5 Reasons Why Patek Philippe Remains Peerless

Platinum 2499; Eric Clapton
The one and only platinum 2499 sold by Christie's in November of 2012, in Geneva for CHF 3,443,000; formerly the property of Eric Clapton (Image: REUTERS/Keith Bedford)

Patek Philippe hosted a ten-day public exhibition titled The Art of Watches, Grand Exhibition, which will took place earlier in July, from 13th to the 23rd at Cipriani on 42nd Street.

A two-storey structure was built within Cipriani to showcase pieces from the Patek Philippe museum, as well as its current collection. At the same time, Christie’s New York joined in the festivities hosting a ten-day selling exhibition of vintage Patek Philippe watches, featuring over 300 examples of timepieces available for immediate purchase in the 20 Rockefeller Center Galleries.

This spectacular selling event, completely independent of the manufacture, featured watches priced from $5,000 to over $5,000,000.

Combined, these two Patek Philippe exhibitions attracted thousands of the marque from around the world. The excitement that Patek Philippe generates begs the question, why and how is this so?

Let’s explore what makes this brand more than a mere watchmaker and what drives so many people to want to see, learn, and acquire all things Patek Philippe.

John Reardon
John Reardon, Christie’s International Head of Watches.

1. Scarcity

First, the uninterrupted history of this company has made sure that each year of its production since 1839 has produced coveted masterpieces that the world’s elite have sought to acquire.

From European royalty to the American industrialists of the 19th century, men and women of taste and means have named Patek Philippe as their watchmaker of choice for generations.

The supply of Patek Philippe watches has always been relatively low and the demand was, and continues to be, high. Nowhere else can the competition to own a trophy from Patek Philippe’s past production be better seen than at auctions where the brand continues to shatter its own records year after year.

Patek Philippe gold hunter-case, minute-repeating, perpetual calendar, split-second pocket-watch, circa 1904
[Christie’s New York Auction, 6 December 2016] Patek Philippe gold hunter-case, minute-repeating, perpetual calendar, split-second pocket-watch, circa 1904. Price realised: $487,500

2. Design

If you picture the signature look of a Rolex, Cartier, etc., your mind instantly conjures up a signature model such as the Daytona or Tank. However, in the world of Patek Philippe, the variety and longevity of design is unparalleled.

Simple words and even reference numbers stir up the emotion of a collector: Calatrava. Gilbert Albert. Nautilus. Ellipse. 96. 3450. 2499.

The list is endless and the variety of styles, designs, and complications from Patek is unmatched in the watch world.

Patek Philippe stainless-steel Nautilus ref. 5711/1A
[Christie’s New York Auction, 6 December 2016] Patek Philippe stainless-steel Nautilus ref. 5711/1A. automatic wristwatch with date, centre seconds, and bracelet. Retailed by Tiffany & Co. 2013: original retail price $17,500. Price realised: $47,500

3. Value

When visiting the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, one enters a world of unexpected prices and unrivaled beauty. One moment you are looking at Queen Victoria’s Patek, the next a watch that was custom-made for James Ward Packard, and then discreetly hidden in a corner is a Patek Philippe that was sent into orbit on a Space Shuttle.

Visitors always comment on how priceless the individual watches must be and for those lucky enough to visit the Patek Philippe factory, the first comment after touring the manufacture is almost always: “Patek Philippe does not charge enough for its watches.” After one sees the detail and work that goes into even the most basic timepieces.

However, in the world of auctions, everything has its price, and the prices achieved at watch auctions never cease to impress even the most jaded collector. Watches that sold for hundreds now trade for thousands, watches that sold for thousands often trade for millions, and the trophies of the past continue to be the trophies of the future as the titans of today battle to own the finest and rarest of Patek Philippe’s production.

You can’t guarantee that any Patek Philippe you buy can go up in value but there are some great examples of Patek Philippe watches that make their original purchasers looks like geniuses.

