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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Meeting The Patek Philippe 5004 At IWJG New YorkForbes, October 22nd
The past two days were captivating for me–not as a kid in a candy store, but as a teen in an international watch and jewelry trade show. Every year, the world's most successful guild for dealers of fine timepieces and exceptional gems, IWJG, hosts...Read more
Gold pocket watch so complex it features the stars above Manhattan is set to ...Daily Mail, October 21st
A watch said to be the 'Holy Grail' of timepieces and one of the most complicated ever made is set to go under the hammer for £10million next month. The Henry Graves Supercomplication timepiece, made by famed watchmaker Patek Philippe, is the most ...Read more
Rare Patek Philippe watch worth £35000 stolen in Knightsbridge home raidgetwestlondon, October 20th
A rare watch worth £35,000 was among a hoard of jewellery stolen from a Knightsbridge home. The black Patek Phillipe World Timer was stolen alongside a number of high-value watches and jewellery during a burglary at a home in Hans Place. A burglar, or ...Read more
Would You Pay $17 Million for the Most Complicated Watch Ever Made By Hand?Forbes, October 17th
He finally succeeded in 1933, when Patek Philippe shipped him a watch that took eight years to build and boasted 24 complications. (Packard's custom timepieces maxed out at a mere 16.) Weighing a pound and a half, the Henry Graves Supercomplication ...Read more
Patek Philippe Firmly In The Future As Well As The Past On Its 175th AnniversaryForbes, October 16th
I am the editor-in-chief and co-founder of QuillandPad.com. Beyond that, I contribute my horological expertise to a variety of magazines, websites and publications all over the world. With more than two decades' experience covering the watch industry...Read more
Luxury Watchmaker Patek Philippe Unveils $2.6M WatchNBCNews.com, October 14th
To commemorate its 175th anniversary, Swiss luxury watchmaker Patek Philippe on Tuesday unveiled a new $2.6 million wristwatch, which president Thierry Stern showed from the company's Geneva headquarters. Featuring 18-karat gold and sapphire ...Read more
See rare Patek Philippe watches pre-auctionTelegraph.co.uk, October 3rd
To celebrate watchmaker Patek Philippe's 175 anniversary, Christie's is auctioning 100 of the most important and interesting watches and clocks from Patek's history. International head of Christie's watch department, John Reardon, spoke exclusively to ...Read more
Angelina Jolie gives Brad Pitt a Patek Phillipe watch 'worth $3m' as wedding giftDaily Mail, September 29th
But that did not stop Angelina Jolie giving Brad Pitt a rare watch said to be worth more than $3 million as a wedding gift. The saucy Maleficent actress bought her man a much coveted 1952 Patek Philippe platinum chronometer, a legendary design by one...Read more