Patek Philippe History: Begin Your Own Tradition. If you’re a timepiece collector, or even if you’ve just been shopping around for a new timepiece recently, then you’re likely familiar with the Patek Philippe brand. The luxury Swiss watch manufacturer is one of the most well-known brands in the timepiece industry — and for good reason. This long-lasting brand is one of the oldest and most prestigious watch manufacturers in the world.
Here’s what you need to know.
The History of Patek Philippe: Early Beginnings
The company can trace its origins all the way back to the mid-1800s, when Antoni Patek and Franciszek Czapek formed Patek, Czapek & Cie in 1839, in Geneva, Switzerland. The company manufactured pocket watches for a few years, until the two went separate ways and Patek joined up with another watchmaker, Jean Adrien Philippe, who invented the keyless winding mechanism (and received a bronze medal for the development at the Industrial Exposition in Paris). Shortly after, Patek, Philippe & Cie was born.
By that time, the company was already serving influential people in the fashion world, such as Queen Victoria, who wore specialty pieces from the company, including a pinned watch featuring a diamond and enamel brooch, and a rose-cut diamond watch with a floral pattern.
After just a few decades, however, Antoni Patek died, and his position was taken over by one of Adrien Philippe’s relatives. At the turn of the century, the family business became a joint-stock company and then, in the 1930s, the company was purchased by the Swiss Stern family; the Stern family had previously supplied Patek Philippe with watch dials (though, these days, every piece of a Patek Philippe watch is produced in-house and finished by hand, to maintain quality standards). Shortly after, the Patek Philippe brand made its way to the United States.
Patek Philippe in Recent History
The Stern family still sits at the helm of Patek Philippe. Today, Patek Philippe consistently produces some of the most exclusive and expensive watches in the world. However, the brand’s accomplishments did not end in its earliest days. The company was setting records and patenting new timepiece inventions and improvements well into the latter half of the 20th century. For example, in 1956, the company created the first all-electronic clock. In 1959, it filed patents for time zone watches. In the 1960s, it continued to hold its records at the Geneva Observatory for most precise mechanical watches.
In 2002, the brand launched its Patek Philippe Advanced Research Department, which focuses on developing new watches and watch-related technologies. The department, as a result, has produced such innovations as the mono-crystalline silicon escape wheel, which does not need lubrication and is corrosion-resistant, anti-magnetic and lightweight.
Currently, Thierry Stern oversees Patek Philippe, looking toward the brand’s future with what has been described as cautious optimism. Stern is quoted as saying, “As long as we have the passion and we are well organized with good people, I don’t imagine we can fall. Patek Philippe is a never-ending story of creation and renewal; we will always be there with quality products, and I can’t imagine a day where I will run out of ideas. Movements may be getting more complicated but they’re always useful and not gimmicks; the evolution of technology is also helping us bring innovative ideas to fruition. Barring some catastrophic mistake, it’s unlikely Patek will fall, but there will never be a time for us to sit and relax.”
Notable Patek Philippe Contributions
to the Watch World
You don’t become one of the best by simply following the examples of others. Patek Philippe has contributed to the advancement of the timepiece industry over the years. Notable contributions include the patenting of the keyless winding and hand-setting system, creation of the first Swiss wristwatch, patenting of the double chronograph, production of the first lady’s wristwatch with complication, creation of the first perpetual calendar wristwatch and creation of the world’s first all-electronic clock, as mentioned.
In addition to gaining attention for its many “firsts,” though, the Patek Philippe brand has also gained notoriety, as alluded, for its overly expensive options. The brand consistently sets records for the most expensive watches sold in the world. Most recently, in December 2021, a Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711 with a Tiffany blue dial set the record for most expensive wristwatch sold online, for $6.5 million. Other records set include the most expensive watch ever sold at auction, in 2019, with a Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime Ref. 6300A-010 sold for $31 million.
The most complicated watch in the world can also be credited to Patek Philippe. While some may assume that that watch would be the Henry Graves Supercomplication, as The Watchbox reports, it is, rather, the Patek Philippe Calibre 89, which features 33 complications and 1,729 components. It took nine years to design and then create the watch.
Experiencing the World of Patek Philippe
If you want a more in-depth look at Patek Philippe history and culture, there’s no better place to do so than at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, or by attending one of the company’s Watch Art Grand Exhibitions, which are held every two years in various major cities around the globe.
The former was founded in 2001 and houses the brand’s prestigious horological collection, including more than 2,500 watches and watch-related artifacts. In addition to focusing on the brand itself, the museum also focuses on larger European horological art, as well as Patek Philippe production. The museum is split into two collections, the Antiques Collection, and the Patek Philippe Collection.
You can also visit the Historical Patek Philippe Salons in Geneva, situated in the company’s historic manufacturing headquarters, the Salon takes over an entire building and features elegant and extravagantly decorated spaces all dedicated to the art of the timepiece.
The last Watch Art Grand Exhibition was held in Singapore in 2019. The 2021 exhibition was no doubt curtailed by the Covid-19 pandemic but be sure to keep an eye out for an announcement of a
Need to Know More?
Want to learn more about the world of watches and timepieces? Interested in discovering the histories of your favorite jewelry brands and designers? Or you just need tips for shopping for the latest addition to your timepiece collection.
Whatever the case may be, check out the Yamron blog and subscribe to the Yamron newsletter for insider tips on buying, trading, and collecting your favorite timepieces, as well as access to Yamron Magazine Monthly. You will also enjoy exclusive first access to Yamron’s unlisted inventory and content, plus early invites to in-person events.
As you peruse the Patek Philippe watches available from Yamron keep one thing in mind: For a company with such a rich history, Patek Philippe has only produced a limited number of watches (fewer than a million in total), meaning owning one of these timepieces is a true privilege indeed.
History at a Glance: The Story of Patek Philippe (Deployant)
A History of Patek Philippe (The Watchbox)
Patek Philippe SA (Wikipedia)