Patek Philippe Watch History: Superlative Artistry & Craftsmanship Through Generations

Patek Philippe Watch History: Superlative Artistry & Craftsmanship Through Generations 2018-01-16T14:20:02+00:00

Patek Philippe Geneve Brand LogoPatek Philippe is widely-regarded as one of the best and most prestigious high-end luxury watch brands on the market.

The firm takes creativity and craftsmanship very seriously, going to great lengths to achieve impressive milestones in design and quality.

A staggering degree of care, expertise, and artisanal skill goes into each and every finished Patek Philippe watch.

Quality over quantity is the norm for this reputed brand, and it takes immense pride in the exclusivity of its timepieces. In fact, over its long history, it’s estimated that Patek Philippe has created only about 1 million watches in total. Other brands are known to produce that many watches in just 1 year!

This is part of why the company’s watches are so highly sought-after worldwide by collectors and fans. Rare Patek Philippe models fetch record auction prices, like the Graves “Supercomplication” pocket watch, purchased at over $24 million USD.

Patek Philippe pioneered and popularized many of today’s best-loved complications in haute horlogerie. These include perpetual calendars, minute repeaters and other chiming complications, various types of chronographs, and its patented World Time complication.

The brand also plays a leading role in preserving and celebrating the history of horology through the Patek Philippe Museum. The museum features many historic timepieces from other manufacturers in addition to showcasing vintage Patek Philippe creations. The breadth of its collections is truly extraordinary, encompassing over 500 years of European watchmaking history.

In the following overview of Patek-Philippe, you will can discover:

If you’ve come to learn something specific, simply click on the link above to jump straight to it. Otherwise, keep scrolling to read it all!

Patek Philippe’s Origins & Early History

The brand known today as Patek Philippe was originally established in 1839 in Geneva, Switzerland.

Who Was Patek Philippe’s Original Founder?

Antoni Norbert Patek was born on June 12, 1812, in Piaski, a small village in Poland.

Patek Philippe Founder Antoine Norbert de Patek

Founder portrait; images courtesy of Patek Philippe

His early life was heavily affected by widespread political turmoil. At the time, the part of Poland where Patek lived belonged to the Russian Empire.

Though this area was supposedly a sovereign state with its own constitution, Imperial Russia constantly disregarded its citizens’ constitutional rights.

Political unrest rose to a fever pitch after Tsar Nicholas I crowned himself King of Poland.

Under him, religious freedom was severely restricted and traditional Polish democratic institutions were completely replaced with a Russian-appointed centralized administration.

Patek, who showed great courage and integrity from a young age, joined the Polish cavalry when he turned 16. Serving in the 1st Mounted Rifles Regiment, he fought valiantly in the November Uprising (1830-1831).

Patek was recognized as a hero for his service, receiving the War Order of Virtuti Militari. This military decoration ranks among Poland’s highest honors for feats of wartime courage and bravery.

However,  Russian forces greatly outnumbered the opposition and defeated the Polish uprising later in 1831. Soon after, even the pretense of Polish autonomy seemed to be destroyed, and tsarist oppression intensified further. Thus began the roughly 40-year “Great Emigration” of high-ranking Polish politicians and soldiers like Patek to Western Europe.

At first, Patek sought refuge in Paris. But a decree from the French government forced Patek to relocate again, and this time, he chose Switzerland.

Beginnings: Patek & Czapek

As it happens, Patek settled in Geneva. Here, he started using the name Antoine Norbert de Patek.

He felt immediately drawn to the famous Geneva watchmaking industry. In particular, harboring artistic inclinations himself, the long heritage of decorative arts practiced in Genevan watchmaking highly appealed to him.

So, he partnered with a fellow Polish immigrant, François Czapek, to form Patek, Czapek, & Cie in 1839. Czech-born Czapek, a respected master watchmaker, was already well-established in Geneva.

Patek Philippe Vintage Pocket WatchesThe newly-minted firm swiftly found modest success, focusing from the start on raising the bar for quality watchmaking.

