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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Recent News: Patek Philippe Watches
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Patek PhilippeWorld Tempus (press release), May 2nd
The new Patek Philippe Annual Calendar Ref. 5396 is available in 18K white gold with a dark gray sunburst ... The sapphire-crystal glass is prominently cambered, endowing the watch with volume and a highly modern look. Patek-Philippe-Quantieme annuel...Read more
Here are the 10 epic chronographs to invest inCNN, May 2nd
(CNN) Each spring watch collectors descend in a frenzy on the "rare and important" timepiece auctions taking place in Geneva. This May they're drooling a bit more than usual over Phillips' special sale on May 14, "Start Stop, Reset: Epic Stainless...Read more
The Eternal Magic of BeirutNew York Times, May 2nd
It is a great place to buy moisturizer, a $10,000 handbag or a Patek Philippe watch. But the new souks have far more in common with the Mall of America than with the many Levantine bazaars that have dominated the Arab marketplace for thousands of years...Read more
Preview: Rolex and Patek Philippe Watches Lead Auctions in Geneva in MayBLOUIN ARTINFO, April 29th
Like the Oscars of the watch collecting world, the May auctions in Geneva are the must-see event where records are set for the highest-quality specimens in the field. Here, we round up the notable timepieces going under the hammer at auction houses ...Read more
7 Most Expensive Patek Philippe WatchesTech Insider, April 22nd
For those who don't want to wear any ordinary watch on their wrist, we've something very interesting to share today. If you're one of them, we would like to tell you about the best of Patek Philippe watches. Insider Monkey has created a list of seven...Read more
Under the Loupe: Patek Philippe NautilusHaute Living, April 20th
This year marks the 40th anniversary of one of Patek Philippe's iconic collections: the Nautilus. Interestingly enough, at Baselworld 2016, the brand opted not to show a single Nautilus watch. Why? Because secrets make better surprises. Sometime this...Read more
The Patek Phillippe Grandmaster Chime is a $2.3 million watch you can actually ...Business Insider, April 13th
The new Grandmaster Chime ref. 6300, announced at this year's Baselworld watch expo, is no different. This watch is a new version of Patek's Grandmaster Chime ref. 5175, which it created in 2014 as a celebration of the brand's 175th anniversary...Read more
Patek Philippe Ref. 5396 Crowns 20 Years of Annual Calendar WatchesWatchtime.com, April 4th
5035, said to be the very first annual calendar wristwatch, with a patented construction, was voted Watch of the Year in 1997 and spawned an entirely new category of “useful complications” in the watch industry as well as 21 Patek Philippe watches over...Read more