Patek Philippe is known as “the Rolls-Royce of watches,” and its history offers a compelling insight into how this unique, family-held watch company has dominated the Swiss watch industry for over 160 years.
Patek Philippe was the result of two brilliant but very different men joining forces to create a company that has endured almost unchanged to this day. Antoine Norbert de Patek, a Polish refugee and former soldier and Jean Adrien Philippe (who succeeded in constructing an extremely flat pocket watch that could be wound up and set by means of the crown, instead of with a key). They formed Patek & Co in 1845. With Adrien Philippe’s ingenuity and hard work, business steadily improved. To recognize his partner’s efforts, Patek again re-organized the firm in 1851, this time as Patek Philippe & Co.
Following the co-founders’ death, three longtime company employees became partners in the firm. In 1901, Patek Philippe was reorganized as a stock corporation under the name “Ancienne Manufacture d’Horlogerie Patek Philippe & Cie, SA”. Unfortunately, the company’s fortunes suffered as a result of the Great Depression and Patek Philippe was sold to Charles and Jean Stern, who owned the company that exclusively supplied dials for Patek Philippe watches.
For the first time in years, Patek Philippe with the Stern family in charge was able to control every aspect of its production, sales picked up and the company’s financial health gradually improved. This period marks a time of great innovation and the creation of many spectacular watches that quickly re-established Patek Philippe as the industry leader. Another advantage Patek Philippe had over its competition was the fact that it was a family-run business. As such, major business decisions did not have to meet with approval from a board of directors.
One thing that has not changed, nor will it for that matter, is the issue of Patek Philippe’s ownership. The Stern family has promised that Patek Philippe will continue as a family-owned company, despite enormous financial incentives for them to “sell out” to a conglomerate. In doing so, they honor a grand tradition which dates back to 1845…and a partnership whose spirit lives on forever in every marvelous Patek Philippe watch.