Patek Philippe's president on his sons, a secret watch colour and why 'we can’t provide Pateks for everybody'
CNA Luxury caught up with Patek Philippe’s Thierry Stern during his recent Singapore visit to talk about retailer relationships and the bliss of not caring about the full margin.
Complicated Patek Philippe watches are notoriously difficult to acquire, but in the coming weeks you may have a chance at nabbing one of a hundred special editions at an ongoing exhibition.
To celebrate luxury watch retailer Cortina Watch's 50th anniversary as well as its long-standing partnership with the Swiss watchmaker, Once Upon A Virtuosity is currently held at the Patek Philippe boutique at ION Orchard from now until Jun 26, before moving to the boutique at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands from Jun 28 to Jul 3.
The watch in question, which will be available for order at the event, is the Ref 5057G-010, a grey dialled, white gold version of the original rose gold Ref 5057R-001.
Seeing as the latter was also created specially for Cortina’s 25th anniversary, these retailer-specific models, which feature a moon phase, analogue date display and power reserve indicator, make instant collectibles.
Also on display at the exhibition will be Cortina’s collection of Patek Philippe dome clocks, including three that show off Singapore scenery, and one dedicated to Taipei, created for the launch of the city’s first Patek Philippe boutique.
The brand’s boutiques in Singapore, Taipei and Kuala Lumpur are all managed by Cortina and other retailers, a responsibility Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern, who was recently in Singapore, is happy to leave to someone else.
“I am not willing to open my own store,” he said plainly. “I am a watchmaker. I prefer to design and fabricate my own watches, not open stores everywhere. The retailers are professionals in that area. They know Singapore; they know you. I don’t have time to do that and I don’t want to. I’m not here to break any records in terms of margins. I want to improve things like the case and movement – that to me is more important than making money.”
Patek Philippe watches are also carried in multi-brand stores, but having them displayed alongside other highly coveted brands such as Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Jaeger-LeCoultre never bothered him.
“We can’t provide Pateks for everybody. When people come [to such stores] they can have a wide choice, and I will never be jealous about that. If you work in the watch industry, you have to enjoy all of them. There are some pieces I don’t like, and some I like very much. The beauty of being a watchmaker is being able to appreciate what everyone else is doing.”
Unfortunately for us, Stern isn’t especially concerned with making more watches to meet demand.
In fact, its new facility on the outskirts of Geneva, Switzerland, a US$633 million (S$878 million) project completed in 2020, was built for the purposes of consolidation and training, not expansion or increasing volume.
“I can’t just say we will increase production by 20 per cent tomorrow. It takes time. It’s easy to buy more machines but we still need to train the right people,” he explained. At most, simpler watches like a quartz-powered Twenty~4 may increase by 3 per cent each year, but complicated models will only see an output increase of 1 per cent.
Added Stern: “We are willing to train people internally. There may be some schools that train people to a good level, but ‘good’ is not good enough for Patek Philippe. To do better we need to do it ourselves, so it’s fine if our growth is tiny.”
Stern’s own two sons have been going through their own form of training. While both are still in school, each one has taken a respective interest in watchmaking and business. Combined with their experiences shadowing their father during various meetings and events, “both together could do something quite amazing”.
Stern also stressed that it was their decision to eventually do their father’s work. “It was never an obligation. We said, ‘Listen, we will not push you. It will be your choice. If you don’t want to take over, it’s fine. We didn’t create you to take over Patek Philippe. We did it out of love'.”
He asked only two things of them: That they find themselves a position in the company and do the work, and to always be involved in the creation of new watches. “Not only do they need to be able to create a new case or dial, but they also have to invent new movements,” he said.
“They already know how to behave from watching us and travelling with us. If they were here with us now they would be able to answer your questions. The financial part they can learn, too. But there is always a member of the family that is in charge of creation. It’s the best job you can have.”
Being able to have a say in the development of exciting products like the new Ref 5470P-001, the brand’s first 1/10th of a second chronograph wristwatch, or last year’s In-line Perpetual Calendar Ref 5236P, would indeed be the dream job for passionate horologists, but Stern also understands the importance of pandering to market demands.
“We do also have to follow trends,” Stern said of the many green-dialled novelties unveiled at Watches and Wonders earlier this year. “We’re not a fashion brand, so we chose green because it’s easy to wear. And when I saw that last year’s Nautilus with the green dial was such a hit, I thought it might be nice to use that green on other references,” he added.
The Ref 5205 Annual Calendar and steel Twenty~4 Ref 4910/1200A now have the same olive green shade found on the Nautilus Ref 5711/1A-014, a watch so absurdly in-demand that it is now selling for 1,300 per cent above its original retail price on the secondary market.
“Today, greens and blues are very powerful, and the whites and creams are nice, too. But we have a new colour coming that I can’t tell you about yet. I still have to have some secrets, but it will be revealed at the end of the year.”