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    

18k Yellow Gold Patek Philippe Automatic Ref#3445 With Patek 18k Buckle 37 JewelRe-cased C. 1930s Patek Philippe Calatrava 18k Yellow Gold WatchPatek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 14k Gold Extra Quality Chronometer - 1890Patek Philippe Ellipse Winding 18k Gold Men's Mesh Watch Ref. 3848 NrPatek Philippe Golden Ellipse 3738/1 Heavy 18k Gold Automatic Men's WatchOriginal Patek Philippe Dial As 1130 Movement Men’s Watch Big Size 39.00 MmPatek Philippe & Cie Men's Salvador Dali Engraved Swiss Pocket Watch MovementPatek Philippe Ellipse Swiss Made 1970s Men's 18k Heavy Solid Gold Watch J253Patek Philippe Genuine Vintage 18 Karat Rose Gold Antique 620666 Curved CurvexMonster Patek Philippe 56mm Chronometro Gondolo !!Vintage Patek Philippe Winding Pocketwatch Movement Custom Stainless Steel CasePatek Philippe Geneve Ellipse 4133/1 18k Yellow Gold Ladies Bracelet Wrist WatchPatek Philippe WatchExtremely Rare Ruby Patek Philippe Tiffany Art Deco Diamond 18k Gold Lady WatchPatek Philippe Rare Chronometro Gondolo 22 Lines 18kt Rose Gold 56 Mm AntiquePatek Philippe 100% Genuine Chronometro Gondolo 18kt Rose Gold 32 Mm Project Unique Patek Philippe & Co Seconde Independante & Seconde Foudroyante - 1869Unique 14k Gold Patek Philippe Chronometer !!Patek Philippe Gubelin 18kt (750) Solid Gold Diamond 20 Jewels Watch Ref 3293-14Men's Patek Philippe Watch Classic Square 18k Solid Gold Mint ConditionPatek Philippe & Co Geneva Solid 18k Gold Chronometer - 1907Rare 18k Yellow Gold Patek Philippe Calatrava Quartz Men Watch Ref 3744Patek Philippe Grand Sovereign Ii Complication Showroom Timepiece HorlogePatek Philippe Vintage Inner & Outer Watch BoxLot Of 10 Patek Phillippe, Rolex Explorer & Iwc Dials CadransPatek Philippe 3919 Mens 18k Gold Watch Paper. All Original Patek PhilippePatek Philippe Bailey Banks & Biddle Ladies Pocket Watch 18k Yellow Gold 1904Patek Philippe Horizontal Pendulum Showroom Desk Display HorlogeVintage E Koehn Patek Philippe Key Wind Pocket Watch Movement & Dial Rare 1800sPatek Philippe Nautilus Authentic Cuffinks White GoldPatek Philippe Black Colour Leather Strap Used Size 18 Mm - No ReservePatek Philippe Watch BoxPatek Philippe Black Colour Leather Strap Hardly Used Size 20 Mm - No ReservePatek Philippe Black Colour Leather Strap Hardly Used Size 19 Mm - No ReserveAuthentic Patek Philippe Steel Stainless MensPatek Philippe Black Colour Leather Strap Used Size 19 Mm - No ReservePatek Philippe Brown Colour Leather Strap Used Size 24 Mm - No Reserve## Antique Pocket Watch Movt, Tiffany/patek, #14275, 14s (18-1/4 Ligne), Sw/lsPatek Philippe Wrapping PaperAntique Factory Patek Philippe Enamel Watch FaceAntique Factory Patek Philippe Enamel Watch FaceAntique Factory Patek Philippe Silver Tone Watch FacePatek Philippe 5167r 18 C Rose Gold Aquanaut Wrist Watch For MenFine Condition-- Mens 18k Gold Patek Philippe Calatrava 3520 WatchPatek Philippe Strap Patek Philippe Watch BoxPatek Philippe Basel 1998 Press Pack