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.
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Patek Philippe: ahead of one's timeTelegraph.co.uk, 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 ExhibitionSuperyachts.com, 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 PhilippePerpetuelle.com (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 auctionThe 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 AuctionsBLOUIN ARTINFO, May 5th
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 PhilippeBloomberg, 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