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.

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 Calatrava 18k Yellow Gold 3992j Clous De Paris Bezel WatchPatek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 18k Rose Gold Chronometer - 196018k White Gold Patek Philippe Nautilus Ref 5712g No ReserveLuxury Antique High Grade Patek Philippe & Co Geneva Men’s Watch Stainless SteelAntique High Grade Patek Philippe & Co Geneva Tiffany Solid Gold 14k Men’s WatchPatek Philippe Skymoon Tourbillon Double Faced Limited Edition Men's Wrist WatchPatek Phillipe Open Face Pocket Watch Movement. No CaseVintage Patek Philippe Calatrava 3416 18k Yellow Gold Manual Wind WristwatchUnique Patek Philippe & Co Geneva Stainless Steel Enamel Dial_chronometer_46mmPatek Philippe Pocket WatchVever Paris Solid 18k Gold Heavy 96g Pocket Watch Patek Breguet Highest QualityVintage Patek Philippe Geneve Solid Gold 18k Case Patek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 14k Gold 21 Jewels Chronometer - 1885Vintage Mechanical Patek Philippe & Co Wristwatch Pocket Watch MarriagePatek Philippe 18k Solid White Gold Men's, Certificate *excellent++* No ReservePatek Philippe & Cie 19k Gold Wristwatch Fancy Lugs Circa 1926 Runs GreatVintage Movement Patek Philippe . Mens Watch Lot Benrus, Casio, Fossil, Gruen, Patek Phillips,wear Repair Parts Patek Philippe 18k Solid Gold Men'sPatek Philippe 18k Solid Y/g Push Pin Vintage Rare Patek Philippe Watch Box Patek Philippe 18k W/g Push PinBailey, Banks And Biddle Ladies Pocket Watch With Patek Philippe MovementVintage Movement Patek Philippe Patek Philippe WatchBox (only) For Patek Philippe WatchPatek Philippe Chronometro Gondolo 22 Lines 56mm Rose 18k Gold Mint Patek Philippe Chronometro Gondolo Special Order Hunter Case 18k Rose Gold Patek Philippe Chronometro Gondolo 22 Lines 56mm Rose 18k Gold Authentic Patek Philippe Brown Alligator Skin Cousu Main Watch Band 21mm X 16mmRoy Ehrhardt & Joe Demesy Cd Pdf Patek Philippe Wrist Watch 448 Page Book 1Authentic - Vintage Patek Philippe Watch Box, Display CaseClock Hands Patek Philippe Genuine Vintage Fine & Rare Patek Philippe 18k Yellow Gold Ref: 1491 Scroll LugsPatek Philippe Watch BoxGorgeous Women's Patek Philippe Strap Tan Alligator Watch Band

Recent News: Patek Philippe Watches

Source: Google News

New Raymond Weil Piper Watch Comes With a Free Airplane
Bloomberg, August 28th

Most watch companies today are hundreds of years old and have been swallowed up by luxury conglomerates. Raymond Weil, on the other hand, turns 40 next year and sits alongside Rolex and Patek Philippe in the small group of independent brands...Read more

Luxury Watches for Men You Never Knew Existed
Crave Online, August 27th

When you think of the best brands of luxury watches for men you might think of Rolex, Bvlgari, or even the world-renowned time pieces of Patek Philippe. These exquisite time pieces often feature beautiful platinum or gold bezels equipped with fancy ...Read more

Why Did Watchmakers Fall In Love With Place Vendôme?
Haute Time, August 27th

One of the added pleasures of shopping for watches at Place Vendôme in the heart of Paris (besides tax refunds for visitors) is the feeling of luxury and history entwined. Predestined with its octagonal shape cut like a precious gemstone, the Place...Read more

Look who's calling the Apple Watch a 'toy'
Fortune, August 27th

“PC guys are not going to just figure this out. They're not going to just walk in.” Hayek is not the first Swiss watchmaker to diss the Apple Watch. Here's Larry Pettinelli, president of Patek Phillipe U.S.A., telling Fortune's Leigh Gallagher why his...Read more

How The China Crisis Impacts Watch Collectors
Haute Time, August 26th

Over the last few months prices of modern Patek Philippe watches have started to tumble at auction. And it is not a coincidence that as the equity markets of the Far East began to slip so did the prices of horology's golden investment child. While...Read more

Cookies on the BBC website
BBC News, August 25th

Despite the rise of electronic watches, demand for mechanical timepieces has remained among those who can afford them, with manufacturers ranging from Rolex to Patek Phillipe. What's unusual about Smith and his small team is that they make just 10 ...Read more

This Supersonic Pilot's Watch Is a Great Way to Start a Vintage Collection
Bloomberg, August 24th

Watches like this are a great way to collect something less common than the usual vintage Rolex and complicated Patek Philippe watches that get talked about so much. Those are great, don't get me wrong, but they're not everything. Looking to brands...Read more

Patek Philippe's Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Charts A New Course
Cigar Aficionado, August 13th

For years, established watch brands have been mining their archives for inspiration, but rarely do historically derived designs cause a stir like Patek Philippe's Ref. 5524 Calatrava Pilot Travel Time ($47,600). As fashion editors gushed, Patek purists...Read more