The changing face of Patek Philippe

What has been the biggest change at Patek Philippe over the last 20 years?

Patek Philippe dominated complicated watch-making throughout the 20th century. That is not me being complimentary. It is me being factual. So, let me state the facts that demonstrate this with three of their ground-breaking watches.

A trilogy of groundbreaking watches

  • Ref. 1518 was the first serially-produced perpetual calendar chronograph launched in 1941.
  • Ref. 1526was the first serially-produced perpetual calendar launched in 1941.
  • Ref. 3448 was the first serially produced self-winding perpetual calendar launched in 1962.

However, one would need to add a number of layers to the above trilogy to paint a fuller picture.

More Patek Philippe Landmarks

Back in 1889, Patek Philippe lodged its patent for the first perpetual calendar pocket watch. By 1902, it had lodged the first patent for a split-second chronograph. Although the Ref. 1526 was the first serially-produced perpetual calendar, the template for that watch was produced as early as 1925 with the Ref. No. 97 975. In 1953, Patek Philippe patented the Caliber 12-600AT – the self-winding mechanism. The 1962 Geneva Obsrvatory saw a Patek Philippe tourbillon achieve a world record degree of precision for a mechanical watch. That world record is still still unbeaten. In 1996 came the patent for the annual calendar mechanism.

What Patek Philippe achieved in the 20th century was the domination of complicated watches. They led the vanguard in this domain.

As the 21st century has started to unfold, one hears a lot of criticism about Patek Philippe along the lines that they have lost their way or that they are no longer heading in the same established direction.

A breath of fresh air?

What I see from Patek Philippe now is something refreshing. Rather than focus on a well-established age cohort (and all that this represents), Patek Philippe have attempted to embrace a younger cohort of collectors. This has represented itself in a much wider range of watches across the price spectrum that are more appealing to younger collectors.

To my mind, this is the biggest change I have seen over the last 20 years. The Nautilus and Aquanaut are super-hot in the secondary market for the simple reason that their target audience is mesmerised by them. Patek Philippe has not restricted supply of these watches. Rather, it is the demand side of the equation that has shifted. These are watches that suit a more youthful target audience.

Nautilus and Aquanaut lead the way

Take the Nautilus as a range of watches. Whereas 20 years ago, there was a narrow range of Nautilus complications, today’s range of Nautilus covers a broad range of complications. This now includes chronographs, perpetual calendars as well as travel time and more traditional time and date. Within the Nautilus range one can now find almost any style of complication desired and in different types of metal.

A Nautilus for every occasion?

A similar story is also true for the Aquanaut. The younger collector now has a very broad choice of watches from within the Patek Philippe collection.

Or perhaps the more sporty and diverse Aquanaut?

But it doesn’t stop with the Nautilus and the Aquanaut. Add to this mix various Pilot watches, travel time complications and alarm functions and one has a very alluring cocktail indeed.

For many, the pursuit of ever-more-complicated watches is the direction that they wanted to see from Patek Philippe. Complexity for complexity’s sake, however, seems rather a pointless objective. How long before we see a quadruple split chronograph that absolutely nobody will use?

This year saw Patek Philippe patent a new movement and complication with the Calatrava 5212A – a weekly calendar complication.

Fresh. New. Useful innovations – Ref. 5212A

Two years ago it provided two patents within its Aquanaut 5650G from the Advanced Research group. Two examples of perfecting the wheel without needing to re-invent it.

Ref. 5650G – from the Advanced Research team – the SAS of Patek Philippe

To my mind, rather than pursue an endless charge into meaningless complications, Patek Philippe are targeting specific areas and delivering fantastic new and useful innovations and keeping the brand fresh by edging designs towards a more youthful audience. In many ways, perfecting the wheel rather than trying to re-invent it. I like this new direction.