The History of Patek Philippe

June 05, 2017

The History of Patek Philippe

When we talk about high-end watches, it’s easy to forget that the likes of Rolex and Cartier aren’t the only players in town. Indeed, ask anybody who really knows timepieces, and they will quickly mention Patek Philippe as one of the true masters of the art.

In specialist auctions, Patek Philippe pieces regularly fetch record prices and demand for these exquisite creations shows no sign of abating.

Antoni Patek, a Polish immigrant to Switzerland began making watches in Geneva in 1839. Patek enjoyed a brief partnership with fellow Eastern European migrant Franciszek Czapek, until they went their separate ways in 1844.

Shortly after, Patek formed a new alliance with French watchmaker Jean Adrien Philippe, and the foundations of the company that remains Geneva’s last family-owned watch manufacturer were laid. Because there are no shareholders to please, outside of the founders’ families and those of present owners the Stern family, the company have long been eager to innovate and have introduced many innovations into watchmaking that survive today.

It was one of these innovations, by Philippe, that is likely to have brought him to the attention of Patek during a product exposition in Paris, in 1844. Until then, timepieces had been wound using a key that was inserted into a small receiving hole on the edge of the piece but Philippe demonstrated his new key-less winding mechanism that would go on to revolutionize watchmaking.

Within months, following an invitation from Patek for Philippe to visit Geneva, the pair had formed a partnership under the name Patek and Company. It isn’t clear why Philippe’s name didn’t appear in the company title at the time, but this was changed in 1851 when the company officially became Patek Philippe and Company upon Philippe’s insistence.

The omission of the comma between the names always bothered Jean Adrien Philippe, and he changed this after Patek’s death in 1877, in order to give his own name more prominence than Patek had himself allowed.

In 2009, the comma was removed, and the company became Patek Philippe et Compagnie once again.

Patek Philippe had been garnering a reputation among Europe’s royal families and monied elite almost since the day they met, with pieces being purchased by the likes of Queen Victoria and others.

With global expansion in mind, the company established a partnership with Tiffany & Co. in New York, in 1851, and the first Patek Philippe watches began to appear on American shelves.

This expansion was developed further when, in 1854, Patek himself embarked on tours of both the US and Europe to promote the company as the maker of the finest timepieces in the world.

Buoyed by the success of his travels, Patek continued to make regular trips across the world whilst Philippe continued to bring new innovations to the process of designing and producing watches, many of which resulted in several patents being awarded to the company.

One of the patents, awarded in 1863 became the basis for future self-winding mechanisms that are common today.

Over the next 30 years, the Patek Philippe company continued to exhibit at fairs and expositions all over the world, amassing many gold medal awards for their superb watches, continuing to expand their range with ever more innovative and exciting creations courtesy of the genius of Jean Adrien Philippe and the marketing skills firstly of Antoni - by now “Antoine” - Patek and later through a series of strategic partnerships.

Over 175 years of watchmaking, the Patek Philippe company have amassed almost 1000 medals awarded for their timepieces and currently hold 80 patents, of which the contents of many are still in use today by watchmakers all over the world.

Some Notable Innovations:

- The keyless mechanism to avoid the need for a separate winding key

- The perpetual calendar mechanism for accurate date and time display, by including workings designed to manually take account of leap years and 30 day months. The annual calendar improved upon the perpetual calendar by being to automatically adjust for calendar anomalies, removing the need for manual adjustments at the end of months with only 30 days or for leap years, and removing the need to “program” the cogs and inner workings. If the watch were to last 1000 years, it would still show the correct date. 

- The double chronograph which is, effectively the first stopwatch incorporated into a standard watch

- The self-winding wristwatch.

Patek Philippe had a less-refined version of the mechanism as far back as 1863, and polished it to the point where it could be applied to wristwatches in 1953.

The quartz watch with no moving parts was invented by Patek Philippe in 1959.

The fully waterproof wristwatch had been seen before but, in 1979, Patek Philippe devised a method that meant the watch was waterproof down to 120 meters, an unheard of level at the time.

Patek Philippe have contributed more to watchmaking than just about any other company in history, and continue to look for new ways to make the art of creating timepieces more accurate, more resilient, and more beautiful.




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