Patek Philippe gold perpetual calendar, chronograph wristwatch with moonphases. Signed Patek Philippe, Genève, ref. 2499
[Christie's Geneva Auction, 16 May 2016] Patek Philippe gold perpetual calendar, chronograph wristwatch with moonphases. Signed Patek Philippe, Genève, ref. 2499, movement no. 868,557, case no. 696,499, manufactured in 1956. Price realised: CHF 965,000
Patek Philippe stainless-steel wristwatch with black dial
[Christie's Geneva Auction, 9 November 2015] Patek Philippe stainless-steel wristwatch with black dial. Signed Patek Philippe & Co, Genève, ref. 530, movement no. 924,492, case no. 508,642, manufactured in 1943. Price realised: CHF 106,250

4. Archives

Every Patek Philippe watch ever made has a searchable “extract” available from the brand’s archives. It instills great confidence knowing that you can source the date of production and original date of sale for every Patek Philippe made since 1839.

When you meet someone, who owns a Patek watch, it’s a safe bet that they have done something extraordinary with their life. The extracts, which meticulously detail the history of each watch, evoke moments in individuals’ lives which have been marked by the purchase of a Patek Philippe.

Patek doesn’t include the names of previous owners in its extracts, but most members of every royal family and countless heads-of-state and celebrities are in these archives.

It’s wonderful fodder for the imagination. Perhaps the previous owner was celebrating the end of a war with your watch, the beginning of a new life with someone, or the birth of a child.

Patek Philippe gold automatic perpetual calendar wristwatch, ref. 3450
[Christie’s Geneva Auction, 9 November 2014] Patek Philippe gold automatic perpetual calendar wristwatch, ref. 3450, circa 1984. Price realised: $401,696
Patek Philippe gold automatic wristwatch with black enamel dial, ref. 2526
[Christie’s New York Auction, 6 December 2016] Patek Philippe gold automatic wristwatch with black enamel dial, ref. 2526, circa 1957. Price realised: $93,750

5. DNA

The design, artistry and craftsmanship balanced in a Patek Philippe is peerless. Patek’s cases, for example, say it all: they may appear simple in their overall execution, but Patek takes no shortcuts.

Among some other watchmakers, cases are cast and machine-finished, often at an outside shop; at Patek Philippe, cases are mostly made in-house, and often forged from solid pieces of gold or platinum.

Patek uses traditional case-making techniques that hark back to the 1800s, and which have been preserved by a select few contemporary watchmakers. To make one of its cases requires know-how that’s been passed from generation to generation, just like the watches themselves. And that’s the way it should be. That’s the beauty of a Patek Philippe.

Editor’s note: John Reardon is presently the international head of watches at Christie’s. If you’d like more information and/or advice on watch collecting from John, you may contact him at: jreardon@christies.com.

Patek Philippe stainless-steel, antimagnetic wristwatch with original certificate and box, ref. 3417
[Christie’s New York Auction, 11 June 2014] Patek Philippe stainless-steel, antimagnetic wristwatch with original certificate and box, ref. 3417, circa 1961.1961: Original retail $215. Price realised: $87,500

Five questions to ask yourself before you buy your next Patek Philippe

Whatever your budget may be, odds are there is a Patek Philippe for you. From under $5,000 to the-sky’s-the-limit, there are investment-grade Patek Philippe watches at every price point. Here are the five questions to ask yourself before you buy your next (or first) Patek Philippe:

  1. Do I want a Patek from the current collection from a retailer, a pre-owned Patek from a reseller, or a vintage watch from a trusted source?
  2. Is my goal to buy a watch for investment or simply to wear and enjoy? Or both?
  3. Does my modern watch purchase have its original box and papers?
  4. Does my vintage watch purchase have an Extract from the Archives of Patek Philippe confirming the original date of production and sale?
  5. Have I considered the cost of restoration and future servicing of my Patek Philippe?