A Renowned Watchmaker: Patek Philippe

Watch collectors and clock enthusiasts are all certainly familiar with the name Patek Philippe and the high degree of precision and artistry associated with the company. However, there is more to Patek Philippe’s history than even serious collectors may realize. Read on to learn more about the innovative history of this horological legend.


Patek Philippe Five Minute Repeater Pocket Watch

Patek Philippe Five Minute Repeater Pocket Watch

Who founded Patek Philippe?

The intriguing story of Patek Philippe began in Geneva, Switzerland in 1839, when Antoine Norbert de Patek first ventured into the watchmaking industry. Patek immigrated to Switzerland from Poland, where his successful military career included receiving the Virtui Militari, the highest award reserved only for acts of heroism. Patek was forced out of Poland following the defeat of Polish forces during the Polish-Russian War of 1830-31. In 1839, Patek founded his first watchmaking company, called Patek, Czapek & Cie – Fabricants à Genève. His partners included François Czapek and Thomas Moreau, and the company was initially very successful.
Meanwhile, French watchmaker Jean Adrien Philippe was also making strides in the watch industry. As the son of a watchmaker, Philippe trained under his father and began creating his own winding mechanisms in 1840. His patented winding mechanism that allowed one to set the watch's hands without the need for a key caught the attention of Patek, who invited Philippe to form a new company the following year, joined by a third partner named Vincent Gostkowski.
The three men formed Patek Czapek & Cie, and each contributed essential elements to the newly formed business: capital from Czapek, watchmaking from Philippe, and business strategies from Patek. The company performed exceptionally well and continued to compete in the Universal Exhibitions, which had initially brought Patek and Philippe together, creating mechanisms that would shape the rest of the watchmaking industry. The Patek Philippe pocket watches created for these exhibitions featured many significant, groundbreaking horological complications, from minute repeaters to perpetual calendars.

Patek Philippe Minute Repeater Pocket Watch retailed by Tiffany & Co., circa 1915
Patek Philippe Minute Repeater Pocket Watch retailed by Tiffany & Co., circa 1915

Tiffany & Co. also played an important role in furthering the reach of Patek Philippe into America. Charles Lewis Tiffany first met Antoine Patek in 1851, when Patek traveled to New York. The two formed a successful business relationship, culminating in watches like the one above, which featured the Tiffany name but were crafted by Patek Philippe. The minute repeating pocket watch allowed a complex mechanism to be placed inside a small, portable device, and it was a highly desirable complication. Following the deaths of Patek in 1877 and Philippe in 1893, the company proceeded as a joint-stock company and continued to see success in the watchmaking industry, further expanding into the American markets.
In 1932, in the midst of the Great Depression, the last descendant of the original founders still involved in the company, Adrien Philippe, sought a buyer for the family business. The directors of the company chose to sell to one of their suppliers, the brothers Charles and Jean Stern, whose descendants still direct the manufacturer today.

What is Patek Philippe known for?

Unlike the many other watch manufacturers that have come and gone in the past two centuries, Patek Philippe has preserved their prestigious representation and private ownership since its founding in 1839. Passing from the hands of one generation to the next, the current owner, Thierry Stern, represents the fourth generation of ownership by the Stern family.


Patek Philippe Chronograph Pocket Watch

Patek Philippe Chronograph Pocket Watch

Patek Philippe Chronograph Pocket Watch

Additionally, Patek Philippe takes such pride in their craftsmanship that the entire creative process, from the initial design and research to manufacturing each individual component, is completed in-house, meaning the company is able to ensure high levels of quality at every step. This level of control is rare today when many companies outsource various parts of their production process to cut costs or save time.


Patek Philippe Electronic World Time Tower Clock

Patek Philippe Electronic World Time Tower Clock



Collectors prize watches and clocks under the Patek Philippe name for the same reason: they are mechanical marvels of truly exceptional quality. Patek Philippe is so widely known for its impressive precision that many government buildings, airports and hospitals relied on their electronic clocks following the creation of the company’s electronic clocks division in 1946. The device seen above was created specifically for the Parliament Building in Switzerland’s capital city, Bern, in order to guarantee time synchronization across multiple locations. This device is both the oldest and the largest of its kind ever made, standing almost 5 feet tall.


Why is Patek Philippe so desirable?

A long tradition of excellent craftsmanship and constant innovation has elevated Patek Philippe to the highest tier of watchmaking. The combination of limited production and incredible desirability has resulted in accordingly high prices from the manufacturer and the secondhand market.

Patek Philippe Nautilus 5712/1A-001 Watch
Patek Philippe Nautilus 5712/1A-001 Watch

Because the process of manufacturing these watches is so involved, there are remarkably few Patek Philippe watches produced every year, and collectors must be very savvy in order to acquire these. One example is the Nautilus, a highly-desired sports watch that requires dedicated Patek Philippe collectors to join a waitlist of 5 to 7 years to even have the chance to purchase directly from the watch manufacturer.
Additionally, many antique wristwatches by Patek Philippe continue to grow in value beyond the original retail price because of their incredible mechanisms and timeless designs. The most expensive watch ever sold at auction worldwide was made by Patek Philippe and sold for over 30 million US dollars, a testament to the importance of this manufacturer.
Whether you’re a seasoned collector looking to expand your antique clock, watch or antique pocket watch collection, Patek Philippe has produced an intriguing variety of watches suited for any purpose, from everyday wear to exceptionally rare collectible pieces. M.S. Rau offers many rare and important clocks and watches by Patek Philippe, which you can view on our website.

"Patek Philippe Watches (Volume I) - Patek Philippe Museum“


Sign up below to be the first to know about new acquisitions, exhibits, blogs and more.

Back to Top
back to top

Shopping Bag

Your shopping bag is currently empty.