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.
Key terms for Antique and Vintage Patek Philippe Wristwatches:
Chronograph: A watch that also records time intervals, like a stopwatch.
Cloisonné: A technique in which filaments of metal (often gold or copper) are soldered to a surface to create compartments that are then filled with ground enamel, fired, and polished.
Complication: A complicated watch is one that displays more than just hours, minutes, and seconds. Complications include an annual calendar and time zones. So-called "grand" complications include watches with moon phases, chronographs and split-seconds chronographs, and sky charts.
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Recent News: Patek Philippe Watches
Source: Google News
Luxury Watchmaker Patek Philippe's Swiss Owner Philippe Stern Now A BillionaireForbes, April 15th
Patek Philippe watches are the epitome of class worn by the chic elite and always made with the finest materials. Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric General Electric and one of the most influential businessman of the last century, is wearing a...Read more
Patek Philippe Ref. 5207P-001watch breaks world record at Sotheby's HK ...Diamond World Magazine, April 14th
A Patek Philippe watch topped the Sotheby's Hong Kong Important Watches Spring Sale. The timepiece created a world auction Record for a Patek Philippe Wristwatch selling for $866,667. The auction was held on 8th April and achieved total revenues worth ...Read more
Calatrava Haute Joaillerie reference 4895RWorld Tempus (press release), April 7th
Thanks to its unique properties and proprietary geometry, this innovative silicon-based material contributes significantly to the excellent rate accuracy of the watch. Not least, this is guaranteed by the strict directives of the Patek Philippe Seal...Read more
Annual Calendar Chronograph Ref. 5960/1AWorld Tempus (press release), April 1st
Patek Philippe's stainless steel watches have always ranked among the most desirable timepieces because they were crafted only in small numbers. They were not regularly produced until 1976, when the manufacture introduced the casually elegant Nautilus ...Read more
Good Timing for Classic ChronographsWall Street Journal, March 27th
Patek Philippe thy name is torture. Around the world and perhaps even on some distant planet, watch-obsessed beings are losing sleep wondering how you will celebrate your 175th anniversary. At the time of going to press only two models have been ...Read more
Patek Philippe 5960/1A WatchEmag.co.uk, March 26th
The self-winding annual calendar chronograph known as the Patek Philippe 5960 has been a stalwart in the Swiss watch manufacturer's lineup for a number of years now, and the new season sees the piece undergo a radical makeover. The launch of the ...Read more
Haute Living Watch of the Week: Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Chronograph ...Haute Living, March 26th
Outside the Nautilus and Aquanaut collections, there are few steel Patek Philippe watches – “it is only 20% of our volume, because when you produce a limited number of movements, you have to favor the precious metals,” says international marketing ...Read more
Patek Philippe threatens Geneva exit over taxesThe Local.ch, March 24th
The family that owns Patek Philippe, one of the world's most prestigious watch brands, is threatening to move its headquarters away from Geneva or to sell up because of “high taxes”. Swiss exports show 'Olympic form': report (20 Mar 14); Swiss watch...Read more