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    

Patek Philippe & Co Geneva 21 Jewels Gold Chronometer - 1892Patek Philippe Antique Movement Wristwatch Rare High GradeRarest Antique Patek Philippe Extra Movement From 1910 Wristwatch In Silver CaseScarce Patek Philippe Ladies Diamond Dial Bezel Mop Ladies With Box And PapersPatek Philippe 5059p Platinum Factory Sealed UnwornRare Vtg Patek Philippe 18k Rose Gold Hourglass Rectangular Curvex 1593 Watch NrPatek Philippe Geneve Wristwatch 18k Gold Ca 1910 RareRare18kt Rose Gold Vintage Ladies Patek Philippe Porcelain Dial Officers Case18k Rose Gold Sweep Second Hobnail Automatic Patek Philippe Calatrava WatchPatek Philippe Vintage Ref:3448 Rose Gold 18k. Men Watch In Good ConditionVintage Extremely Rare 18 Ct Gold Diamond Set Patek Philippe Lds Bracelet Watch3944 Gen Patek Philippe Hobnail Calatrava Sweep Second Calendar 18k Gold WatchPatek Philippe Annual Calendar 5035r 18k Rose Gold Men's WristwatchPatek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid Gold Cushion Style Chronometer - 1902Vintage Patek Philippe 18k Rose Gold Ref 590 32mm Manual With Archive PapersAuthentic Patek Philippe Geneve Solid 18k Yellow Gold Manual Wind Watch NrPatek Philippe Twenty-4 Lds Ss Diamond Wristwatch 4901/10a-010 Box Booklet Cert Patek Philippe Sky Moon WatchVintage Patek Philippe Geneve Rose Gold Hands Two Tone Dial Ss Watch & BoxPatek Philippe World Time Platinum 5110p-001 Mint Box Papers ReceiptsPatek Philippe Nautilus 18k Yellow Gold Steel Diamonds Ladies Watch Ref. 4700Vintage Patek Philippe 18k Yellow Gold #3430 - MensPatek Philippe WatchRare Mens Patek Philippe Ref. 2508 Vintage Gold WatchPatek Philippe Calatrava 18kt Yellow Gold Quartz Watch White Roman Dial 3954Patek Philippe Geneve Luxury Automatic WristwatchesHi Grade 18j Factory Diamond Large Ladies Patek Philippe Low Reserve 18k GoldPatek 5146g Annual Calendar Moon Phase White Gold Cream FaceVintage Original Patek Philippe Electronic Atomic Mother ClockRare Patek Philippe White Gold Luxury Analog Wrist Watch With Box Vintage 1950 Vintage Patek Philippe Box For WristwatchPatek Philippe Lady Wristwatch Movement & Dial 16 Mm. In Diameter To RestoreVintage 1970s 18k White Gold Patek Philippe Ladies Supple Wrist Watch100% Authentic Patek Philippe Maroon Leather Watch Passport V Rare Collectable !Hi Grade 43mm Nickel 16 Jewel Swiss Mov't Leonville, Locle With Patek RegPatek PhilippeExacta Wostok 18 Jewels With Patek Philippe 565 Style Steel Case NrPatek Philippe Bankd Black Leather With Rose Gold Color Deployment BuckleGenuine Patek Philippe 20mm Alligator Replacement BandPatek Philippe Fine Finish Watch Box, Em123.v4 Missing Internal PartsPatek Philippe Nautilus Advertising Brochure Booklet Deep Ocean Grey Illustrated2006/2007 Patek Philippe 119-page Watch Collection Catalog With Distributor List

Recent News: Patek Philippe Watches

Source: Google News

The grand supercomplication returns
Livemint, July 30th

New Delhi: For 56 years, the Henry Graves Supercomplication pocket watch retained the title of the world's most complicated watch. The Patek Philippe masterpiece that was made in 1933 may set the record books on fire once again come November when it ...Read more

For Sale: The $17 Million Pocket Watch
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

Spy Chief Montesinos' Luxury Jewelry on the Auction Block
Andean Airmail & PERUVIAN TIMES, July 29th

The 152 items include dozens of sets of diamond and gold cufflinks, gold chains, and 39 gold watches, some of which were made specifically for Montesinos. The most luxurious pieces include Patek Philippe, Longines, Piaget and Rolex Cellini watches, and ...Read more

Do You Know the Absolute Best Watches on the Market Right Now? The Experts ...
Huffington Post, July 29th

The Patek Philippe 5078R is a minute repeating wristwatch, made by Patek Philippe. That alone should be enough reason to make it conclusively one of the most heirloom-y watches you could possibly imagine, but now that the dust's settled -- vox populi...Read more

A Simpler Time for Men's Watches
Wall Street Journal, July 25th

And certain popular dress watches are slightly tweaked versions of timepieces that were launched decades ago, like Patek Philippe's Calatrava ($37,300 in rose or white gold, $35,400 in yellow), based on a design from 1912, and Vacheron Constantin's ...Read more

Patek Philippe's magic numbers
Telegraph.co.uk, July 14th

Patek Philippe watches come by numbers, save for the likes of the Star Calibre. The cognoscenti don't bother with names – even Patek is less than clear about quite which watch is a Calatrava and which isn't. It's the four-digit reference, quite often...Read more

Patek Philippe Supercomplication Pocket Watch Could Sell For Over $16 Million!
GTspirit, July 13th

The following watch, the Patek Philippe Supercomplication is likely to break its own record as one of the world's most expensive watches when it goes up for sale in November. The watch was originally created by Patek Philippe specifically for...Read more

Bet on China? This luxury retailer says no hurry
CNBC.com, July 10th

While global high-end brands are stepping up the battle for Asia's burgeoning luxury shoppers, Geneva-based watch manufacturer Patek Philippe prefers to keep things slow. "We don't want to put all our eggs in the same basket so we are very careful not...Read more