Rather than manufacturing large quantities cheaply to turn a profit, they opted to produce about 200 top-quality timepieces annually.

Patek and Czapek also frequently drew on their shared cultural heritage in their work together.

Many of their early watches featured distinctive imagery associated with Polish history, religious traditions, and folklore.

For example, shown above are pocket watches with miniatures of Polish national hero Tadeusz Kościuszko (left) and King Poniatowski (right).

However, Patek and Czapek often clashed with one another. Soon, Patek was convinced he needed to find a new partner in order to keep his young business afloat.

Philippe Comes Onboard

In 1844, Patek went to France for a major Industrial Exposition. There, he made contact with talented young French watch expert Jean Adrien Philippe. Philippe, the son of an accomplished watchmaker, was quickly gaining fame in the watchmaking community through his promising innovations.

At the time, he was developing keyless winding technology for watches, work on which he later published a successful book.

It used to be standard for pocket watches to be wound using a special key. In Philippe’s design, on the other hand, winding was performed via the crown, which was called the “stem” back then. These “stem-winders” were much more convenient, as the owner didn’t have to worry about losing the winding key.

Patek Philippe Keyless Winding Blueprint And Movement

Left: Philippe’s Keyless Winding Concept Drawings; Right A: “Stemwinder” Movement

Indeed, it was Philippe’s patented keyless mechanism, which won a Gold Medal at the Exhibition, that initially intrigued Patek.

Fate had it that Patek’s partnership contract with Czapek was close to expiring just then. Surveying Philppe’s work and speaking personally with him, Patek was confident Philippe’s involvement would take his business to new heights.

So, in 1845, Philippe moved to Geneva and joined Patek’s watchmaking endeavor as a partner and Technical Director. After Czapek left, Patek shortened the company name to “Patek & Cie.” Later on, in 1851, Philippe’s pivotal role was recognized through the name change to “Patek, Philippe, & Cie.”

A Complementary Partnership

Patek Philippe Director Jean Adrien Philippe

Director/partner Jean Adrien Philippe & his signature

As Technical Director, Philippe was in charge of overseeing manufacturing, improving production methods, and developing new features and other innovations.

Pushing technical boundaries in watchmaking was Philippe’s chief passion and he greatly excelled at it.

At first, he focused on his work in keyless winding, obtaining several patents for his unique winding and handsetting mechanisms.

Philippe’s later work would solidly contribute to other early landmark innovations in watchmaking, such as the development of automatic movements.

Patek, on the other hand, focused on the famous decorative aspects of Genevan watchmaking that had first captured his heart. He hired highly-skilled artisans to lavishly adorn Patak Philippe watches using time-honored traditional handicrafts such as:

  • Enameling: Fired glass-like finishing, often bursting with unique colors and textures
  • Miniatures: Exquisite miniature enamel paintings for which Geneva is particularly famous
  • Engraving: Intricate images made in metal using intaglio, relief, or sculpting techniques
  • Guilloché:  Patterned engraving achieved through skilled machining with rose engine lathes
  • Marquetry: Delicate inlays created in fine wood veneers, stone, shell, ivory or other materials
  • Gem-setting: Precious stones expertly selected, arranged and mounted to maximize brilliance

Indeed, throughout its history, Patek Philippe would play a pivotal role in the preservation of these handicrafts in watchmaking. Even when the popularity of traditional decorative methods seemed to be waning, the brand continuously commissioned traditional artisans. These age-old techniques, though rarely seen today, can still be appreciated in exclusive masterpieces made by firms like Patek Philippe.

Patek also concentrated heavily on marketing, both locally and internationally. His frequent trips abroad helped immensely in establishing the brand’s international reputation and securing new markets.

In this way, the powerful partnership between Patek and Philippe was a major contributing factor to their company’s monumental success.

Succession & Company Restructuring

Sadly, Patek’s health took a turn for the worse by 1875, and he passed away in March 1877.

