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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de Boulle and Patek Philippe to Open in Houston, TexasPR Newswire (press release), September 1st
As the last Geneva-based, family owned watch manufacturer, Patek Philippe's remarkable history spans over 175 years. The company's reputation for providing rare, high quality, hand-finished timepieces known to last for generations continues to drive...Read more
Charlie Sheen's XXX Ex -- Hornswoggled By Lenny Dykstra ... AllegedlyTMZ.com, September 1st
Rossi says earlier this year, Dykstra offered to help her sell several pieces of expensive jewelry she was looking to unload ... including 2 Patek Philippe watches, a diamond emerald bracelet and one set of diamond earrings. For some reason, she...Read more
Patek Philippe's 'Old Switcheroo' tacticFinancial Times, August 31st
Yet in 16 words, Patek Philippe has taken an essentially egoistic act of conspicuous consumption — the purchase of a status-symbol — and recast it into something like an act of altruism. And ... Buying one of these watches is not acquisitive; it is...Read more
New Raymond Weil Piper Watch Comes With a Free AirplaneBloomberg, 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
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 CollectorsHaute 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 websiteBBC News, August 25th
manufacturers ranging from Rolex to Patek Phillipe. What's unusual about Smith and his small team is that they make just 10 watches a year. They're very rare, very beautiful – and very expensive. What goes in to the making of intricate watches like...Read more
Patek Philippe's Calatrava Pilot Travel Time Charts A New CourseCigar 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