It’s a well-known fact: all watch brands are equal but some watch brands are more equal than others. Some are lashed by the waves while others sail a steady course. This circle of brands that appear more or less immune to economic vicissitudes isn’t a question of size as it includes the likes of Richard Mille and Voutilainen. And, in a choice position, Patek Philippe.
Thierry Stern’s speech when presenting the firm’s latest models at Baselworld was enough to turn any watch industry boss green with envy. With his usual cheeriness, the president of Patek Philippe began by some self-congratulations on the forthcoming inauguration of the new building in Plan-les-Ouates, near Geneva. At a cost of CHF 500 million, financed entirely through equity, its 11,000 square metres will be for training, research and customer service. “It’ll be useful these next few years,” commented Stern with just a hint of irony.
A demonstration of strength
Product-wise, the brand gave a demonstration of strength – though without flexing its muscles – in the form of 14 new references that join the regular collections. Nor was there any great show of technique, given that the Manufacture revealed just one original grand complication: the World Time Minute Repeater ref. 5531R. It’s a strategy that might appear to err on the side of caution but is in fact a means of controlled growth. Thierry Stern has made it a point of honour not to give in to demand; production for 2018 is forecast at 60,000 watches, a figure that has remained stable for several years. Stern gave the example of the Nautilus, a “sport” collection that welcomes a Perpetual Calendar ref. 5740/1G. “If we wanted to,” says Stern, “we could sell three times more. In fact we could sell nothing but! Except that we never will.”
I'd rather make these rare handcraft pieces and not sell them than let these skills disappear.
It’s a different matter where the métiers d’art are concerned. Produced for the most part to order – hence at a very slow pace – by the foremost traditional brands, for Patek Philippe each of these exceptional timepieces is an opportunity to safeguard precious skills. To this effect, the Manufacture is presenting 51 one-of-a-kind pieces, from a fully engraved pocket watch to a Grand Feu enamel table clock, or a wristwatch whose dial is embellished with wood micro-marquetry. Here too, the message is clear: “I’d rather make them and not sell them than let these crafts disappear.” It’s a laudable ambition and who else but Patek Philippe could proclaim it.