Founded in 1839, the legendary brand of Patek Philippe is today recognized as simply the finest watchmaker in the world.
Patek Philippe History
On May 1st, 1839, a young but highly decorated Polish cavalryman called Antoine Norbert de Patek, who had recently been forced to emigrate to Switzerland, joined forces with a Polish watchmaker named François Czapek to found Patek, Czapek & Cie—Fabricants à Genève.
Patek and his partners (also including his wife’s uncle, Thomas Moreau) enjoyed some early success but tensions between him and Czapek led to Patek soon going in search of a new watchmaker. He didn’t have to look for long.
At the 1844 French Industrial Exposition in Paris, horologist Jean Adrien Philippe was showing off a recent invention; a winding mechanism which allowed for pocket watches to be wound and have their hands set using a crown rather than a separate key. The innovation won the bronze medal at the event and brought Philippe to the attention of Antoine Patek. A year later, Patek dissolved his original company and, with Philippe installed as technical director, and with the help of a third partner, Vincent Gostkowski (a lawyer and financier), set up a new firm; Patek & Cie—Fabricants à Genève. By 1851, the manufacture had been renamed again, with Philippe made a full partner, this time to Patek, Philippe & Cie. (It wouldn’t actually become simply Patek Philippe until as recently as 2009, when the comma was dropped).
Jean Adrien Philippe oversaw the development of the company’s new models, and also continued to perfect his own keyless winding system, gaining a further two patents in 1860 and 1861. It eventually evolved to such a level that the mechanisms used by wristwatch manufacturers today still use the same design concept.
The brand continued on in the hands of the Philippe family after the deaths of the original founders, with Jean Adrien’s son, Joseph Emile taking over his father’s position in 1891.
But the Wall Street crash of 1929 brought the firm’s biggest challenges to date, with many of their customers defaulting on payment obligations. In order to keep the company out of competitors’ hands, the directors brought in Charles and Jean Stern, Patek Philippe’s most trusted dial makers.
The brothers bought a controlling stake in the company in 1932. By the end of the year, in an attempt to get some finances flowing into the ailing business, they brought out the Ref. 96, the template for what would go on to become the Calatrava.
The Stern takeover lit the fuse for an explosion of creativity which lasts to this day. With their backing, work was completed on the legendary Graves Supercomplication, the world’s most complicated mechanical timepiece. Commissioned by banker Henry Graves Jr., it contained 24 functions, took three years to design and five years to build.
Further breakthroughs included putting their perpetual calendar wristwatch into serial production in 1941 (the marque had created the very first one in 1925) and, strangely, creating the world’s first electronic clock, in 1956.
In 1962, a Patek Philippe tourbillon movement achieved a world record for timekeeping precision by a mechanical watch, a record which remains unbeaten even now.
The iconic Nautilus was released in 1976, building on (and eventually eclipsing) the success of the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. The brand also launched the debut annual calendar wristwatch in 1996.
Today, Patek Philippe remains one of the very few independently owned watchmakers, and has stayed in the Stern family since 1932. Their watches are all handmade and finished, totaling only around 60,000 a year. As reference, Rolex is believed to make 1,000,000 models per annum, while Patek has made fewer than that since 1839.
They are the absolute last word in haute horlogerie and sit unchallenged at the pinnacle of Swiss watchmaking.
The Patek Philippe Collections
There are 8 separate collections in the Patek Philippe wristwatch lineup:
Calatrava: With their pure, clean lines, the Calatrava collection epitomizes what a dress watch should look like.
Nautilus: Patek’s most revered creation, and one of its most inaccessible, the Nautilus has been a sports watch style icon since 1976
Aquanaut: Thought of as a Nautilus for a younger, more modern consumer, the Aquanaut brings the luxury sports watch right up to date
Gondolo: Leaning heavily on the Art Deco movement for inspiration, the Gondolo collection is Patek’s most evocative, reviving the style and spirit of the 1920s
Golden Ellipse: Designed around the ‘divine proportion’, otherwise known as the Golden Ratio, these elliptically-shaped models offer an aesthetically harmonious form
Twenty~4: Patek’s most recent addition, and its most affordable, the Twenty~4 is a series of ladies watches, with both automatic and quartz movements
Complications: The list of Patek Philippe innovations when it comes to watch functionality is an expansive one, and the Complications collection includes pieces such as world timers, annual calendars, moonphases and flyback chronographs
Grand Complications: This is where you will find the absolute peak of watchmaking achievement, with some truly extraordinary timepieces, culminating in the Ref. 6300G Grand Complication, with its 20 functions and reversible case.
How Much is a Patek Philippe Watch?
There is no such thing as an inexpensive Patek Philippe watch, but some are more affordable than others.
At retail, prices start at around $14,500. That’s for a steel, quartz Twenty~4 model. At the top end of the scale, we have to look at the Grand Complications range, where the Ref. 6300G Grandmaster Chime costs about $3.62m.
In-between, there really is a watch at every price point. The Ref. 5396G, for example, a 38.5mm white gold piece with annual calendar and moonphase, sells for $45,500, while the Ref. 7042, a diamond encrusted member of the Gondolo range, is around $209,000.
But it is with the Nautilus where the most interesting prices come into play. Theoretically, the simplest time-and-date example, the Ref. 5711, costs $30,620. However, such is the demand for these legendary models, the chances of buying one new from a Patek boutique are basically zero. In fact, reports are that you have to have an excellent previous relationship with the retailer to even get your name on a waiting list, which is currently about 10-years long. Preowned prices reflect this desperation for the 5711, where ‘as new’ models can command anything up to $400,000.
The Aquanaut is a little more realistic but is definitely heading very much in the same direction. The entry level piece, the Ref. 5167A in steel, retails at around $22,000. The same watch on the preowned market will start at about $70,000 for a 2021 model.
But, perhaps surprisingly, vintage Pateks can be extremely attainable. The Calatrava range especially can be very tempting, with superb specimens of this landmark watch easily affordable, starting around $6,000.
Who Wears Patek Philippe?
The unmatched reputation for which Patek Philippe has worked so hard has attracted legions of the great and the good to the brand. Some of the most famous and influential people in recent history have turned to the marque when it comes time for only the very best wrist attire, and that has continued on till the present day.
Here is just a selection of the sort of clientele who make their way to the world’s finest watchmaker:
Queen Elizabeth II, the Dalai Lama, George Soros, Sir Paul McCartney, Eric Clapton, Jack Welch, Brad Pitt, Sergio Leone, the Shah of Iran, Drake, Ellen DeGeneres, Jason Statham, Victoria Beckham, Jonah Hill, Conor McGregor, Tom Holland, John Mayer, Ed Sheeran, and many other celebrity A-listers.