Patek Philippe has always loved London, but in terms of importance to the great manufacturer, the US market might be unrivalled. Size is, of course, a major part of it, but Patek is as secretive as Francis Urquhart. Questions about percentage of sales by territory would undoubtedly elicit an “I couldn’t possibly comment” from a PP spokesperson, but I have no doubt about the scale of the brand’s American component. It is a major, if not THE major consumer of Patek’s watches.

In understanding its pro-USA leaning (not that PP doesn’t show equal respect for all of its markets), one might look at the training regimes undergone by its president, Thierry Stern, and his predecessor and now chairman, his father Philippe. The latter joined the company in his mid-20s, in 1964, and was dispatched immediately to New York to learn the trade. Alongside another newcomer, Hank Edelman, Philippe stared out learning how to fit straps. Two years later, he returned to Switzerland, and would serve as the company president from 1993, when his father, Henri, retired.

In a Hollywood-like biopic manner, Thierry is said to have started out in the mailroom in the company’s New York offices, like his father in the Henri Stern Watch Agency (also known as Patek Philippe USA). There he spent two years, learning about the watch business from the ground up. His mentor would undoubtedly have been Edelman, now a legend in the watch industry and who is, for all intents and purposes, the “Mr Patek” of the USA. In 2009, Thierry became president upon Philippe’s semi-retirement.

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Despite the almost arch “Swissness” of père et fils, there are the odd whiffs of Americanism. They have, their almost-accent-free, perfect English notwithstanding, an “American executive” air about them, and in a good way rather than a Trump-ian manner. Europeans have a tendency, when applying clichés or stereotypes to Americans, to forget that there are more to American CEOs than the two extremes of be-suited hustler or dressed-down dot.com billionaire. It’s down to the city they named twice. Many New Yorkers exhibit refinement, grace and composure to rival any native habitué of London’s private clubs.

One cannot escape one’s environment, even of temporary duration. I may be Maine-born, but after 43 years in Kent, I have acquired a taste for Branston pickle and worship Terry-Thomas (but still find milk in tea nauseating in the extreme and detest Tony Hancock). Both Philippe and Thierry thus were honed by an on-going a tradition: Philippe’s father, Henri, also spent 20 years in New York, sent there by his father, Charles, where he established the aforementioned eponymous agency. It is one of those watch brand anomalies, like Rolex’s historic ties to London, that has applied an authentic international air to what is one of the most truly “Genèvoise” of all the great houses.

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In terms of pure attitude, the relationship between Patek Philippe and New York, rather than with the USA as a whole, has become synecdoche for Patek in the USA, because the company is seen as a “New York” brand, in the way that others seem to possess a Miami or LA or Las Vegas following or “vibe”. Patek’s connection to the Big Apple goes back even further than three generations of Stern apprenticeships.

In 1854, Count Antoine Norbert de Patek approached Tiffany’s – then as now a giant among luxury retailers – to sell his young brand’s watches, which they did. So strong is the connection that Tiffany remains one of the very few stores whose name has graced a Patek Philippe dial, from Calatrava to Aquanaut. It’s interesting to note that Tiffany & Co was founded in 1837 and Patek Philippe two years later, the two brands growing alongside each other.

New York is, whatever anyone else might tell you, the most sophisticated city in the USA. Appropriately, Patek Philippe watches are not the primary choices of arrivistes, rappers, reality show celebs or others eager to flash the cash, though the latter might be attracted to Nautiluses and Aquanauts in red gold with a sprinkling of diamonds. Instead, New York has become a repository for Patek Philippe complications, especially calendars – triple, perpetual, what-have-you – and chronographs. Travel, or rather, dine in the right circles, and it’s as if 2008 and Bernie Madoff never happened.

New York Patek-ophiles (is there a name for the brand’s enthusiasts, a la Paneristi?) form a clearly-defined breed among watch enthusiasts. Their love for the brand transcends gender, and I cannot begin to count the number of his’n’hers Patek-equipped couples I have met there over the years. Banish any thoughts of hubby buying a Twenty-4 to keep the missus quiet: my most recent encounter with a Patek Posse saw distaff members with Ref 7071s.

There. I did it. I used the code. Rubbing shoulders with American, and especially Manhattanite Patek-ians means talking in numbers. It’s the vocal element of the New York/American members of the species that first strikes the observer because of two verbal tics. The first is always talking in reference numbers. I proudly boast that I only know one by rote – Ref 1463 – because it is my dream watch. As for the rest, to me a Calatrava is a Calatrava is a Calatrava.

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Not so in the USA. The language is almost a secret patois, a form of jargon that demonstrates your seriousness, your right to be in that cigar smokers’ private club, swapping tales of the ones that got away in auction. The obsessiveness is rivalled only by hard-core Rolex and Panerai collectors, and there is certainly no difference in terms of pedantry: just as any Rolex collector will immediately draw up a mental image of a 1513, so will rearranging those numbers to “5131” find resonance with the American Patek enthusiast.

One soon learns to forgive this, especially if one is just as much a nerd, a geek, an obsessive about other acquisitions, let alone watches. There are, for example, audiophiles who speak in terms of LPs’ matrix numbers rather than their titles, and if you don’t know what “UZRM-4044” means, then you should turn in your headphones. At first, one feels like an outsider, even if one owns a Patek and has an extract from the archives to attest to the watch’s provenance. But I will never call my Calatrava a “Ref. 96,” if only because I like the way “Calatrava” rolls off the tongue.

As for the second tic, it’s the pronunciation of “Patek” itself. I long ago stopped correcting people: I don’t want my lights punched out because of my pedantry, so I merely grit my teeth when someone says he owns a TAG “Hugh-er” or a Franck Muller with “Franck” to rhyme with “tank” rather than “tonk”. After all, nobody says “Paree” when talking about Paris unless they are French, in the city itself or pretentious twats.

Alas, Americans say “Patek” as if it were a place where one keeps horses, rhyming with my favourite fish. Thierry Stern, whom I recently had the honour to interview, confounded me further when he demonstrated his Americanisation by pronouncing it in a diplomatically mid-Atlantic manner, half-way between what a New Yorker would say, and what a Polish speaker told me: the correct pronunciation is “PAH-tek”, with the accent on the first syllable, not “Pah-TEK” as I and millions of others have been mispronouncing it for years. But it is certainly not “Paddick”, as you will hear throughout the USA.

Which brings us to the defining anomaly about Patek’s relationship to the USA, something that clearly had no effect on how Americans pronounce the brand’s name, but which helped to establish Patek Philippe as an object to be admired. To the best of my knowledge, no other watch brand has so strong a presence in a single territory such that it can inspire a book with the title like this: Patek Philippe In America – Marketing the World’s Foremost Watch. But such a book does exist, there’s no padding to make it weighty and the subject of how the brand was sold to my fellow Yanks is deep and rich.

Kind of like Patek’s Stateside collectors.

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