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
Platinum in watch cases set to drive Europe demandWatchPro.com, December 6th
At Patek Philippe, the watchmaker uses platinum across its collections. Patek Philippe UK managing director Mark Hearn said: “The demand for platinum watches in the British market has remained the same for the last few years. We have seen a slight ...Read more
Talking timepieces at the Belle Montres watch exhibition in ParisGQ.com, December 4th
Silly little man: the whole point of shows like Belles Montres and Salon QP is enabling watch enthusiasts to get up-close-and-personal with hard-to-find brands. One could hardly call Rolex or Patek Philippe obscure…or in need of more exposure...Read more
«KunstWerkUhr» ExhibitionWorld Tempus (press release), November 25th
The Patek Philippe “Watch Art Grand Exhibition” already met with great success in January 2012 in Dubai. The exhibition will travel to London in 2015. “We came to Munich because this city prizes the values on which the Patek Philippe success story is...Read more
Watch that called JFK's death up for auctionNew York Daily News, November 19th
NEW YORK — A wristwatch that is believed to have been used to declare the time of President John F. Kennedy's death is going on the auction block in New York City. The 18-carat Patek Philippe timepiece is estimated to bring up to $150,000 at Christie...Read more
Patek Philippe watch nets fine for travellerRichmond Review, November 19th
A man who made the mistake of not declaring a luxury watch during a previous trip, will have to pay a hefty price as a result. Guo Mai Chen returned to Vancouver International Airport last Feb. 1 after a trip to Shanghai, China. Chen used the automated...Read more
Patek Philippe fetches $US2.1mThe Australian, November 17th
The star earner of the collection was a pink gold Patek Philippe watch that fetched $US2.1m. Another gold watch by the Swiss watchmaker, dating from 1947, sold for $US1.57m. The watches went under the hammer in three sessions and were all sold to ...Read more
Patek Philippe tops auction resultsWatchPro.com, November 15th
A Patek Philippe Ref. 5016 rose gold Tourbillon Minute Repeater with Perpetual Calendar with a black dial sold for a world record CHF 723,750 (£492,328) at an Antiquorum auction on November 10. The timepiece was the third example ever to appear at ...Read more
Patek Philippe Sells for $2.2 Million in Record AuctionBloomberg, November 12th
A 1957 Patek Philippe pink-gold watch that adjusts for leap years and is one of six of its kind known to exist sold for $2.2 million at a Christie's International auction in Geneva. The auction house sold a record $43.9 million of watches within 24...Read more