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.

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    

Genuine Patek Philippe Calatrava 3468 18k Yellow Gold Manual Watch BoxPatek Philippe Antique Luxury Watch For Men's. 19 Jewels Chronometer. High GradeAntique Patek Philippe Geneva Chronometro Gondolo Watch 20 JewelsPatek Philippe & Co Geneva 21 Jewels Gold Chronometer - 1889Rare Vintage Patek Philippe & Co Good Condition Men Wrist WatchRare Patek Philippe Gondolo & Labouriau In 48.5 Mm 18kt Gold Case Near Mint- NrPatek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 14k Gold Chronometer - 1886Patek Philippe Calatrava 18k Yellow Gold Watch 1578Beautiful Patek Philippe & Co Geneva 14k Solid Yellow Gold Case_prestige_34mm !!Patek Philippe & Co Geneva 21 Jewels Chronometer - 1871Patek Philippe Geneve Swiss Men's Luxury Watch Patek Philippe18k Rose Minute Repeater Circa:1800s With Rose Gold Chain Fob.Wrists Watch Patek Philippe Geneve With Chronograph And Moon PhaseVintage Patek Philippe 18k White-gold Rare 1960's Watch 175 Caliber 85g Weight!!Patek Philippe 18k White Gold Wristwatch 5111g All Boxes Booklets Cert Rare1960s Patek Philippe 3468 18k Yellow Gold Calatrava Manual Wind Watch Nr Vintage Patek Philippe & Co 17j Chronograph WristwatchPatek Philippe Geneve Wristwatch 18k Gold Ca 1900 RarePatek Philippe Watch 1920's Vintage 18k GoldRare 43mm Patek Philippe & Co High Grade Movement &dial P/l Bailey Banks BiddlePatek Philippe Geneve Wristwatch Stainlesssteelcase Ca 1910 RarePatek Philippe Maple Wood Magnifying Eyeglass Loupe RarePatek Philippe Pin Calatrava Cross 925 Solid Sterling SilverPatek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 14k Gold Chronometer - 1886Authentic Patek Philippe Geneve Hand Winding Watch Parts Movement Only SwissVintage Gent's 18k Yellow Gold Patek Philippe "round Case" DresswatchOld Vintage Patek Philippe Wrist Watch Box - Inner & Outer Boxes - No Reserve!Patek Philippe Beige Colour Leather Strap Used Size 19 - No ReserveReplica Watch Patek PhilippeVintage Gent's 18k Yellow Gold Patek Philippe "round Case" DresswatchPatek Philippe Steel Mini Book Page ClipLadies Patek Philippe Diamond Platinum WatchPatek Philippe Nautilus Aquanaut Calatrava Knife & Opener!!!!!! GenuinePatek Philippe Watch Strap Band Crocodile Black 20mmPatek Philippe Wrist Watch Geneve Gold Face No BandVintage 1960 Lady's 18k Gold Patek Philippe Watch 3086-48 Fully Signed & Runs Hi Grade 50mm Nickel 17 Jewel Swiss Pocketwatch With Patek RegPatek Philippe Museum Commemorative Coin Medal Incl. BoxVintage Patek Philippe Suede Watch PouchLadies Patek Philippe Diamond Platinum WatchVintage Patek Philippe Watch PouchPatek Philippe & Co Geneve Grand Prix A Paris 1889 Membre Du Jury Paris 1900 BoxVintage Patek Philippe Suede Watch Travel Pouch Case BagBeautiful Vintage Patek Philippe Dark Solid Wood BoxLot Omega Constantin Patek Breitling Tag For Parts Repair Watch Dial SteampunkVintage Patek Philippe Geneve Swiss 28mm Watch Clock Dial Face Part MovementPatek Philippe Suede Watch Pouch 100% Genuine!Patek Philippe - Pen Usb - 4gb - Very Rare !!! Patek Philippe Magazine Vol 3 No7 Watch Travel Lifestyle Frida Kahlo Hong Kong

Recent News: Patek Philippe Watches

Source: Google News

BREAKING NEWS: Brad Pitt Is The New Owner Of The Super-Rare, 3 Million ...
Forbes, September 30th

Late yesterday evening, I learned from various sources that the extremely sought-after, unique Patek Philippe Reference 2458 has changed hands. Until about one year ago, this watch was owned by the prominent Miami-based dealer and collector Massimo ...Read more

Angelina Jolie Buys Brad Pitt A Watch Worth $3 Million As A Wedding Gift
Huffington Post UK, September 30th

Angelina Jolie didn't hold back when it came to picking a wedding gift for Brad Pitt, as according to reports, the actress forked out $3 million on his present - a vintage Patek Philippe watch. Now, we're not saying it isn't a thoughtful gift, but $3...Read more

Angelina Jolie gives Brad Pitt a Patek Phillipe watch 'worth $3m' as wedding gift
Daily 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

Hong Kong auction houses target digital natives
Financial Times, September 29th

Made by Patek Philippe in 1984, the watch is a unique minute-repeating, perpetual-calendar, split-seconds chronograph made to order at a time when the company produced a limited series of one-off, grand complication pocket watches. Most were of the ...Read more

Angelina Jolie buys Brad Pitt wedding gift so rare it's thought to be worth ...
Mirror.co.uk, September 29th

The Tomb Raider star bought the film hunk a watch so rare it is thought to be worth £2million. Her romantic gesture came to light after the 1952 Patek Philippe platinum chronometer was taken to a small shop by a friend to be inscribed with the words...Read more

100 Ultra-Valuable, Incredibly Rare Patek Philippe Wristwatches To Auction In ...
Forbes, September 18th

Patek Philippe celebrates its 175th anniversary in 2014 and the brand already kicked off the year at Baselworld with interesting models such as the Annual Calendar Chronograph (Reference 5960/1A) and the Nautilus Travel Time Chronograph (Reference ...Read more

Exclusive Christie's Patek Philippe 175 Auction Preview
Bloomberg, September 16th

Patek Philippe 175 is the second thematic auction Christie's has hosted in as many years. And like 2013's Rolex Daytona "Lesson One" sale, we anticipate world records being set, millions being spent on unique watches, and an atmosphere as close to a...Read more

Patek Philippe: discreet luxury brand with cult following
Financial Times, September 5th

Patek Philippe is a brand that comes “close to a religion” for watch collectors, according to John Reardon, co-chief executive of Christie's watch department. At auction, the brand's rarer pieces regularly break the $1m barrier. And although only a few...Read more