Patek Philippe is many things. It’s a luxury Swiss watchmaker of show-stopping timepieces. It is a tireless innovator and a fashion statement. It is a notable investment and record-setting purchase. But above all of these things, Patek Philippe is a living and breathing icon of culture, fashion, and horology. In the world of luxury timepieces, Patek Philippe is the summit, the Mount Everest.

With a heritage steeped in state-of-the-art complications and elegant designs, Patek Philippe has been making an impact in the world of haute horlogerie since its very conception. In fact, of the 10 most expensive watches ever sold at auctions, worldwide, seven were Patek Philippe! So let’s take a look through the archives to discover some of the brand’s glittering highlights over the decades.

The dawn of Patek Philippe

The story of Patek Philippe began in 1839 when Antoni Norbert Patek, a manufacturer and trader of expensive pocket watches, and Czech-born, Polish master watchmaker Francois Czapek joined forces and founded Patek, Czapek & Cie. The two made a formidable team and soon established themselves as craftsmen and retailers of superb quality watches, many pieces of which exist today as important artefacts of horology. These can be seen in the King Farouk Collection at the Patek Philippe Museum in Genève, Switzerland.

Meanwhile, French horologist Jean Adrien Philippe was making a name for himself as an inventor, and in 1844, won a bronze medal for his keyless winding and hand-setting system at the Industrial Exposition in Paris. It was, in fact, at this very expo that Patek met Philippe who would one year later, become head watchmaker at Patek & Co. In 1851, Philippe was made full partner and thus the iconic brand Patek Philippe & Co. was born.

An era of firsts

The marriage of Patek’s nose for quality and Philippe’s talent for engineering is what ignited the watch company’s early successes. In 1868, Patek Philippe & Co. crafted the first ever-Swiss wristwatch, a dazzling creation of ornate gold carvings and diamonds, which was sold to Countess Koscowicz of Hungary.

By the 1880s, Patek Philippe had submitted patents for a precision regulator, as well as a perpetual calendar mechanism for pocket watches (one that takes into account the varying length of the months and leap years and so never needs to be corrected). They then went on to innovate the first double chronograph, which featured two separate stopwatch mechanisms. Of course, these functions are more than just ubiquitous in today’s timepieces; they’re expected. But so many of the most important evolutions in watchmaking history began as “I wonder if we could…” in Patek Philippe’s workshop.

The first half of the 1900s racked up a dizzying array of firsts for Patek Philippe: In 1916, they made the first ladies’ wristwatch with a five-minute repeater; in 1923, the first split-seconds chronograph wristwatch; and in 1925, the first wristwatch with a perpetual calendar.

From left: the first Swiss wristwatch which was sold to Countess Koscowicz of Hungary; the world’s first perpetual
calendar wristwatch; the Calatrava launch in 1932; the first Golden Ellipse; and the Sky Moon Tourbillon (2001)

A changing of the guard

In 1932, however, following the Great Depression, Patek Philippe was acquired by Swiss brothers Charles and Jean Stern whose business had previously supplied them with watch dials. But rather than hamper the company’s skyward-bound trajectory, the changing of hands injected a surge of fresh inspirations and designs.

It was this momentum that carried Patek Philippe forward into the ensuing decades, producing record-breaking innovation after innovation from the ‘Graves’ super-complication pocket watch (the most complicated mechanical pocket watch ever made) to the Ref. 5303 Minute Repeater Tourbillon, a spectacular piece of micro-machinery launched in 2019.

Left: the Ref. 5303 Minute Repeater Tourbillon; right; the Ref. 5270 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph

Modern offerings from Patek Philippe

2020 has thus far seen three new releases from the Swiss watchmaker. The Ref. 5303 Minute Repeater Tourbillon is a truly stunning timepiece specifically crafted for connoisseurs of striking watches. To call it merely a “watch” feels like an insult, so seductively gorgeous, elegant, and intriguing is the design, which features a rose-gold case, skeleton dial showing its inner mechanisms, and white-gold intarsias engraved with foliage motifs. Another model making waves, available since 2018 in platinum, is the Ref. 5270 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, which has, this year, been launched in a yellow-gold case.

With a concave bezel and fluted lugs, the traditional design is truly timeless and packed with six patented innovations by Patek Philippe. In a sense, this timepiece is an ode to the company’s  innumerable achievements. First launched in 2015 with a platinum case and black enamel dial, the Ref. 5370 Split-Seconds Chronograph now displays a new face with a blue Grand Feu enamel dial, made by hand on the basis of an 18K gold dial plate.

The Ref. 5370 Split-Seconds Chronograph

A metaphor for timeless luxury

Since 1851, Patek Philippe’s impeccable craftsmanship, microengineering perfection, and ceaseless evolution have managed to cultivate a reputation that is practically a metaphor for timeless luxury. And in no way is this better reflected than in the company’s motto… “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”