Another year at a watch fair in Switzerland, and like the year before it, itching ears caught whispers of Patek Philippe being likely up for sale, and whisper coalesced into speculation when this broke into the open in a Bloomberg story [read it here] published yesterday (21 January). Citing analysts from Hamburg-based investment bank Berenberg who heard it in turn from “industry talk”, the report stated that Patek Philippe could be put up for sale, fetching somewhere between 7 to 9 billion euros (USD$8-10 billion).
Watch brands change hands like trading cards, that’s just business, but Patek Philippe isn’t just any watchmaking company, it’s practically watchmaking royalty – not the type starring in drunken stories on tabloid pages, but royalty that is admired with old school reverence from a bygone era. It’s one of the oldest family-owned watchmaking companies in the business, competing in a rarified strata of the watchmaking industry dominated by huge luxury conglomerates. Family is central to the Patek Philippe magic, not least for how its ads immortalised the (Patek Philippe) wristwatch as no mere accessory but a precious heirloom we do not own, but serve as custodians, passing it from one generation to the next. Much of this will be lost in translation were Patek Philippe to be sold to some faceless corporation, conglomerate or foundation.
In any case, as often as such rumours turn up, they are also procedurally swatted down, and company representatives told us at an event today saying that the Stern family has no reason to sell the company. In a 2014 interview with Le Temps newspaper, company president Thierry Stern reportedly said Patek Philippe might have to leave Geneva or be put on sale if its tax burden wasn’t reduced: was he making a rhetorical statement? Switzerland is after all one of the most competitive economies in the world (it held the crown for nearly a decade until it was recently relegated to second place by a resurgent USA, according to the 2018 edition of the World Economic Forum’s Global Competitiveness Report). Moreover, Patek Philippe is also about to open up a new space at their manufacture in Geneva, at an investment of 500 million.