A watch isn’t necessarily something that you think of as being a feat of engineering. But there is far more to a watch than meets the eye. Underneath its face, a vastly complicated machine is silently chugging away. In that way, Patek Philippe are very similar to their products; a simple Swiss brand on the surface, but with a rather more complicated back-story. The watchmakers appear, on initial inspection, to be a resolutely Swiss brand. They certainly sound it. But there is far more to the watchmaker’s origins.
In the early 1830s a Polish soldier named Antoni Patek arrived in Geneva, two years after leading an evacuation from Poland following a failed uprising against the Russian forces who, at that time, were occupying the country. Patek quickly became enthralled by the watchmaking heritage of the city, and learnt about both painting and engraving from the artist Alexandre Calame. He also made the acquaintance of the watchmaker and fellow Pole, Francois Czapek. In May 1839 Patek established his first ever watch company – Patek, Czapek & Co., and six months later their first pocket watches (both quarter-repeating pocket watches) were sold to a certain Madame Goscinska.
For six years, the company went about its business, producing around two hundred watches a year, which even today are renowned for the beauty of their engravings. But the combination of Czapek and Patek was not long-lived, and Czapek went his own way in 1845, going on to found his own watch company. Then Jean Adrien Philippe, who had earlier pioneered a keyless winding and hand-setting system in, was invited to Geneva by Patek, and by 1851, the company was operating under a new name of Patek, Philippe & co. But even early on, the company was busy expanding their horizons beyond Switzerland, and even Europe. In the same year Tiffany & Co. in New York sold their first Patek, and in the early 1850s Patek travelled to the States to sell the company’s wares.
Patek may have travelled far beyond Swiss borders marketing his watches, but the company has always been resolutely Swiss. Patek died in 1877, and his business partner Philippe twenty years later, but by then the essential cogs of their watch making business had well and truly been set in motion. To this day, the company remain true to their roots. The innovative marketing strategies established by Patek on his grand tours, and the mechanical expertise and ingenious ideas of Philippe, are traits that the company still treasure. And their connection with Tiffany’s – first established by Patek in 1851 – is another concept that has stood the test of time. All of the company’s feats are commemorated in the Patek Philippe museum in Geneva, as well as displays of the very first pocket watches – all of which are kept in perfect working condition.
The combination of Swiss watchmaking expertise and attention to details, combined with an immigrant’s flair for promotion, has proved itself to be one that can survive even in the trickiest financial climate. This year the company celebrates their 175th anniversary and it almost goes without saying that they will do so in style.
To celebrate their 150th anniversary, the company celebrated with the launch of the Calibre 89, the most complicated pocket watch ever made, comprising 33 different complications, and almost 2000 parts. In addition to a comprehensive star chart, the watch also boasts a thermometer, sunrise and sunset timings, and even the dates of Easter. Patek might be keeping schtum about what they have up their sleeve for 2014, but whatever it is will be sure to create a stir.