Patek Philippe is the last family-owned independent watch manufacturer in Geneva, owned by the Stern family since 1932. The current president, Thierry Stern, has made it clear that this has been an advantage for the brand and will play a significant role in the future of the company with a succession already being planned alongside hints as to what the future might look like for the brand.
When talking with Bloomberg, the discussion turned to the Nautilus and its unprecedented levels of popularity. Prices have soared on the secondary market to many times above retail prices, but how did Patek respond to this newfound demand? By discontinuing their most popular variant, the blue dial steel 5711.
Patek Philippe only makes 70,000 watches per year and, according to Stern, they don’t have the capacity to produce more without sacrificing quality. They even reduced their retail distribution network by 30% to combat the increased demand they’re seeing.
While fiscal motivations can’t be discredited, it’s clear that they aren’t the only priority. Patek’s greatest strength is its renowned craftsmanship, were it to falter even a little, it wouldn’t be the same and consumer trust would falter. This is why Stern isn’t planning on selling the company despite his being able to make several boatloads of money if he did.
As Stern explains, “If I’m selling Patek Philippe to a group, for sure I am going to be the winner. I can sell it for billions. But then I’m going to kill Patek Philippe in less than five years. You can be sure you will only see Nautilus, because that’s what the group would do. This is not what I want to do.”
The Nautilus was not made to be as popular as it is today, Patek Philippe has never aimed to have the most sought-after sports watch, though part of the allure of owning a Nautilus is its scarcity. Fiscal motivations are at play here as much as brand pride, reputation, and quality, all of which are helped by the halting of the Nautilus in the long term.
So being family-owned and independent of large conglomerates has allowed the brand to make decisions that could see the brand see short-term success, but allows for long-term planning. You can see this with the planned succession as it will likely pass to Stern’s two sons, aged 20 and 21, who have joined the company and are learning all aspects of the business over the next year in order to preserve this kind of approach. Though Stern, 52, has acknowledged that it could be as long as a decade before they can take on significant decision-making duties. Succession plans are already underway internally with Laurent Bernasconi taking over as Patek’s general manager as part of this process.
The future of Patek might be coming sooner than we would have thought with the announcement that the brand will introduce its first new model line since 1999’s ‘Twenty-4’ women’s collection later this year.
The prototype is ready with Stern saying that he “really likes it.” What isn’t clear is what direction this new model will take. A sporty watch to rival the Nautilus? Or perhaps a dress watch? Once this is released we may get further insight into what Patek will be doing in the coming years, or they may throw us a curveball and take us all by surprise. What is clear is that Patek will do their own thing and remain an independent watchmaker.
For more, check out Andy Warhol’s pink gold Patek Philippe Ref. 2526.