What factors make Patek Philippe timepieces so desirable for collectors; includes design quality, exclusivity and traceable history of each individual watch.
Exclusivity, excellence and a rich heritage dating back over 170 years
The expression “as smooth as a Swiss watch” may have been coined for family owned prestige watch maker Patek Philippe.
Their desirable timepieces are considered the world’s best despite some top grade competition, and their exclusivity, remarkable levels of craftsmanship and the company’s ability – as the last family owned independent Swiss watchmaker – to pursue its own design agenda makes Patek Philippe one of the most sought after brands, and so highly appealing to the collector.
What makes this near 180 year old company’s timepieces so coveted?
Design and build quality
There is a welter of different Patek Philippe watches; from pocket watches to stylish stainless steel bracelet types, the company embrace various design styles.
Attention to detail from a true hand crafted product means the collector has a timepiece of genuine pedigree in their collection; even the hands are hand polished and just about every other part of the watch is hand finished. Each casing, far from being machine pressed at an outside contractor, is normally made in-house from solid pieces of platinum or gold using techniques dating back to around when the company was formed in the 1830s.
Much time and money goes into research and development; a new movement can take many years and several millions of pounds to develop with some 80 engineers combining old and new technology to generate new designs.
Every Patek Philippe watch older than five years has an ‘Extract from the Archives’ available for it for a fee. This means a pre-owned watch can be provided with a history showing its original production date and a record of when it was subsequently sold on.
Owners of an older Patek Philippe timepiece can fire their imaginations wondering who previously bought the watch they now own and why. This ‘Archives’ feature puts a true stamp of originality on each timepiece ever produced – maybe their timepiece was once worn by royalty? Queen Victoria and Prince Albert owned Patek Philippe watches.
In the end most collectors have at least one eye on their collectible’s investment potential, and Patek Philippe timepieces certainly deliver the goods should their owner ever wish to sell.
For example, chronographs made by the company that cost less than £15,000 in the 1980s are selling for sums well into six figures now, and an original Nautilus variant that sold for around £2,000 in the 1970s would command around £40,000 now.
In late 2014 the company’s pocket watch, the Graves Supercomplication, beat its own sale at auction record when it sold at Sotheby’s in Geneva for an amazing $24 million having sold previously in 1999 for a then world record $11 million.
Scarcity helps drive values – hence a painter’s work increasing in value once they die – and it’s claimed that under one million Patek Philippe watches have been made since the company’s formation in 1839. That’s fewer timepieces than some other ‘exclusive’ Swiss brands manufacture in a single year.
The painstaking production techniques mean it can take nine months to make even one of the more basic Patek Philippe watches and up to two years for the more complicated types.
Along with the time taken to make each timepiece and the fact just about every component is manufactured in house as opposed to being contracted out, Patek Philippe is a true family owned business. It came under the control of the Stern family, already involved in Swiss watchmaking, in 1932 who rescued it from dark times following the Great Crash of 1929 – and the fourth generation of Sterns own Patek Philippe to this day.
It’s also said the Mr Stern who currently heads the company listens to every single minute repeater before it leaves the premises.