Gold. Prestige. Luxury at its finest. These are just a few of the terms that come to mind when you hear the name “Patek Philippe.” As the last independent, family-owned watch manufacturer in Geneva, it truly is one of the most exclusive and awe-inspiring brands in the industry. Take a few minutes to learn about the incredible history this brand has had as well as some unique innovations the brand has given horology over the centuries as well.
Patek Philippe as we know it today was originally created as “Patek, Czapek & Cie,” in 1839. Incorporated for a 6-year business venture, Antoine Norbert de Patek and Francois Czapek were its founders. Patek was a Polish refugee who lived in France and later settled in Switzerland. Despite challenging circumstances early in life, Patek was an entrepreneur at heart, and he focused heavily on the business side of running the company. Unfortunately, Patek found that business was slow as he was selling luxury timepieces which were akin to other timepieces on the market. Because of this, Patek split from Czapek in the mid-1840's to focus on building a company of innovation.
The innovative side of the business is where the “Philippe” comes into the brand name. A classically trained watchmaker who had a thirst for innovation, Jean Adrien Philippe pushed the envelope in horology. Philippe was a French watchmaker who completed an apprenticeship under his father, a tenured watchmaker. Prior to joining Patek, Philippe had already invented one of his major breakthroughs - the keyless pocket watch. After seeing the creation, Patek knew he had to bring this technology to his watchmaking company. Thus, the two eventually joined forces to rebrand as “Patek, Philippe, & Cie” in 1851.
Prestige was not far behind the rebrand; in that same year, the gentlemen displayed their keyless timepieces at London’s Great Exhibition. There, Philippe‘s creation caught the eye of Queen Victoria - the first of many royalty to become Patek Philippe customers. The queen purchased two timepieces on the spot, cementing Patek Philippe’s place in the horological industry. Less than 2 decades later, in another innovative move driven by royalty, Patek Philippe created the first Swiss wristwatch for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary in 1868.
After Antoine Patek's eventual death in 1877, Jean Adrien brought his son, Emile Joseph, into the business to begin grooming him to eventually take over leadership of the company. The years following were full of more amazing creations by Philippe and his son. In 1881, the company filed a patent for a precision regulator. And just shortly thereafter, 1889 brought a patent for a pocket watch perpetual calendar movement.
Patek Philippe’s Next Generation of Leadership
Philippe's foresight in bringing Emile under his wing was a wise move, as Emile took the reigns of Patek Philippe when his father passed away in 1894. Emile was determined to stay the course that his father and Patek set the company on. And he started on that exact path; however, the late 1800s and early 1900s were a challenging time in watchmaking. In an era where many companies were moving toward mass manufacturing at a low cost, traditional and luxury watchmakers found their business model changing.
To bolster the company financially, it became public in 1901, under the full name "Ancienne Manufacture d’Horlogerie Patek Philippe & Cie. S.A." During the midst of the Great Depression, a pair of investing brothers, Charles and Jean Stern purchased the majority of shares in Patek Philippe. For the first (and only) time in its history, control of the company transferred from one family to another in 1932. In that way, you could truly say that Patek has always been a family business.
One could consider Patek Philippe as having 2 major sections in its metaphorical history book - the era of Patek and Philippe and the era of the Stern family. In a time when the company could have fizzled, the Stern family provided the leadership to keep it thriving. Since the Stern family took over, Patek Philippe filed many more patents - on its way to nearly 100 to-date. In addition to countless patents, the company has secured several world records for accuracy.
Iconic Timepieces and Horological Technology
If one could boil down the secret to Patek Philippe's success from the 1930's until today, the secret would be innovation and accuracy. Those two factors were key for the business to keep its doors open and it led to some of the iconic timepiece collections still being produced today. In the 1930's, Patek launched the famous Calatrava collection. The early 1940’s brought a myriad of perpetual calendar watches, which evolved from the company’s first perpetual calendar wristwatch model in 1925.
Patek weathered the quartz crisis with the release of their iconic Golden Eclipse (1968), Nautilus Sport (1976), and Gondolo (1993) collections. Driven by the success of the Nautilus collection, Patek Philippe released the collection’s close cousin - the Aquanaut - in 1997. While it always had an affinity for the Tourbillon movement, the early 2000’s saw the creation of Patek Philippe’s most complicated wristwatch (the Sky Moon Tourbillon Ref. 5002) and the 10-day Tourbillon. Truly one of the giants of the Swiss horology industry, Patek Philippe continues to embody innovation, accuracy, and exclusivity to this day.
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Is your collection missing an iconic timepiece like a Nautilus or a Sky Moon Tourbillon? If so, Grand Caliber is your connection to help you find your dream Patek Philippe watch! Whether your grail is a classic like the Golden Eclipse or a modern and sporty Aquanaut, Grand Caliber can help you add it to your collection today.