Patek had one son, Léon. However, Léon didn’t want to helm the manufacture, as he didn’t share his father’s passion for watchmaking.

Instead, Léon traded his company rights for a hefty annuity, which he lived upon for the rest of his life. So, Patek’s position instead went to his son-in-law, Joseph Antonine Bénassy-Philippe.

Patek Philippe Grand Quai LocationThus, at this point, Patek Philippe was owned jointly by Philippe, Bénassy-Philippe, and three employees who had invested considerable capital.

In 1891, Philippe passed his position down to Joseph Emile Philippe, his youngest son. As it so happened, the three employee co-owners decided to leave the company that year as well.

By 1901, J.E. Philippe and Bénassy-Philippe decided it was unwise to keep Patek Philippe’s future dependent on time-limited partnership agreements. So, they converted the business to a joint-stock company.

However, it was still essentially a family-run business. Philippe and Bénassy-Philippe, along with several other shareholders, managed the firm by serving on its Board of Directors.

Upon Joseph Emile Philippe’s death, his share in the company went to his son Adrien. Adrien was the last of the original founders’ descendants to hold a leadership role at Patek Philippe.

Historical Innovations & Successes

From the time of its founding to the early 1900s, Patek Philippe prospered spectacularly through its stunning innovations. By 1855, the company had already won its first Gold Medal at the Exposition Universelle in Paris. Many other prestigious awards and milestones would follow.

Let’s look at several more of the company’s most significant watchmaking and marketing breakthroughs from its early years:

“Slipping” Mainspring

In 1863, Patek Philippe debuted and patented an innovation that would become essential to automatic (self-winding) wristwatches, the “slipping” mainspring. This ingenious mechanism prevents a watch’s mainspring from being over-wound. To learn more about mainsprings and other fundamental watch components, refer to our comprehensive Watch Parts Guide.

In automatic movements, which are continually wound by the natural motions of the wrist, avoiding over-winding is of paramount importance. Excessive winding can make a watch run too quickly or even break. Thus, Patek Philippe often advertised its slipping mainspring as the “durable” or “unbreakable” mainspring.

First-Ever Swiss Wristwatch & Royal Clientele

Until well into the 20th century, the pocket watch was the timepiece of choice, especially among men.

Patek Philippe First Wristwatch For Countess KoscowiczThough the earliest wristwatches emerged in the 1500s, they were relatively rare and regarded more as jewelry than true watches.

One of Patek Philippe’s many historic achievements was its creation of the very first Swiss-made wristwatch in 1868.

The watch, which was later purchased by Countess Koscowicz of Hungary, was marvelously opulent.

Placed delicately on a grooved, gilded bracelet, the watch is surrounded by elaborate engravings and glittery gems.

The largest stone sits beautifully on the watch’s ornate dust-cover–the perfect finishing touch in a watch fit for royalty. Indeed, Patek Philippe was already gaining renown as a cherished favorite of royal families all over the world. The brand’s long list of royal clientele also includes:

  • Queen Victoria and Prince Albert (U.K.)
  • Prince Christian IX and Princess Louise  (Denmark)
  • King Victor Emmanuel III (Italy)
  • Sultan Hussein Kamel (Egypt)

Calatrava Cross Brand Logo

In 1887, Patek Philippe registered the Calatrava Cross as its official brand logo (shown below).

The intricate-yet-elegant Calatrava Cross is a motif with a rich history harkening back to the Middle Ages. It originates from the Order of Calatrava, the oldest and preeminent chivalric order in Spain.

Patek Philippe Calatrava Cross Brand Logo

The knights of Calatrava successfully defended Spain against attacks from the Moors. The knighthood’s legacy rendered the Calatrava Cross a symbol of “courage, chivalry, and independence,” all cherished values for Patek Philippe.

The Calatrava Cross, as a Catholic emblem, also celebrates the founder’s religious heritage. Patek fought bravely in his youth for the freedom to practice his Catholic faith in Poland. Patek Philippe maintains a strong bond with the Catholic Church, which has made a tradition of commissioning Patek timepieces for high-ranking officials, even for several popes through history!

