The Genevan watchmaker, Patek Philippe, is one of the very few names in the modern world of haute horology to remain true to its historic traditions
Few luxury brands have crossed the generations with the same finesse as Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe. Though worn by the likes of Morocco’s King Mohammed VI, Queen Elizabeth II, John F. Kennedy and Albert Einstein, the millennials are now following suit. With a new generation of fans added to the list, including Jay Z, Swizz Beatz and Conor McGregor, the Genevan manufacture has undoubtedly captured the world’s attention.
Proving that the brand is equally popular with the new age of watch connoisseurs, in November 2019, the diamond-encrusted Patek Philippe Nautilus 5719/10G made headlines when Canadian rapper Drake sported the extremely rare timepiece on his wrist at an NBA game. Rendered in rose gold with a sapphire crystal case back, the collector’s piece boasts an astounding 1,343 diamonds on the case, bracelet and dial.
The watch originally retailed for AED1 million, but the singer’s custom edition is believed to have a market value of about AED2.2 million.
By the looks of it, Drake definitely has a soft spot for the watchmaker and its iconic Nautilus model. A little over a year ago, the singer revealed another custom made version of the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5726 on his Instagram handle. Encrusted with emeralds, the timepiece was created for the singer by Louis Vuitton designer Virgil Abloh. Though deemed ‘heretic’ by collectors to customise a classic, the music genius pulled it off, much to the brand’s benefit.
History in the making
While the new wave of modern admirers is just one aspect of the brand’s legacy, the Patek Philippe story begins in 1839. Antoine Norbert de Patek, a lieutenant of the Polish Army, forged a partnership with a local watchmaker, François Czapek, to form Patek, Czapek & Cie. Together they laid the foundation for the brand’s horological heritage with their early creations, but they went their separate ways in 1844.
In the same year, Patek met renowned French watchmaker Jean Adrien Philippe. A name to be reckoned with in the 1840s, Philippe invented the keyless winding and hand-setting system earlier in the decade and won a bronze medal for his mechanism at the Industrial Exposition in Paris.
Patek and Philippe joined forces in 1845 and six years later, the brand was renamed Patek Philippe & Cie. While the former took over the sales division, the latter created new products, and together they drummed up a successful business. Such was their popularity that even England’s Queen Victoria turned admirer in 1851 when she witnessed the world’s first keyless watch in operation at The Great Exhibition in London.
Clearly not keen to rest on their laurels, the brand achieved yet another milestone in 1868, when the duo created the first Swiss ladies’ wristwatch, crafted for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary. One of the first watches of its kind to be ever made, the brand is only preceded by French maison Breguet, who revealed the historic Queen of Naples timepiece in 1810.
In the decades that followed, the house continued to shape horological history. As one of the most advanced manufacturers of its time, the brand acquired patents for its precision regulator, perpetual calendar mechanism for pocket watches and first double chronograph, among several others.
All in the family
It has been repeated numerous times and ubiquitous on every new campaign the house rolls out. “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” A concept so intriguing, it has been the brand’s slogan for more than two decades since it was first unveiled in 1996. In fact, with every new collection, renewed attention is drawn to this on-point statement.
The message is highlighted with photographs of fathers and sons or mothers and daughters sharing special moments with a Patek Philippe watch gracing their wrists. But the idea doesn’t stop at timepieces being passed to the next generation. The meaning goes deeper, nodding to the fact that the maison is the last independent, family-owned manufacture in Geneva, with the Stern family at the helm of the company since 1932.
The legacy lives on
Patek Philippe has remained one of the most traditional watchmakers in the world of haute horology. It was only at the turn of the millennium that the Genevan maison moved away from the exclusive use of metal and synthetic ruby in its movements.
When the first watch was released under the new remit in 2005, it was like a revolution for the Swiss brand. After the momentous turning point, developers began using silicon technology in a bid to improve the accuracy and stability of mechanical timepieces. In 2006, it also saw the first silicon escape wheel made for a Swiss lever escapement and the Spiromax balance spring made of a silicon-based material called Silinvar, used in conjunction with the Pulsomax escapement. Not only did this move mark the turning of the century, but it was the dawn of a new era with new technology and a unique new calendar function, too.
Although Patek Philippe is known for its aesthetics, its technical craftsmanship, quality and reliability have kept its pieces amongst collectors’ favourites. A Sotheby’s sale in 2014 saw a Patek Philippe pocket watch achieve AED88 million, a price hard to beat in auction history. Its exclusivity lies in its production capacities, limited to just 62,000 watches a year, compared to at least a million a year at the brand’s rivals.
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