The Swiss company that became Patek Philippe was founded in 1839. One of the company’s two founding partners, Antoine Norbert de Patek, met French watch maker Adrien Philippe in 1844 during a presentation of Philippe’s pioneering stem-winding system. In 1845, Patek’s partner decided to strike out on his own and in 1851, Patek Philippe & Cie was born.

From the beginning, Patek Philippe made some of the most complicated — and beautiful — watches ever produced. Fastidious records have been kept on every watch the company has made, so that modern-day collectors can request the repair history of any antique or vintage Patek Philippe watch before making a purchase.

Significantly, the company’s first wristwatch was also Switzerland’s first wristwatch. It was made in 1868 and sold to the Countess Koscowicz of Hungary in 1876. Ornate and clunky by contemporary standards, it was wound with a key and resembled a triptych, with the watch framed by two diamond-and-gold encrusted panels on either side. Patek Philippe has been a luxury brand ever since.

By the end of the 19th century, the technical quality of Patek Philippe watches began to be codified. In 1886, the micromechanical engineering and hand finishing of the firm’s wristwatch movements were awarded the prestigious Geneva Seal. Numerous patents followed, including one for a "split-seconds chronograph" in 1902.

Patek Philippe’s first complicated ladies’ wristwatch appeared in 1916. It had a five-minute repeater. In 1922-23, Patek Philippe created the first split-seconds chronograph wristwatch and in 1925 it introduced its first wristwatch with a perpetual calendar.

The 1920s was a vibrant decade for Patek Philippe. Some of its most sought-after antique watches are from this period, including the Officer Gondolo wristwatch from 1920, a perpetual-calendar wristwatch with moon phases in 1925, a repeater in 1926, and a square version of the handsome Gondolo in 1928.

Despite the Great Depression and new owners in 1932, innovation continued through the 1930s. The rectangular Reverso, whose face could be reversed as its name suggests, was produced in 1932, but it took more than a decade for the curiosity to find a buyer. The extra-large, "Staybrite" steel Doctor’s wristwatch arrived in 1937. As for the Calatrava, which is today considered one of the company’s flagship lines, it began in 1932, with new Calatravas added throughout the decade...

In 1941, Patek Philippe began regular production of its perpetual-calendar wristwatches — today these vintage Patek Philippes are highly prized by collectors. By the middle of the decade, a wristwatch named for Duke Ellington appeared. Edward Kennedy Ellington himself purchased one in 1948, though why the legendary jazzman needed a water-resistant wristwatch with a split-second chronograph and a tachometer can only be imagined.

Patek Philippe filed numerous patents for self-winding mechanisms in the mid-1950s (a self-winder from 1955 with a black enamel dial and labeled "Ref. 2526" is especially handsome). Patents were also filed in 1959 and 1962 for time-zone watches. The end of the 1950s saw the introduction of a prototype for a digital wristwatch; the late 1960s heralded the launch of the first model in the popular Ellipse collection ("Ref. 3548").

Concurrently, from the late 1940s until about 1960, Patek Philippe produced a number of wristwatches with cloisonné dials to take advantage of the abundance of enamel painters who were working in Geneva at that time. Subjects included maps (Geneva and its lake, the world, the Americas, Eurasia), sports figures (a tennis player, a polo player), and odes to nature (a rain forest, palm trees).

Another popular Patek Philippe series are the vintage, asymmetrical wristwatches of the 1950s and 1960s. Designed by Gilbert Albert, these post-war timepieces are distinctly Swiss riffs on the Mid-century Modern aesthetic of the day.

About our sources | Got something to add?

▼ Expand to read the full article ▼

Best of the Web (“Hall of Fame”)

Patek Phillipe Museum

Patek Phillipe Museum

This website, from the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, gives visitors a satisfying glimpse into the world of watch… [read review or visit site]

National Watch and Clock Museum

National Watch and Clock Museum

This virtual museum, created by the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors, lets you stroll through tim… [read review or visit site]