“Duc de Regla” Chiming Pocket Watch

Patek Philippe has always been ahead of its time in the challenging field of chiming complications. In its founding year, the brand already offered watches that chimed every quarter hour.  Soon after, in 1845, it developed and released its first true minute repeater.

Patek Philippe Duc de Regla Pocket Watch

However, with the 1910 Duc de Regla pocket watch, Patek Philippe outdid itself in grand style. The timepiece features several chiming complications, utilizing a total of 5 gongs, in one beautifully-decorated masterpiece. It contains a grande and petit sonnerie, a minute repeater, and a Westminster chime.

Great Depression & Help From the Sterns

No business, however successful, could completely avoid the devastating international effects of the Great Depression. In fact, Patek Philippe, as a luxury brand, was hit particularly hard. Many of its loyal customers, suffering financially from the crisis, could no longer keep up with payments on their purchases.

By 1932, the company’s finances were in dire straits. Still, its directors feared the Patek Philippe legacy would be seriously endangered if they allowed competitors to buy the company.

Hoping for the best, they made a proposal to the owners of one of their most trusted suppliers, dial manufacturer ‘Cadrans Stern Frères.

Thankfully, brothers Charles and Jean Stern, who deeply admired traditional Swiss watchmaking, were happy to help. Their contributions during this time saved Patek Philippe from financial ruin and ultimately allowed it to survive the Depression

Patek Philippe Owners Charles And Jean Stern

The Stern brothers also decided to buy shares, and by the end of 1932, completely owned the company.

Acknowledging considerable differences between dial manufacturing and watchmaking, they humbly refrained from assuming leadership at Patek Philippe.

Instead, the Sterns entrusted that responsibility to renowned watch expert Jean Pfister, appointing him Technical Director. Pfister, who left a competing watchmaking firm to work for Patek Philippe, lead with dedication until his retirement 26 years later.

Maintaining Independence & 20th Century Growth

The Stern family’s support and influence quickly exerted overwhelmingly positive effects on Patek Philippe’s overall growth, direction, and reputation. This allowed it to not only completely recover from the Depression, but to ultimately rise to its current position as a leading brand.

For example, in the very year that the Sterns took ownership, the firm debuted its “Calatrava” collection of dress watches. As we’ll see, this collection would become one of the best-loved and most enduring watch lines in Patek Philippe history.

Five years later, in 1937, Patek Philippe introduced its first World Time wristwatch. Featuring 24 time zones, the watch was an important precursor to Patek Philippe’s famous patented World Time complication.

Patek Philippe Presidents Henri Philippe Thierry Stern

Henri (left), Philippe (center) and Thierry (right) Stern

Particularly pivotal for Patek Philippe was the Sterns’ decision to convert the company to a full-fledged manufacture. Being able to craft watches completely in-house affords the brand a great deal of independence and artistic freedom.

In 1958, Charles Stern’s son, Henri, stepped up as President of Patek Philippe. Henri’s son, Philippe, would also share the Stern family passion for fine watchmaking and became company president in 1993.

Today, Philippe’s son, Thierry, proudly leads Patek Philippe (since 2009) as its fourth generation Stern president.  In fact, Patek Philippe is the last major Genevan watch manufacturer to remain independently-owned and family-run.

Flagship Watch Collections

Patek Philippe Grand Complications Reference 5320GPatek Philippe has always been highly esteemed for its complicated watches, currently offered in its Complications and Grand Complications collections.

Here, the brand’s unmistakable technical mastery and innovative brilliance is showcased heavily.

Models in these lines are characterized, naturally, by the complexity and breadth of their complications.

For example, the Grand Complications 530G-001 (pictured) features a perpetual calendar, date windows, moon phases, and sweep seconds.

Style choices vary widely in these two collections. To get a better feel for the brand’s design philosophy and aesthetic signature, let’s examine four iconic watch families:

Calatrava

Patek Philippe 1932 Calatrava Model

Original 1932 Calatrava design

First launched in 1932, the year the Stern family acquired Patek Philippe, Calatrava was the company’s first breakout watch collection.

