The Stern family has been at the helm of Patek Philippe for 84 years; something that has dramatically influenced the way the brand works and the watches it creates as Laura McCreddie-Doak explains
Twenty years ago, London advertising agency Leagas Delaney, came up with a revolutionary idea. Rather than creating another campaign with a picture of the product front and centre, its team devised one that focused on the emotional connection someone would have with that product if they owned it. The product in question was a Patek Philippe watch and the campaign was the now-famous ‘Generations’ adverts.
With its visuals of attractive fathers and their sons or glamorous mothers and their daughters and the accompanying slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”, it tore up the advertising rule book and heralded a new wave of campaigns that were emotion rather than product led.
However, for Patek Philippe and more specifically the Stern family, this wasn’t just a clever gimmick but a sentiment very close to their hearts because this leading name in the world of haute horlogerie is one of the very few watch brands that is still family owned.
The Sterns have been custodians of this revered name since 1933. Back then Stern Freres was a respected dial maker and supplier to Patek Philippe. When a struggling post-war economy and some questionable business decisions conspired against the previous owners, Charles Henri and Jean Stern stepped in and the company has had a Stern at the helm ever since.
This puts Patek Philippe in a unique position. In a world where conglomerates and corporations usually have control, decisions are made slowly and change happens incrementally. At Patek, on the other hand, the reverse is true.
This doesn’t manifest itself in a high production of watches, but in the creative freedom to design, produce and assemble the best watches in the world.
With Thierry as the company’s President and his wife Sandrine in the creative director’s seat, every one of the 50,000 watches that leave the breathtaking building in Plan-Les-Ouates has the Stern seal of approval. Literally that is, in the form of the Patek Philippe Seal.
Introduced in 2009, by Thierry’s father Philippe, because he felt that the criteria of the Poinçon de Genève – the Canton of Geneva’s official certification for wrist and pocket watch movements made in the region, considered the highest accolade in the industry – had not been updated in order to take Patek’s technical advances, such as its experimentations with silicon, into account. This new hallmark of quality is applied to every finished watch after it has been tested against stringent in-house criteria. It is just one example of how being family owned has allowed Patek Philippe to write its own rules, to think differently from other brands.
The greatest example of this though is the watches themselves. This is a brand that had the foresight to anticipate the women’s watch renaissance by unveiling a brand-new chronograph movement in its Ladies First Chronograph 7071R back in 2009 when everyone else was selling shrink and pinks; it has the confidence to launch a women’s world time – the 7130, which was shortlisted this year for an Eve’s Watch Award in the Complications category – when most brand think this is a complication that is just for men.
It also pushes the boundaries of movement science as seen in its ground-breaking compliant mechanism and silicon hairspring with an added inner boss that it launched in the Aquanaut Travel Time ref 5650 this year, thereby creating a timepiece that is as accurate as one containing a tourbillon. In everything it does, Patek Philippe isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo and influence change by being the first.
Each timepiece is a 30-something millimetre representation of how the continued custodianship of the Stern family has shaped this already great name into something else; something more than just a watch – an heirloom you look after for the next generation.