronomic and poetic display. With large-format moon phases in its center on a star-studded background, it reflects the sparkle of celestial bodies, and on the bezel of the 7175 model, it is entirely set with diamonds. The World Time Moon’s curves are softer and its sides create an even more elegant appearance.
Patek Philippe clientele has included the king and Queen of Denmark, Christian IX and Princess Louise, Victor Emmanuel III of Italy, and Hussein Kamel, who was Sultan of Egypt from 1914 to 1918.
More recent notable owners include Brad Pitt, Ringo Starr, Johnny Depp, and Paul McCartney. John Lennon wore a Moonphase watch and Albert Einstein has been said to have owned one, too.
Like other Swiss manufacturers, Patek Philippe produces mostly mechanical movements of the automatic and manual wind variety, but has also produced quartz watches and a digital wrist watch, the Ref. 3414. It is also known for being one of twenty Swiss watch companies to develop the first Swiss production watch, the beta 21, used by other manufactures in watches such as the Omega Electroquartz.
In 2010, the company produced 40,000 watches and, according to Thierry Stern, in 2012, produced 50,000.
Patek Philippe has always conceived its watches as exclusive creations. Over 200 models are in regular production and produced in small series that run between ten and several hundred watches, fitted with a large array of in-house movements. Patek Philippe watches command a high prices and are investments.
Many models achieve cult status and set record-sums at auction. Patek Philippe watches are also works of art whose beauty reflect their mechanical perfection. As exceptional creations, they outlive passing fashions without ever losing their appeal and modernity.
Simon Gerard, a noted blogger whose expertise is luxury items, says of Patek Philippe, “Their watches are considered among the most beautiful, complex and sought-after timepieces in the world. And unlike some other high-end watch makers, Patek Philippe still manufactures every part of their wristwatches and pocket watches. Each timepiece boasts fine craftsmanship and is comprised of superlative materials.”
Patek Philippe has a selective and handpicked distribution network. The company believes it has a responsibility to provide the highest standard of after-sales service and has made this a requirement for obtaining the Patek Philippe Seal. Owners of Patek Philippe timepieces are therefore assured that their watch will continue to receive the care and attention needed to remain as reliable as ever, generation after generation. The distribution network is comprised of as many as five hundred retailers located in at least 70 countries. Patek Philippe watches are sold at stores that include Henri Stern, Tiffany, and Tourneau.
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