The exquisitely elegant dress watches quickly found success and remain wildly popular today, The basic design, inspired by the German Bauhaus movement and its visionary “form follows function” philosophy, has barely changed since.

Calatrava models are characterized by clean dials with Roman numerals or geometric indices, understated classic styling, and traditional, perfectly-circular cases.

Their deceptively “simple” designs still boast the immaculate detailing typical in Patek Philippe. For example, Calatrava dials often feature subtle guilloché patterns and hand-applied gold numerals.

Both manual-wound and automatic movements, including ultra-thin offerings, are available in the Calatrava line. A modest range of complications are offered, including dual time, date windows, sweep seconds and small seconds subdials.

The original Calatrava featured a clean bezel, smooth as the edge of nickel. Newer models sometimes sport bezels with”Clous de Paris” hobnail or other engraved details, as seen below.

Patek Philippe Travel Time Calatrava

A stunning contemporary dual time model, the “Travel Time” Calatrava in white gold.

Though most models are equipped with the sleek, durable alligator straps of the original, luxurious satin or chain-mesh straps are also popular.

Nautilus

Nautilus was Patek Philippe’s first sports watch collection. Creating the Nautilus in 1976 was a monumental step for Patek Philippe, and for luxury watchmaking as a whole.

Conceiving The Luxury Sports Watch

At the time, luxury timepieces and sports watches occupied completely different worlds. The very concept of a luxury sports watch was considered somewhat of an oxymoron.

Luxury watches, back then, were invariably dressy and elegantly thin, made with gold and other prestigious materials. On the other hand, sports watches were modestly-priced and optimized for durability/performance during activities like diving, racing, and navigation.

Patek Philippe had long been known for its solidly-traditional style. Yet, alongside competitor Audemars Piguet, the brand bravely pioneered the luxury sports watch, blending tasteful extravagance and hardy functionality.

Nautilus Design Features

Patek Philippe Vintage Nautilus Watch AdThe genius behind the Nautilus was legendary watch designer Gerald Genta, who also created Audemars Piguet’s groundbreaking Royal Oak.

Genta’s inspiration, the maritime porthole, is referenced in the watch’s namesake—Captain Nemo’s trusty Nautilus submarine from Jules Verne’s epic novels.

However, departing from the classic circular porthole, Genta gave the Nautilus a unique rounded octagon bezel and case.

The original case’s “ears” sticking out from beneath the bezel enhanced the porthole look, mimicking the appearance of porthole hinges.

The Nautilus was large, robust, and solidly constructed as one piece, with its integrated chain-link bracelet. This revolutionary “monobloc” design would later become standard in sports watches for its unbeatable sturdiness and boldly masculine style.

Also daring was Genta’s decision to make the Nautilus from steel, a material that was rarely used in luxury watchmaking. Patek Philippe’s early Nautilus advertisements proudly publicized this distinction, proclaiming “the world’s costliest watch is made of steel.”

Patek Philippe Nautilus Date Moon Phases

Today, the Nautilus line more or less retains the iconic design of the original, down to its horizontally embossed dial. The contemporary model shown above, featuring date and moonphase complications, is styled with gorgeous baguette diamonds on its bezel.

Gondolo

The Gondolo collection, established in 1993, contains most of Patek Philippe’s “form” watches. That is, watches with non-round cases, including those of square, rectangular, cushion, and tonneau (barrel) shapes.

Patek Philippe Yellow Gold Small Seconds

Inspiration: The Brazilian Market & The “Gondolo Gang”

The line has a rich history, inspired by Patek wristwatches made in the early 1900s for the Brazilian market.

In the mid-1800s, Patek Philippe was already making lucrative connections in the Americas, supplying major retailers such as Tiffany’s. However, one of the brand’s most pivotal partnerships started in 1872, with Brazilian jewelers Carlos Gondolo and Paulo Labouriau.