Clubs & Associations

Discussion Forums

Other Great Reference Sites

Most watched eBay auctions    

Mens Masterpiece! 1850 Patek Philippe &co Vintage Skeleton Watch Calatrava CrossPatek Philippe Gondolo Ref#4824 18k Yellow Gold Lady's WristwatchPatek Philippe & Cie Geneve Swiss Men's Chronometer Pocket Watch Movement 1897Patek Philippe Ellipse Ref 5028 18k White Gold With Deployment BuckleRare Patek Philippe Chronometro Gondolo 24 Hours Dial In Solid Gold 18k Case Patek Philippe & Cie Geneve Swiss Men's Engraving Pocket Watch Movement - 1909Patek Philippe & Co Geneva Gold Quality Special Chronometer - 1874Vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava Hilscher Ref3565 18k Yellow Gold Wristwatch Rare 18k Rose Gold Patek Philippe Watch, Manual Wind, Sub Second Hand, Ref. 1530Luxury Antique High Grade Patek Philippe & Co Geneva For Tiffany Gold Plated Rare Vintage Patek Philippe Gubelin 3426 Gubelin 18k Gold Man's Bracelet WatchPatek-philippe Blue Dial 18k Solid White Gold & "real Diamond Bezel" Ref.3571-1 Wristwatch With Movement Authentic Patek Philippe RepeaterPatek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 14k Gold Chronometer - 1902Vintage 18k Solid Gold Patek Philippe Calatrava Man's Watch Reference 2573/2!Patek Philippe Swiss Hg Hunter Wolfteeth Pocket Watch Movement, Great WorkingVintage Patek Philippe Geneve Solid Gold 18k Case Gentleman's 18 K Gold Patek Phillipe Watch: Calatrava DesignVintage Patek Philippe Geneve Solid Gold 18k Case Patek Philippe 18k Mens Watch From Early 70'sAntique Patek Philippe Pocket Watch Movement No 86364 41mmPatek Philippe 5146/1g Annual Calendar UnwornPatek Philippe Chronometer Wrist Watch! Solid 14k Gold, Best Patek Available.Wristwatch With Mechanism Partner Patek Philippe Chronograph SplitPatek Phillppe 5146g Annual Calendar. Wristwatch With Mechanism Patek PhilippePatek Philippe 22 Mm 18 Jewel Hand Wind Movement W/ Crystal & Dial - Runs Great!V.rare High Grade Patek Philippe & Co Geneve Qual.chronometer Movement MensGenuine Vintage Fine & Rare Patek Philippe 18k Yellow Gold Ref: 1491 Scroll LugsLuxury Men's Antique High Grade Patek Philippe & Co Geneva Tiffany GoldUnique Patek Philippe Chronometer - Pvd Case !!Vintage Patek Philippe Geneve Solid Gold 18k Case Patek Philippe Golden Ellipse Platinum Automatic Men Edition. RareRare 1864? Early Stem Wind Set Patek Phliippe Pocket Watch Movement For Restore!Ladies Vintage 18kt Yellow Gold Patek Philippe Vintage Patek Philippe Calatrava Hilscher 18k Yellow Gold Wristwatch Patek Philippe Lecoultre Cal 1 , 21 Jewels High Grade Movement,converted Pocket Watch.patekAntique Patek Philippe Brown Leather Hard Case For Pocket Watch Mfg D'horlogerieVery Rare Unused Patek Philippe Box And Bronze Medallion End Product / No More!.Swiss 1910 C.h.meylan 21 Jewels Highest Grade Pocket Watch Movement Like PatekPatek Philippe Stainless Steel Patek Philippe 150e Anniversaire Comomerative Bronze Coin/n/rPatek Philippe Wooden Watch StandPatek Philippe 4825 All 18k Yellow Gold With All Factory Two Rows Diamond Bezel.Patek Philippe Brown Leather Gloss 21mm Watch Strap Bnib. Swiss Made.Patek Philippe Replica, Ref 39701w Working18k Solid Gold Antique Patek Phillppe Dial 5.0 GramsPatek Philippe Museum Films Bnib Sealed RareVintage Patek Philippe Catalogue 2001.

Recent News: Patek Philippe Watches

Source: Google News

Patek Philippe: ahead of one's time, May 22nd

The Great Exhibition was the defining event of the era, and the Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe – which showed its revolutionary keyless watch there – has decided to recreate a part of it, albeit sans folding pianos and floating churches, within its...Read more

Saatchi Gallery to Host Patek Philippe Grand Watch Art Exhibition, May 21st

Watches spanning the last five centuries, including some of the earliest portable watches ever made (dating back to the 16th century) will be located in in the Patek Philippe Museum Room, a recreation of the company's museum in Geneva, Switzerland...Read more

The 5396T, Another Elusive Titanium Patek Philippe (blog), May 15th

Do you know how many titanium-cased Patek Philippe watches exist? This is the tenth such Patek that I've now documented (see link to my Titanium Patek Philippe compendium at the bottom of this post). It is a titanium Patek Philippe, bearing reference ...Read more

Rare Patek Philippe doctor's watch sets pulses racing at auction
The Australian Financial Review, May 12th

A sale of watches on May 10 amassed a total of $31.8 million, auction house Phillips said. The 1927 Patek Philippe single-button chronograph was auctioned for almost five times the low end of its estimate range of 1 million francs to 2 million francs...Read more

Steel Patek Philippe And Eric Clapton's Rolex Daytona 6263 Oyster Albino ...
Forbes, May 11th

The exceedingly rare Rolex Reference 6263 “Oyster Albino” Cosmograph Daytona that once belonged to guitar icon Eric Clapton, which I describe in detail here, went up for auction yesterday in Geneva. And it smashed every record for any Rolex watch ever ...Read more

Art on the Wrist: Patek Philippe at Auctions

The year that passed marked the 175th anniversary of the legendary Swiss watch brand, Patek Philippe, a year rich with special events and spectacular auctions. This month, building on the momentum created by the milestone year, auction houses will have ...Read more

Why are these watches worth a million dollars?
CNN, April 27th

This watch is downright epic, and considering that two were made and one is in the PP museum, it's essentially a unique watch. This is absolutely any buyer's one and only chance to buy a steel mono-pusher doctor's chronograph from Patek Philippe and ...Read more

Monday Morning Find: A Minimal Take on a Complicated Patek Philippe
Bloomberg, April 27th

You're not a real watch nerd if you don't know at least a few Patek Philippe references. (And for those of you who aren't, a "reference" is a watch's model number.) Here are some famous ones: the ref. 1518 that started the entire genre of the perpetual...Read more