Patek Philippe is the maker of what are considered to be the most exquisite watches in the world. This Swiss manufacturer unites luxury, tradition, and high-quality craftsmanship. The superb quality is reflected in their prices and clientele.
This Geneva-based manufacturer offers over 200 unique watch models. Their style tends to be more on the conservative side. While stainless steel is often used in these watches, they use white, yellow, and rose gold more than most manufacturers do.
Patek Philippe is one of the few remaining manufacturers that doesn't belong to a larger concern. They are still family-owned, which contributes to their value and good reputation - and not just by experts. Nearly every piece used in the watches is built by Patek Philippe themselves. In this regard, they are comparable to competitor Rolex
. They are two of the most distinguished luxury brands worldwide.
The Key to Success: A Crown and a Queen
In 1839, Polish watchmaker and emigrant Antoni Patek (1811 - 1877) began producing pocket watches in Geneva. There, he combined forces with his French colleague Adrien Philippe (1815 - 1894) in 1845. Philippe's father had been a watchmaker and taught his son the craft. In 1844, Philippe had unveiled an invention to the world of watches that is ubiquitous today: the crown. Before this, movements were usually wound using a key, much like many large clocks today. The company has existed under the name Patek Philippe since 1851.
The two business partners participated in the Great Exhibition of 1851 in London, where Queen Victoria purchased two watches: one for herself, and one for Prince Albert. Danish and Italian royalty also became members of their distinguished clientele. In addition, a partnership with the New York jeweler Tiffany & Co. began during a trip to the United States when the American retailer ordered 130 watches. In 1902, Patek Philippe patented the first double chronograph and in 1925, they introduced the first wristwatch with a perpetual calendar.
The More Complicated, the Better: A Rivalry Between Watch Collectors
In 1933, after three years of development and five years of manufacturing, the Henry Graves Supercomplication, an 18-karat gold timepiece, was finally completed. Banker Henry Graves Jr. had commissioned the watch in order to outdo the pocket watches commissioned by automaker James Ward Packard. Packard owned a dozen complicated Patek Philippe timepieces, which he had collected over the course of 25 years. Graves and Packard were two of the leading watch collectors of their time and had an ongoing competition that the Supercomplication ended. The watch is composed of 920 individual pieces and has 24 impressive complications. These include a perpetual calendar, Westminster Quarters, the sunrise and sunset time, and Graves' Fifth Avenue apartment view of the starry sky over New York City. In November 2014, the pocket watch was sold for a record price of 24 million dollars at an auction. Graves initially paid 60,000 Swiss francs when he commissioned the watch, which is equal to about $200,000 USD today. The Supercomplication is the most complicated watch ever built without computer assistance. In 1989, Patek Philippe celebrated their 150th anniversary and unveiled the Calibre 89 pocket watch, which is even more complicated than the Supercomplication with 1,728 individual pieces. Beyond these famous timepieces, other Patek Philippe watches are still exclusive. It's not unusual for older, used timepieces in good condition to sell in the five-figure range.
A Bauhaus Style Collection Since 1932
Classic Patek Philippe watches include the Calatrava
collection, introduced in 1932. The designers modeled this series after the Bauhaus style, which was new and revolutionary at the time. This school of design represented a reduction to the bare necessities and an extensive renunciation of decorative elements. It heavily influenced art throughout the 20th century. The Ellipse d'Or collection is even more streamlined than the Caltrava series. The pieces in this collection feature two hands and an incredibly thin mechanical movement. The men's series Gondolo and the women's series Twenty-4 both feature watches with rectangular cases.
Patek Philippe has an entire collection dedicated to complicated watches
. These feature moon phases, world times, or power reserve indicators. One level up are the Grandes Complications watches. These watches have extras such as chimes, tourbillons, and leap year indicators. These complications require high levels of craftsmanship and are examples of the incredible capabilities of Patek Philippe's watchmakers. Other Swiss manufacturers who make watches with complications are Blancpain
, both of which have similarly long traditions.
On the Wrists of The Beatles and the Dalai Lama
The Nautilus and Aquanaut series are both water resistant up to 120 meters. They have rather modern designs which set them apart from other Patek Philippe watches. While the Nautilus and the Aquanaut are kept relatively streamlined, there are a few exceptions. For example, there is a white gold Nautilus set with around 1,700 diamonds and its price runs similar to that of a baseline Rolls Royce.
Queen Victoria wasn't the only one who appreciated Patek Philippe. Two of her successor's most prominent subjects, Beatles members Paul McCartney and Ringo Starr, had an affinity for these watches. They each wore an Aquanaut for some time, though perhaps Rolex's Submariner
would have been more fitting for the singers of the Yellow Submarine
. The Dalai Lama wears a Patek Philippe chronograph gifted to him by President John F. Kennedy, and actor Brad Pitt wears a Nautilus.
Patek Philippe also features a few watches with quartz movements, though they are better known for mechanical watches made with in-house movements. Their calibers have a few special features. In 1949, the company patented the "Gyromax," a special type of balance wheel that is still in use today. While regular balance wheels feature weight adjustment screws on the outside of the rim, the Gyromax has weights set in it. Therefore, it has an increased moment of inertia, which in turn increases its precision. Patek Philippe has used the material Silinvar in their escapements since 2005. Similar to silicon, it's anti-magnetic and extremely hard. Due to this hardness, there is less friction in the movement and it doesn't require lubrication. The manufacturer presented the first balance spring made from this high-tech material in 2006. In 2009, they introduced and began using their own seal, which is a mark for passing the most demanding quality test for mechanical watches worldwide. Previously, Patek Philippe had used the Geneva Seal, which has been the sign of high-quality watches from that canton since 1886. A significant difference between the two is that the new testing methods are for the entire, finished watch. According to the old Geneva Seal rules, separate movements could receive certificates.
An Investment in Prestige
Patek Philippe is the oldest and last family-owned, independent watch manufacturer in Geneva. The classic timepieces are usually made of gold and platinum and enjoy a high level of prestige. Their appearance and long-lasting value make them a worthwhile investment. A Patek Philippe is a crowning achievement in any watch enthusiast's collection. These watches are perfect for everyday use for anyone who likes to prominently display their most prized possessions.