Thanks to Gondolo and Labouriau, Patek Philippe became enormously popular in Brazil, and their business relationship lasted for over 50 years. In fact, during World War I, Gondolo and Labouriau sold roughly a third of Patek Philippe’s total annual production!

Patek Philippe Vintage Gondolo Watch Ad

Vintage Gondolo Print Ad

Patek Philippe watches were such a household name among Brazil’s elites that luxury watches were often simply called “Pateks.” Gondolo and Labouriau even established a successful watch-collecting club, the “Gondolo Gang,” for diehard Patek fans.

Being invited to join this highly-exclusive club was considered the ultimate status symbol. Members, sporting special Patek sombreros, met weekly for lotteries, picnics, and other posh events.

Hallmarks Of Gondolo Watches

The original Gondolo wristwatches were first released in 1910, They were based on the famous gold Chronometro Gondolo pocket watches commissioned by Gondolo and Labouriau.

However, rather than round, these wristwatches came in the square, rectangular and tonneau cases popular in the Art Deco period. They were also relatively large, as larger watches were particularly prized among Brazilian clients.

The Gondolo watch collection debuted in 1993 with models inspired by the Art Deco styles of the original Gondolos. However, because the collection was pointedly designed and marketed to both women and men, these new watches weren’t as large.

Contemporary Gondolo models exude highbrow elegance, with styles that run from clean and classic to high jewelry extravagance. We can see three examples of the various striking Gondolo case shapes offered in the photo below. At center is a popular chic rectangular-cased model in yellow gold with a small seconds sub-dial and leather strap.

Patek Philippe Gondolo Collection

Left: Gondolo 7042/100G; Center: Gondolo 5124J; Right: Gondolo Serata 4972/1G

At the other extreme for Gondolos is the model at left. Its bezel and lugs are set with baguette diamonds and its dial paved with over 250 diamonds, including the indices.  The bracelet is lavish with Akoya pearls and princess-cut diamonds, and even the crown is set with a pearl cabochon!

Ellipse D’Or / Golden Ellipse

Another highly distinctive line of Patek Philippe watches with non-traditional case shapes is the Ellipse D’Or. This collection debuted in 1968 and quickly became a celebrated favorite with its strikingly innovative design.

Patek Philippe 1968 Ellipse dOr ModelThe Ellipse D’Or was expressly created with the famed “Golden Ratio” in mind. Using this “divine ratio” of 1 to 1.6181 results in forms that appear particularly pleasing and harmonious to the eye.

First uncovered in ancient Greece, the Golden Ratio has been independently discovered and utilized countless times through history. Many of the world’s greatest works of art and architecture contain the Golden Ratio.

The elliptical case shape of the Ellipse D’Or was certainly unusual at the time of its introduction. But its “heavenly” elegance, enhanced by the original’s deep blue dial splendidly contrasting with yellow gold, thoroughly enchanted watch enthusiasts.

Models in the current Ellipse D’Or collection closely follow the original design. However, Patek Philippe now also offers Ellipse D’Or in white gold, rose gold, and platinum.

Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse White Gold

Another new style choice is the charcoal gray dial (shown above), an alternative to the classic “Blue Gold” sunburst dial.

Notable Claims To Fame

How does Patek Philippe, as an independent brand, manage to hold its own among watchmakers from massive luxury conglomerates?

Patek Philippe’s significant role in watchmaking history cannot be overstated, especially its contributions to the development of modern watch complications and mechanisms. Also, as we’ve seen, its signature timelessness and lush creativity expressed through traditional Genevan decorative elements has enchanted countless watch enthusiasts.

But perhaps the brand’s main defining characteristic is its bold independence. When standing up for its values, Patek Philippe has shown it isn’t afraid of moving against the tide.

Let’s take a look at three Patek Philippe distinctions that have solidly influenced the entire watch industry:

“Generations” Ad Campaign

“Generations,” first introduced in 1996, has become virtually synonymous with Patek Philippe and has run continuously since its launch. Highly emotional, sentimental, and customer-centered, it’s among the most iconic watch brand campaigns in advertising history.

