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Thierry Stern – CEO, Patek Philippe

“In our new 100,000sqm manufacturing facility, an entire floor is dedicated to training.”

Your Watch Art Grand Exhibition has been held since 2012 in Dubai, Munich, London, New York and this year in Singapore, have you been able to measure its impact on the global public ?

These exhibitions do indeed generate two major effects. It should be noted that they have evolved and that each is accompanied by various special editions. The Singapore one concerns seven countries in the region, which particularly appreciate them and attach great importance to the values of a family business. What we have noticed is that the Watch Art Grand Exhibition attracts both collectors and neophytes, simply curious about the beauty of the pieces presented. When they emerge from the experience, members of the public no longer merely see two hands on a dial, but understand the brand, the history, the quality, the movement and the work behind a luxury watch. This potential new clientele believes in Patek Philippe, whose image is thus strengthened, but the entire watch industry also benefits from this awareness of our crafts. This includes young people and women who appreciate technique or aesthetics. Secondly, we see a very concrete increase in demand from retailers in the region for at least two years after each exhibition.

You are gradually moving into your new 100,00sqm manufacturing facility, what will it enable you to do ; pick up the pace ?

That is not the priority, because Patek Philippe quality is not compatible with large quantities. This building had been planned for years because we wanted to bring all the activities under one roof again. Our building in Perly was aging and becoming overcrowded, as had the one we had recovered from our neighbors in Plan-les-Ouates, and we used it for ten years instead of five. We have thus invested in Patek Philippe’s sustainability, but also in the comfort and safety of our employees who now enjoy more space in quieter premises. Not only have we brought together all the skills and more than 1,600 employees, while improving efficiency, but we have also secured Patek Philippe’s future by increasing after-sales service capacity and providing an entire floor for training. This is for the benefit of watchmakers, as well as sales advisors and retailers, along with enamelers, engravers, timing specialists, etc. R&D also requires a lot of space. Each area comprises room for potential extensions. All of this is naturally optimizing processes and enabling us to go further in terms of production, but we do not expect growth of more than 2-3% per year. Patek Philippe will offer more products featuring greater complexity, because our customers want to be surprised by beautiful and useful complications.

“Grasping Luc Pettavino’s long-term vision motivated me to build a program of ever more sophisticated unique pieces.”

Which models would you recommend to customers who do not want to wait years for a Nautilus ?

Fortunately, this phenomenon of waiting lists for the Nautilus is truly unique – and particularly satisfying given that this collection was not at all successful to begin with ! Among our simple watches, I find the standard Aquanaut very pleasant to wear for holidays or sports, and even with a suit. Obviously, all the new models require a little patience during the first two years after their introduction. For watches that are a little more sophisticated, I regard the annual calendars as very beautiful pieces, offered at reasonable prices and equipped with useful functions. I particularly recommend the 5205 with its openwork lugs, or the QP 5320 with its vintage look, which for me perfectly embodies the brand. It is the essence of the Patek watch from my childhood, the one created by my father and which I have updated.

Which 2019 new model pleases you most ?

My role is to suggest something new ; as you know, it is important in life to be daring, while respecting existing codes. But I was well trained by my father and the whole team here, so if I appreciate a new model that veers off the beaten track, it’s still a Patek because I myself am a Patek product. If I had listened to the internal committees and not my intuition, we would never have released the 5212A weekly calendar, which immediately found an audience. I’m just sorry they still take a while to get hold of, even though we produce more of them than Nautilus models. The same goes for the daring Alarm Travel Time 5520P with its four crowns, and whose four patents prove that it is more difficult to make than a minute repeater ! In a completely different style, I am also very happy with our new automatic Twenty-4, which was not at all straightforward to create.

Is the Ladies’ Complications collection, which was reinforced last year with the 7150/250R manually wound chronograph, enjoying the expected success ?

It is indeed. Ladies’ watches have always accounted for 30% of sales, and that is now increasing slightly. I would like to reach 40% because more of them are interested in movements, especially in Asia and Germany for example, even though the aesthetic aspect and the strength of the brand remain predominant. These are always rare models because quality is the main priority, as women well understand. The slimness of the movement is essential, and we master this aspect particularly well ; I am very firm when it comes to a movement’s thickness and diameter. It is doubtless up to us to adapt better to contemporary tastes, with certain colors that appeal to young people, or bracelet/strap materials that are a little more daring. Aquanauts lend themselves well to this, and ladies always prefer the gemset versions. We will make this transition slowly, as we don’t want to confuse customers.

Your 20-complication steel Grandmaster Chime for Only Watch is generating a wave of enthusiasm among major collectors ; what was the conceptual approach to this model ? The process began right from our first contacts with Luc Pettavino : after grasping his long-term vision, I felt motivated to build a program of ever more sophisticated unique pieces. This involves stepping things up a notch each time, also as a mean of motivating other brands to join us in this challenge. Everyone has got on board in their own way. The Grandmaster Chime is estimated at between US$2.5 and 3 million and is expected to garner a lot of interest. “The Only One” dial inscription is a mischievous nod ; I should have come up with it before and put it on all the models, but now it’s perfect. For the customer it’s nice to know that it is indeed the only one.

To what extent is Patek Philippe affected by international economic uncertainties ?

Honestly, not much. That’s the advantage of small production volumes, because with 60,000 watches per year we can move models from a temporarily troubled market like Hong Kong to the USA or Europe, which will be delighted. In addition, we had reduced the number of retailers from 750 to 440 in recent years so that the best ones could have more watches. Nonetheless, I hope this does not last too long and that Hong Kong maintains its passion for watchmaking. Patek Philippe has a clientele that wants to invest in quality products. As long as we offer them new products that appeal to them, we will sell them. We have to look to the long term, and we have time on our side. Speaking of the future, my 16-year-old son Tristan has begun studying at the Geneva watchmaking school this year, alternating with training in our Manufacture. I was pleasantly surprised because I didn’t push him at all, but he’s been talking about watches for the past four years and it’s definitely his own decision.

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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