Diary of a Patek Philippe Collector – four things I would like to change (2nd February 2020)

It doesn’t take a genius to work out that I am a fan of Patek Philippe. Having said that, I would also consider myself to be reasonably objective. After all, the rationale for an independent blog such as this is to highlight the bad things as well as the good things about Patek Philippe.

The inspiration for this idea actually came from a friend of mine. Big hat-tip to @gp_chronicles for his most recent blog post. I think his latest blog is one of the best articles for ages. In his article, it is argued that a “rich heritage is both an asset and an obligation.” This statement got me thinking. Success, achievement and reputation are things that many people and businesses strive for. Yet, once they have been reached, there then emerges this situation where the high level of excellence achieved in the past is expected to be maintained. It becomes an obligation.

Over the history of horology, many companies have achieved excellence only for it to subsequently ebb away as complacency has set it. Patek Philippe are probably one of the only companies that can trace excellence throughout their history. Yet, there remains a significant obligation on Patek Philippe to keep maintaining this superior standard.

What should Patek Philippe consider as possible ways to improve?

Well, let me set aside the intrinsic watchmaking angles to this question. My aim here is not to conjure mythical complications or watch designs. Rather, it is to address some issues that I think definitely require consideration. So, here are my four suggestions….

Authorised Dealer Displays

It is simply not acceptable for an Authorised Dealer (AD) to have a virtually empty display cabinet of Patek Philippe watches. Such is the demand for certain watches, that the result is that only a few less popular references sit, lonely and isolated, in a display window. One never sees a Nautilus or an Aquanaut in a display window. So you want to see what a Ref. 5212A looks like in the flesh? No hope. How about a Ref. 5172G? Again, dream on. Display windows across the world look overtly depleted. And sad.

Wouldn’t it be great to actually see a Ref. 5212A in the flesh….

This is wrong on so many levels. How do Patek Philippe really expect a potential customer to get a feel for what a watch really looks like when a physical example is, essentially, never available in an AD’s shop window? What message do Patek Philippe think is being sent about the handful of less popular watches that are visible? Window displays look sad.

OK, there will be plenty of people who don’t like my following solution, and I am not claiming it is a perfect solution, but this is how I would address this problem. Firstly, lets imagine that an AD get just two Ref. 5212A watches per year. One in January and one in July. When an AD receives the one in January, it should be stipulated that it cannot be sold until the July watch arrives. The first watch is to remain in the window on display until it is replaced in July. In July, the original watch can be sold to whoever is on the top of the AD list, and the incoming July watch then stays in the window for a subsequent 6 months until the next arrival of a Ref. 5212A. And repeat.

At the end of the day, the AD will still sell two watches over the course of the year, but the shop window will have on display this superhot watch all through the year. Repeat the same process for the Ref. 5711A and the Ref. 5167A and so on. ADs will still sell exactly the same number of watches, yet shop windows will look like they are supposed to and customers can actually see what a watch looks like. Patek Philippe need to ensure that watches they supply are kept on display until a replacement reference is supplied.

I wonder what a Ref. 5711A actually looks like?

Questionable Authorised Dealer behaviour

This is a story I hear time and time again. A new client walks into an AD and asks if he can buy a Nautilus 5711A. The AD replies that there is a 10 year waiting list. The client then sighs deeply and becomes resigned to not having one, considering instead paying a huge premium on the secondary market. The AD then says that there is a way to shorten the waiting list to just a year or so. The new client suddenly becomes excited, after all a year is not that long to wait for such an icon. Then the AD drops the news that the way to move up the waiting list is to buy two other watches that the AD happens to have in stock.

This is a method of doing business that is absolutely wrong. It is a form of extortion. Patek Philippe do not endorse this type of thing. Of course they do not. Yet, some ADs still do it. What would I like to see Patek Philippe do to an AD who indulges in this type of business practice? Honestly, I think the AD should first get a stern warning (sorry…LoL), but if found to have continued the practice after this warning then they should lose the AD status. It is simply wrong that clients of a company with a reputation for excellence like Patek Philippe are being held to ransom by unscrupulous ADs in this way. Patek Philippe should make a clear statement that this type of AD practice is not acceptable.

It is those little details that matter

Excellence comes in many ways. Historically, Patek Philippe watches have had that extra attention to detail that have marked them as special. This is one example that I would love to see receive that extra attention in the future. Moonphase discs should be enamel. In the past, the enamel moonphases of watches like the perpetual calendar Ref. 3448 have added such intensity to the watch. It is something that makes the difference. Patek Philippe lead the field when it comes to the use of enamel in watches, so my request would be that when it makes special watches in the future that have a moonphase, then perhaps consider adding that extra special touch of making the moonphase in enamel.

Limited Editions

Many manufacturers have gone down the particular path of making many limited edition watches. In the end, an unlimited number of limited editions results in somewhat of a farce. The aimed-for exclusivity of a limited edition watch becomes obfuscated. In fact, one could take this argument further and say that there are two or three manufacturers who have tested this “limited edition” theory too far to the extent that it devalued their entire range of watches.

Almost by definition, a Patek Philippe watch is a limited edition. There really should not be a need to label it. Patek Philippe have often ignored industry trends, preferring instead to maintain their own philosophy. I would love to see them produce far fewer “limited editions” simply because a proliferation of them devalues the brand’s intrinsic exclusivity. Patek Philippe most definitely already have an exclusivity to their watches. Would a proliferation of limited editions damage that? To be honest, yes I think it would.