Patek Philippe is a Swiss luxury watch and clock manufacturer founded in 1839, located in Canton of Geneva, Switzerland. The name Patek Philippe, without a doubt, has become a household name in the watchmaking industry. Any watch enthusiast would be familiar with the name and the brand’s prestige. It is widely regarded as one of the best, most renowned and most sought-after luxury watch.
The reputation of the Patek Philippe brand is not based solely on its age in the watchmaking industry. Its reputation has been well earned. Patek Philippe takes craftsmanship, design, quality, expertise, and attention to detail very seriously. All these qualities are evident in every finished Patek Philippe watch.
Patek Philippe is also known for the exclusivity of its timepieces, and it takes immense pride in this fact as it places quality over quantity. With Patek Philippe estimated to have made only about one million watches over its long history. This makes the timepieces truly exclusive, considering that some watch brands produce around that amount yearly.
Famous for its high standard of quality and rarity, it is only natural that Patek Philippe watches are highly sought-after worldwide. With a long list of notable personalities ranging from artists, entrepreneurs, intellectuals, politicians, and royalties owning a Patek Philippe. And the rarer Patek Philippe models auctioned at record high prices.
PATEK PHILIPPE’S EARLY HISTORY
As earlier stated, the Patek Phillippe brand was established in 1839 in Canton, Geneva. It was founded by Antoni Norbert Patek, born on June 12,1812 in Piaski, Poland. His early life was characterized by a lot of political unrest. With the Russian Empire in control of the part of Poland where Patek lived.
Patek joined the Polish Calvary at the young age of 16, serving in the 1st Mounted Rifles regiment. He fought valiantly in the November Uprising (1830 - 1831) displaying exemplary courage and integrity. For which he was recognized as a hero, receiving the War Order of Virtuti Militari (more of a Polish equivalent of a medal of honor) for his service.
However, the Polish forces were greatly outnumbered by the Russian forces, and they defeated the Polish Uprising later in 1831. In the light of this defeat, the Russian Empire's dominance and oppression intensified, causing the majority of the Polish politicians and soldiers like Patek to seek refuge in western Europe.
Patek initially sought refuge in Paris but relocated to Switzerland due to the decrees of the French government. This marked the beginning of Patek's journey into the watchmaking industry.
PATEK & CZAPEK
Given Patek’s artistic inclinations, settling in Geneva that is famous for its watchmaking industry and the long heritage of decorative arts, it was only natural that Patek was interested in watchmaking.
In 1839, Patek started a watchmaking firm with a partner, a fellow Polish immigrant, Francois Czapek to form Patek, Czapek, & Cie. Czapek was already well established in Geneva as a renowned master-watchmaker. From the onset, the focus for Patek was to raise the standard of watchmaking by producing quality timepieces. Instead of mass-producing cheap watches to make a profit easily, they choose quality over quantity by making about 200 topnotch timepieces annually.
A lot of their early watches has the distinctive symbolism connected to Polish history, given their Polish heritage as a source of inspiration. For examples as shown below. Despite their shared heritage, Patek and Czapek often had friction, and soon after they parted ways. Now, to keep his growing business alive, Patek was on a quest for a new partner
PATEK & PHILIPPE
At an Industrial Exposition in France, in the year 1844, Patek met with Jean Adrien Philippe, a talented young French watch expert who was well known at that time for his keyless winding technology for watches. As watches of then used to be wound by a special key, Philippe introduced what we now know as the crown.
Confident that Philippe’s involvement would be beneficial to the success of his company, Patek asked Philippe to join his business. In 1845, Philippe relocated to Geneva becoming a part of Patek’s business as a partner and technical director. In 1851, Philippe’s significant contributions were recognized through a name change to “Patek, Philippe, & Cie.”
COMPANY SUCCESSION AND RESTRUCTURING
Unfortunately for Patek in 1875, his health deteriorated and passed away in 1877. With only one surviving son Leon, to take control of the business. However, Leon didn’t want that rather he traded his company rights for a lifelong annuity. Patek’s position then went to his son-in-law, Joseph Antonine Benassy-Philippe.
Aged 76, Philippe, two years before his death in 1891, handed his position to his youngest son, Joseph Emile Philippe. That same year a few other co-owners decided to leave. It wasn’t until 1901 the owners J.E. Philippe and Benassy-Philippe decided to adopt a joint-stock company to ensure the continuity of the company, as opposed to the time-limited partnership agreements.
The company, however, remained a family-run business essentially until 1932. With J.E. Philippe’s son, Adrien as the last descendant of the original founders to hold a leadership role at Patek Philippe.
As Patek Philippe was also suffered financial devastation during the Great Depression. This led to the acquisition of the company by the Stern brothers in 1932.
SIGNIFICANT HISTORICAL INNOVATIONS AND SUCCESSES
Since its inception, Patek Philippe has remained prosperous over the years through its unique innovations. Let’s have a quick look at these innovations and their successes. Starting with Patek Philippe winning its first gold medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris, in 1855.
The “Slipping” Mainspring Mechanism
In 1863, Patek Philippe debuted and patented the “slipping” mainspring, an ingenious mechanism that prevents a watch’s mainspring from being over-wound. Excessive winding can cause a watch to run fast or even breakdown. An innovation that would become essential to the functionality of automatic wristwatches
First Swiss Wristwatch
Though the first wristwatches were made in the 1500s, well into the 20th century, the pocket watch was largely more popular. With Patek Philippe making for its creation of the very first Swiss-made wristwatch for a royal client, Countess Koscowicz of Hungary.
This was the start of the brand's long list of Royal clientele, including Queen Victoria, Queen Elizabeth II (U.K.), Prince Christian IX and Princess Louise (Denmark), King Victor Emmanuel III (Italy), Sultan Hussein Kamel (Egypt), etc.
Patek Philippe invented and popularized many of the complications we have today. These include split-second chronograph, perpetual calendars, minute repeaters, moon phase, and other chiming complications and its patented World Time complication.
Also, in 1933, Patek Philippe created the Henry Graves Super-complication known as the most complicated mechanical watch in the world with 24 complications until 1989.
Preserving the History of Horology
Patek Philippe has over the years actively taken steps to preserve and celebrate the history of horology through the Patek Philippe Museum. The museum features historical timepieces not only from Patek Philippe but also timepieces from other manufacturers. With a collection encompassing over 500 years of European watchmaking.
The contributions of Patek Philippe to the watchmaking industry is truly extraordinary, with its rich history, landmark achievements, and innovation that are relevant to this day. Undoubtedly, Patek Philippe has earned its place and prestige in the watchmaking industry.