Art News & Views

Patek Philippe : an overview

You must have heard Patek Philippe's well known corporate media advertisement, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.” The main idea upon which Patek Philippe bases its ideology is tradition, and the idea of buying this watch for one's heir is fundamental to this ideology. Owning a Patek Philippe is not about owning an instrument that merely shows time, it is about being involved in the intricate artistic and technological heritage of this timepiece. They are exclusively graceful ladies' and men's watches that are unyielding to short-lived trends, recapturing the hearts of each new generation, as the brand web-site puts it.

Patek Philippe is Geneva's sole-surviving independent watchmaker, and its origins lie in a workshop set up in the year 1839 by Antoine de Pradwdzic called Patek, Czapek & Cie. The company released one of the first crown wound pocket watches in 1839. Prior to this, pocket watches were wound with a key and this invention earned the company one of its 70 patents. In 1844 Patek met a French watchmaker named Jean-Adrien Philippe who joined the firm as a technical director, and the duo produced various innovative models. Patek's specialty was top-of-the-range, highly decorative models of pocket watches, before he met Philippe. Philippe mechanised the production process in Patek's workshop, and the watches that they made became works of art. In 1845, the pair patented their design for an integrated winder and adjuster. The inception of the “free” mainspring and an independent seconds hand also took place in their workshop. In 1851, they registered the company as Patek Philippe & Co. and also exhibited the world's smallest watch at that time (with a diameter of 8.46mm) in Paris. The output of Patek Philippe watches had escalated from 200 a year to around 2,500 in 1856. Their innovations included a double chronograph with sweep seconds, a perpetual calendar mechanism and an improved regulator. In 1868 they created the first Swiss wristwatch, made exclusively for Countess Kocewicz. Their clientele included Queen Victoria, Charlotte Bronte, Madame Curie, Albert Einstein and over thirty royal personages and three popes. Queen Victoria's key-wound timepiece featured a pendant style and was crafted in yellow gold and embellished with diamonds and enamel. Pope Pius IX was presented with a custom-made Patek Philippe which had a yellow gold 49mm case with the Pope's coat of arms enameled on it, along with a special inscription.

They also won over five hundred international awards, mostly at competitions organised by the Geneva Observatory. Patek Philippe is the only Geneva watch manufacturer to have received the Geneva Seal, the highest official quality distinction in the watch making industry, for its mechanical movements. Since 1845, Patek Philippe has accumulated over 70 patents for their technical innovations that concern movements, cases, hands, dials and so on.

After the death of the two founding members, the brand floundered for a while before regaining its position in the 1920s with the introduction of the world's first wristwatch to have incorporated a perpetual calendar. The company changed hands in the year 1932 when Charles Stern took over the brand. Between 1952 and 1962, the technical expertise of Patek Philippe resulted in the battery operated solid-state clock and a master clock system that is still used as a timepiece in many public buildings in Switzerland.

The brand's emblem has historical bearings and goes back to the middle ages. In 1158 a Spanish Order of Knighthood, defended the Calatrava citadel against the moors, and at the end of the 19th century Patel Philippe adopted the emblem of the brave Spanish knights as its brand symbol. The Calatrava continues to be the largest selling Patek Philippe model. This line of watches was meant to reflect the philosophy of the Bauhaus school of art and architecture established in Germany which valued the belief that form should follow function. As the Patek Philippe website tells us, it was the result of an avant-garde philosophy of aesthetics that showcases sleek lines and subtle elegance. As the foremost purpose of any watch is timekeeping, Patek Philippe designed a watch without any fancy trimmings. The Calatrava line was first established in 1932 with the classic round wristwatch. Model 3919, the quintessence of the Calatrava line now replaced by the slightly larger 5119 model, has hobnail patterns and wide polished bezels, neat Roman numerals and a porcelain white dial. The 18-karat gold case is water resistant up to 80 feet and it has a manually wound mechanical movement. In the 1980s, the model 4919 for ladies was introduced in which the hobnail motif was made more prominent, by placing it on the bezel and hour markers. The E1 quartz movement, Patek's own, drives it.

The product range of Patek Philippe, apart from Calatrava, consists of Nautilus, Ellipse, Gondolo and Aquanaut. The Golden Ellipse collection was launched in 1968, and is widely acclaimed because of the initial elliptical design based on the golden section- a ratio discovered more than two thousand years ago. The watch is a perfect marriage of the ancient and the modern. The Nautilus collection was introduced in 1976, and it speaks of a strong design- that of a porthole- and distinct personality. The original model was the Ref. 3700/1 and is currently one of the most sought after timepieces at auction. The line has established its name as an elegant sports watch. The Gondolo collection was launched recently in 1993 and is a contemporary interpretation of the Art Deco style. A square model with a picture-frame bezel, this elegant watch contains a simple dial with Roman quarters. This timepiece has a quartz movement and a sapphire crystal on an 18 karat yellow gold case, with a choice of leather strap or bracelet. It is water resistant to 82 ft. The Patek Philippe Aquanaut was launched comparatively recently in 1997 and it has a modern gestalt with a rounded octagonal shape.

Apart from these collections, Patek Philippe had given birth to a number of individual masterpieces. In the 1920s Patek-Philippe made a pocket watch for Ward Packard, a wealthy American car tycoon. The construction process spanned over six years and it had over 20-odd complications, including an awe-inducing view of the sky stars as seen from Packard's house in Ohio. The cost amounted to $16,000 back then, and it has been recently purchased by Patek-Philippe for $2 million in order to display it in their museum which affords a more than cursory glance at the history of European horology as well as the history of the brand itself. It houses most of the brand's premium timepieces.

In 1933 Patek Philippe produced a pocket watch with 24 functions for Henry Graves, Jr. commonly referred to as The Supercomplication. Until 1989, this pocket watch remains, with its 24 complications, the world's most complicated timepiece. In 1989, Patek Philippe outshone all its previous records by creating the most complicated timepiece ever made to celebrate its 150 years, the Calibre '89 with 33 complications including the date of Easter, a thermometer, time of sunrise, equation of time, sidereal time and many other indicators. It consists of 1728 distinctive parts, compared to the 51 components that are needed to create a Swatch. The Calibre '89 is also able to add a day to February for leap years, leaving out an extra day for every hundred years. Only four Calibre '89s were made to mark the company's birthday and the first one was sold at auction for $2.7 million, while the rest fetched even higher prices.

Because of the exceptional workmanship that is invested in Patek Philippe's timepieces, each one is an exclusive object. Their craftsmanship is complemented by a method of thorough quality control, and the brand masterminds assimilate each production phase from commencement to the final assembling, including movement, casing and strap design. According to the CEO of the brand, Philippe Stein, Patek Philippe is the perfect choice for a man interested in enduring excellence and perfection. Hence, this brand is easily marketed as not just a timepiece, but as an asset an heirloom.


By Anurima Sen   





Tags: collectibles

Post a comment
( Max 250 words)

Your Ad Here
art etc. news & views is a monthly magazine published from India in order to promote art and culture. It intends to raise awareness about art all around India and the world. The magazine covers art exhibitions, auction highlights, market trends, art happenings besides Antique, Collectibles, Fashion, Jewellery, Vintage, Furniture, Film, Music and Culture.