Patek Philippe Grandfather Father Son Generations

In the mid-nineties, Patek Philippe was looking to overhaul its advertising strategy. The brand entrusted this pivotal task to Leagas Delaney, a British advertising agency known for its inspirational creativity.

Leagas Delaney’s experts started by performing intensive research to get a clear picture of target markets in luxury watchmaking. They discovered, particularly through conducting in-depth interviews, that some prevailing trends in luxury goods advertising were actually alienating potential buyers.

For example, many watch connoisseurs felt that ads relying heavily on celebrity endorsements were a turn-off. Interviewees explained that glamorous celebrities don’t necessarily help them connect personally to a product of interest.

Armed with this knowledge, Leagas Delaney developed the “Generations” campaign, which daringly broke away from conventional tenets of luxury advertising. Instead of featuring celebrities, “Generations” ads center on idealized images of families, particularly parents sharing heartwarming moments with their children.

Patek Philippe Father Son Generations Adverts

The soul of the campaign is the concept of Patek Philippe watches as cherished keepsakes, passed down through generations. It focused on engaging viewers emotionally, inviting them to “Begin your own tradition” with a timeless Patek Philippe watch. The famous slogan says it best: “You never truly own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.

In fact, the models and actors playing families in early “Generations” ads weren’t shown wearing watches at all! The ads, exquisitely subtle in praising the superior craftsmanship and artistry of Patek Philippe, were hugely successful with the public. Also, the campaign was perfectly fitting for the family-run firm, proudly headed by successive generations of Pateks, Philippes, and Sterns.

Patek Philippe Seal

Patek Philippe was once a steadfast proponent of the Geneva Seal, a certification signifying provenance and quality for Geneva-made watches.  You can read more about the Geneva Seal (also called the “Hallmark of Geneva”) on our Vacheron Constantin history page.

For 120 years, Patek Philippe maintained a strong relationship with the Geneva Seal, obtaining it for many of its timepieces. The brand proudly displayed the Seal and praised it as an essential industry standard.

Patek Philippe Watchmaker Demo

Patek Philippe Seal certification requires extensive lab testing

However, by the mid-2000s, Patek Philippe’s directors began raising objections to the Geneva Seal certification process. For example, they took issue with how laboratory testing of crucial benchmarks such as watch movement rate performance wasn’t mandatory.

The directors also argued that the Seal could now be too easily obtained by any Geneva-based watchmaker employing modern equipment. Considering today’s sophisticated technology, they believed stricter requirements were needed for the Seal to remain a symbol of top-tier watchmaking.

Patek Philippe Seal

After the Bureau chose not to follow its suggestions for improvement, Patek Philippe established its own quality mark in 2009.  This interlocked double-P emblem represents the “most stringent” set of quality standards in the watch industry.

Unlike the Geneva Seal, the Patek Philippe Seal applies to entire watches, not just the main components. This means a watch’s movement, casing, and all exterior features (pushers, straps, etc.) are evaluated during the certification process.

Strict technical requirements are imposed, such as a rate accuracy deviation limit of less than -3/+2 seconds per day. Aesthetic considerations, such as adherence to Genevan traditions in finishing, are also key, as well as quality of materials used.

Perhaps most groundbreaking, however, is the truly comprehensive warranty the PP Seal offers. It guarantees “maintenance, repairs, and restoration” services for the entire lifetime of the watch!

Patek Philippe Museum

Patek Philippe Museum Logo

The Patek Philippe Museum, established in 2001, is one of the most comprehensive watchmaking museums in the world. Located in Geneva’s famous Plainpalais district, the museum was built in a redesigned four-story Art Deco-era building.

Patek Philippe Exhibition Watch Displays

The museum’s collections contain a vast number of historically significant timepieces hailing from the 16th century to the present.

Patek Philippe Museum Collection Wristwatches

Wall and free-standing clocks, musical automata, and enameled miniatures are featured, in addition to pocket and wrist watches.

