Thierry Stern : President, Patek Philippe

Next year, Patek Philippe will celebrate its 175th birthday. What can you tell us about this ?

For the past four years, a small team of five people has been dedi- cated to developing watchmaking projects for the 175th anniversary. Like the 150th we will launch several categories of items, both ladies and men’s, in the hope of surprising our clients. Part of my objective is to deliver all these new aesthetic and technical new releases within a maximum of two or three years. Aside from this, the Baselworld public will also discover 2014 collection, all of it housed in a brand new stand.


What were your priorities during these first three years of your presidency ?

Two mainly : reassure the markets regarding my intentions for continuity, and convince people internally of my sense of responsibility. In fact, one of Patek’s strengths lies in its very long term vision, which means one of the requirements of the presidency is to ensure that the know-how implemented by our predecessors is sustainable, without giving into the sirens of opportunistic marketing. I have travelled extensively to meet our retailers and explain to them that I was going to preserve this heritage. I think it is very important to reinforce their confidence, above all in times of crisis, and to ensure them that Patek will continue its efforts in the realm of innovation and development in order to be able to continue delivering the best quality timepieces in the world.

I was fortunate to take up the presidency at the right time. My father was very careful not to put me in this position too young, and we talked a lot about it beforehand, while working together officially for a long time. This enabled me to move to the next level quite serenely. Having said that, internally, working with the president’s son is not the same thing as working with someone who has become the president. We have 14 divisions managed by the same number of people who are expert in their realms, and to be able to engage with these professionals on their level is essential in terms of credibility and responsibilities, which are considerable. I count on them a lot so that I can focus on my role as the temple guardian.


What will they be for the next three years ?

Unquestionably to preserve our independence in terms of production. The groups are very active and we often participate in supplier purchases. In addition, a great deal of investment has been made in what I call useful innovation, such as in the domain of the escapement, compared with relatively little in seeking to create small or thin movements. This however is one of our assets, which has enabled us to offer complicated timepieces for women that many now envy us. I therefore intend to continue improving the quality of our movements by focusing on the size, precision and traditional aesthetics, without artifice. Silicon is a good example : this is a plus for the escapement, but brings nothing to a bridge or a balance.


What is your strategy with regard to your distribution network ?

As Patek Philippe was not able to supply 700 points of sale, we decided a few years ago to reduce the number. The current scope of 450 retailers corresponds to our capacity. We would like however to improve our visibility with the more strategic amongst them, in some instances by implementing corners, or by implementing boutiques managed by them as is already the case for 23 of them. One of the major challenges will be to train salespeople. They need to be completely professional and be able to provide arguments to a client who requires a comparison between two brands. Finally, we also need to be careful and uphold strict, clear rules, amongst other things in markets that are subject to exchange rate fluctuations.


In times of crisis, clients turn to safe havens. What is 

happening in a period that is hard to quantify like the one in which we are currently living ?

The period doesn’t make much difference despite being difficult – our annual production of 50 000 watches is still way lower than the demand. Clients still want to invest in a Patek, whose models hold or increase their value. This encourages me even more to remain concentrated on our creative rhythm and our quality capital.


Which 2013 new release are you most proud ?

Complications are very important for Patek, but I have always maintained that a collection should be built from both ends and that one should not overlook young people wishing to purchase an attractive watch for their wedding or graduation. Consequently, for three years I have been working on a new Calatrava that is both accessible and attractive to 20-30 years olds. I have delved very far into the aesthetic research and refinement, to the point where I postponed it for a year so as to ensure that I was 100% satisfied. This model has an automatic movement, a new dial and a brand-new case, and we are offering it in three colours to start off with. Its design is splendid, and in this respect the case particularly will appeal to lovers of the genre.


What is the ultimate in hyper-complication for you?

It seems to me that we went a long way with the Star Caliber. In my view, it’s not the number of complications that count but the ability to assemble them within a 42 mm diameter whose thickness is compatible with wearing a suit. With its 701 parts, reference 5208 for example represents the limit we can risk in terms of hard-hitting aesthetics. The ultimate for me lies in achieving the quality of a tourbillon, without a tourbillon. A beautiful, discreet watch with an extraordinary degree of precision. Silicon may help us, but we will test the reliability of our prototypes for years before being certain of that reliability.


During the 2011 Only Watch event, your reference 3939 in steel sold for €1.4 million. What unique piece are you working on this time?

The piece is finished because we made it far in advance with an idea of continuity. There is a logical sequence and the buyer who purchases it with the aim of completing their collection will be the happiest Patek collector in the world. I am almost jealous! In theory, the amount for which it is sold is likely to be higher than in 2011, but as always, this depends on the parties involved. From the beginning, we decided to step up to the plate in order to support the partnership with Luc Pettavino* in his research on muscular dystrophy. To do even better than this in 2015 looks set to be a tough challenge !

Brice Lechevalier is editor-in-chief of GMT and Skippers, which he co-founded in 2000 and 2001 respectively. He has also been CEO of WorldTempus since it joined the GMT Publishing stable, of which he is director and joint shareholder. In 2012 he created the Geneva Watch Tour, and he has been an advisor to the Grand Prix d’Horlogerie de Genève since 2011. Also closely involved in sailing, he has published the magazine of the Société Nautique de Genève since 2003, and was one of the founders of the SUI Sailing Awards in 2009 and the Concours d’Elégance for motor boats at the Cannes Yachting Festival in 2015.

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