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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Platinum Patek Philippe Ref 5960P-016 Will Auction for CharityPerpetuelle.com (blog), August 27th
A magnificent Patek Philippe 5960P-016 Annual Calendar Chronograph goes under the hammer at The Salon Privé Sale on Thursday 4th September at 6pm, with all proceeds going to the Rainbow Trust Children's Charity. And of course Perpétuelle is here to...Read more
Independent Evaluator Rahul Kapoor: Working the haute luxe lifeEconomic Times, August 26th
'Luxury' could well be Rahul Kapoor's middle name, hobnobbing as he does with celebrities and dealing in objects of desire. Co-founder of Excedo Luxuria, a luxury retailer and Tata AIG General Insurance's independent evaluator, Kapoor gives a peek into ...Read more
For Tariq Malik, time is moneyArab News, August 26th
At the end of the day, it's not only about buying and selling watches where all big brands starting from Rolex, Omega, Vacheron Constantin, Patek Philippe, Cartier, IWC and many more collide together. “When working with vintage watches, you need to...Read more
The five most expensive Patek Philippe watchesTelegraph.co.uk, August 14th
Patek Philippe is often considered one of the most prestigious luxury brands in the watch industry, but just how much are they worth? The top five countdown starts with the 1952 Platinum Chronometer Ref 2458 which was sold for $3,992,858 (approximately ...Read more
10 Most Expensive Watches in the World 2014Venture Capital Post, August 12th
Patek Philippe 1928 Watch ($3.6 million). This single-button chronograph watch was sold in a 2011 auction. Its luxury owes it to a 34mm cushion-shaped button, which is made from 18-carat white gold. Another interesting feature of this watch is the...Read more
Time really is money: 'Holy Grail of watches' expected to sell for record ...Daily Mail, August 8th
It became the most expensive timepiece ever sold at auction, but is now set to enter the record books for a second time. The sale will come among Sotheby's lots of important watches in Geneva in November, to coincide with celebrations for Patek...Read more
Appeal to find £40k Patek Philippe watch stolen in Kilburn burglaryBrent and Kilburn Times, August 6th
Given URL is not allowed by the Application configuration.: One or more of the given URLs is not allowed by the App's settings. It must match the Website URL or Canvas URL, or the domain must be a subdomain of one of the App's domains...Read more
The $17 Million Pocket Watch: The Henry Graves Supercomplication Goes Up ...Forbes, July 30th
What makes a watch the most valuable in the world? It's supercomplicated—literally. In 1925 banker Henry Graves Jr. (considered the greatest watch collector of the 20th century) commissioned Patek Philippe to create a unique gold pocket watch...Read more