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 produ...

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 5117g 18k White Gold Auto WatchLimited Edition Patek Philippe Officer Watch Ref. 3960j 150th Anniversary. Rare.Patek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 18k Gold Best Quality Chronometer - 1883Original Patek Philippe Geneve Chronometer Rose Gold 40 Mm RecasedRare Vintage Patek Philippe Tank Driver Horseshoes Watch Ref 497 Circa 1940sPatek Philippe & Co Geneva For Tiffany & Co Ny Solid 14k Gold Chronometer - 1890Patek Philippe Jumbo Golden Ellipse Automatic, Ref 3738/100 ,cal 240 Micro RotorPatek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 14k Gold Extra Fine Chronometer - 1870Patek Philippe Ellipse Gübelin 18k Yellow Gold& Diamonds Ref#4226Patek Philippe Jumbo Golden Ellipse Automatic, Ref 3738/100 ,cal 240 Micro RotorPatek Philippe 41.5mm Open Face Adjusted Nickle Movement No ReservePatek Philippe 5980Vintage Patek Philippe Winding Pocketwatch Movement Custom Stainless Steel CaseVintage Patek Philippe Ss Custom Made Case Men WatchPatek Philippe 18kt. White Gold Men's 5035g-001 WatchPatek Philippe & Co. Stainless Steel Wristwatch. Engraved Movement.Vintage Patek Philippe Wolf Teeth Pocket Movement Custom Made S.s CaseWrist Watch With Antique Quality Chronometer Movement Patek Philippe Used Leather Patek Philippe Wrist Watch Band Signed Buckle+swiss Chrono T-954Patek Philippe Vintage 18k Gold Made For Serpico & Laino Ref 1588 With Archive !Patek Philippe Parts Dial Bands Crowns GoldGeneve Patek Philippe Watch BoxGeneve Patek Philippe Upper Glass Watch Box1950's Patek Philippe Geneve 18k Yellow Gold Waffle Dial Men's Watch #2763455Antique Red Leather Patek Philippe Pocket Watch Case Box 1890 VelvetPatek Philippe Watch Patek Philippe Wooden Watch BoxPatek Philippe Men Wrist Watch Movement As Is #20-7Patek Philippe Oem Brown Leather Watch Travel CasePatek Philippe Very Rare Vintage Wood Watch Box Stunning No Reserve Auction $1~Patek Philippe 2017 Silk Tie BnibAuthentic Vintage Patek Philippe Display Tray Les Maitres De L'horlogeriePatek Philippe Black Colour Leather Strap Never Used Size 18 Mm - No ReservePatek Philippe Geneve Swiss Rose Gold Tone Watch Bezel Case, Men's , RepairAuthentic Patek Philippe Black Alligator Leather Strap 18mm Original Vintage Patek Philippe Jumbo Nautilus Ref. 3700 Blue Tropical DialPatek Philippe Solid Platinum Pt950 Buckle Clasp Excellent ConditionRare Vintage Patek Philippe Luxury Watch BoxOriginal Patek Philippe Wooden Watch Box 24cm*15cm*10cmPatek Philippe Original Man Watch Dial 29.50mm. No Reserve - Nice!