Patek Philippe Museum Antique Collection

All 4 floors of the museum are open to visitors and showcase different aspects of horological history:

Ground Floor

Patek Philippe Watch History Theatre

The cinema, where visitors can view in-depth feature films about Patek Philippe’s history and founders.

First Floor

Patek Philippe Museum Collection Clocks Pocket Watches

International collections of beautiful antique clocks and watches. Helpful labels and audio inform visitors about the birth and early development of clock manufacturing.

Second Floor

Patek Philippe Museum Collection Pocket Watch Covers

Breathtaking ornamental pocket watch dust covers from the Antiques collection

The main collections, which are split into 2 categories: Antiques (16th-19th century) and the Patek Philippe collection (1839 to present). The Antiques collection contains historic timepieces from all over Europe, but naturally focuses mainly on Swiss / Genevese watchmaking.

Third Floor

An extensive library housing books and other resources on horology and Patek Philippe. These include thousands of publications tracing the technical development of clocks, watchmaking, and timekeeping through history.

Patek Philippe Exhibition Guilloche Lathe Demo

Company artisan demonstrates lathe engraving

Also impressive are the library’s comprehensive records of Antoine Norbert de Patek’s business correspondence and travel notes.  Antique watchmaking machinery, tools, and other equipment are displayed on this floor as well.

The Art Of Watches Grand Exhibition

Watch enthusiasts may be able to get a taste of the museum without travelling to Switzerland. Patek Philippe periodically presents its museum collection during spectacular public exhibitions, hosted in major cities around the world.

Patek Philippe Art Of Watches Entrance

For example, the company held “The Art of Watches Grand Exhibition” in London (2015) and New York (2017). This exhibition features hundreds of exclusive timepieces from the Patek Philippe museum.

Remarkably, it’s open to the public, free of charge and no reservations required. This is because Patek Philippe aims to share and celebrate its history with hardcore fans and intrigued newbies alike.

Patek Philippe Art Of Watches Demonstrations

Left: Movement design demo; Right: Grandmaster Chime virtual reality demo

The New York event was a truly sensational 15,000 square-foot “pop-up museum” featuring over 400 timepieces. The two-floor exhibit included state-of-the-art demonstrations and ten rooms of displays, each designed around a different theme.

One room, for instance, was dedicated wholly to watch movements. Befitting Patek Philippe’s industry reputation as a master of complications, its history is rich with movements of extraordinary complexity.

atek Philippe Museum Collection Complicated Movements

Historic complicated pendent and pocket watches

Among the most impressive displays was the double-faced Calibre 89, which had never been shown outside of the museum before. Created for Patek Philippe’s 150th anniversary, the pocket watch included an astonishing 33 complications, requiring 9 years of design and construction. A huge milestone for Patek Philippe and watchmaking as a whole, it remained the world’s most complicated watch for over 25 years.

Patek Philippe Calibre 89 Exhibit

The Calibre 89, cased and finished exclusively for The Art Of Watches New York

Patek Philippe also revealed several gorgeous new limited edition models during the exhibition. Below: Reference 5531 World Time Minute Repeaters with striking cloisonné enamels depicting Manhattan’s skyline by day (left) and night (right).

Patek Philippe World Time Minute Repeater Watches

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We hope our guide to Patek Philippe’s historical timeline, famous watch families, and defining accomplishments was helpful to you.

To read more about Patek Philippe’s history, current model selection, and company values, you can visit the official website.

Also, to learn more about the fascinating world of watches and horology, check out our in-depth guides and reviews on the Bespoke Unit Watch Homepage.

Patek Philippe Watches
Reviewed by Paul Anthony, on .
"Watches to be cherished for many generations to come. The last family-owned independent watch manufacture in Geneva, Patek Philippe crafts the best the luxury market has to offer, with every highly-exclusive timepiece exhibiting technical perfection and gorgeous traditional ornamentation."
Rating: 5.0 ★★★★★