Patek Philippe is one of the most recognizable luxury watch manufacturers in the world. The brand is known for its sophisticated complications, iconic models like the Nautilus and Calatrava, and some notable historical timepieces. But do you know how Patek Philippe came to be? The story is more intriguing than you could ever imagine.
The brand’s history dates all the way back to 1839 when Polish watchmaker Antoni Patek and his countryman Franciszek Czapek established Patek, Czapek & Cie in Geneva, Switzerland. They began producing pocket watches but split after just six years due to disagreements. Nonetheless, this company was the forerunner of the Patek Philippe we know today. French watchmaker Adrian Philippe (the inventor of the keyless winding mechanism) later joined Patek, and together they formed a new company, Patek & Cie, in 1845. Another six years passed before the business was officially renamed “Patek, Philippe & Cie.”
Patek Philippe’s Early Fans: Queen Victoria and Hungarian Royalty
The young watch brand experienced early success, and their creations made it to royal courts across Europe. Queen Victoria was the owner of several Patek Philippe pendant and pin timepieces. The company also created the first Swiss wristwatch for Countess Koscowicz of Hungary.
The next important step in Patek Philippe’s history came during the Great Depression. In 1932, the Stern family (one of Patek Philippe’s watch dial suppliers) acquired the brand. The company flourished under the ownership of the Stern family. During this era, the brand blessed the watch community with some of the most complicated and beautiful timepieces ever crafted. Many of their model lines experienced immense success. For their 175th anniversary in 2014, Patek Philippe created the Grandmaster Chime ref. 5175, the company’s most complicated wristwatch of all time. Nearly 90 years after the initial acquisition, the same family still owns and runs Patek Philippe with Mr. Philippe Stern (honorary president), Mr. Thierry Stern (president), and Mr. Claude Peny (CEO) at the helm.
Patek Philippe Calatrava
The Calatrava Cross has been the company’s logo since 1887. Soon after the Stern brothers acquired the brand in 1932, they launched the very first Calatrava ref. 96. British horologist David Penny designed the watch, taking inspiration from the Bauhaus movement. The model was intended to help the company stay afloat during the Great Depression. It has since become one of Patek’s most beloved collections and remains one of the brand’s flagship models to this day. In fact, Patek announced the latest Calatrava reference just a few weeks ago at Watch and Wonders 2021. The success of the Calatrava lies in its simple, clean, and elegant design. It is often referred to as the quintessential dress watch.
Patek Philippe Nautilus
We’ve talked about the Nautilus in several articles in the past. This model is the ultimate Patek Philippe watch for most of us. As the story goes, Patek Philippe commissioned renowned Swiss watch designer Gérald Genta to design a steel sports watch in 1976. The aim was to create a fresh new model in the exclusive luxury sports watch category. Genta then allegedly sketched the design of the wristwatch that would eventually become the Nautilus on a napkin at lunch during the Basel watch fair. He had already created another iconic steel luxury sports watch a few years earlier with the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak. Inspiration for the Nautilus (like the Royal Oak) came from the nautical world, specifically a ship’s porthole. The watch’s “ears” are meant to symbolize a porthole’s hinges. The first Nautilus reference was the 3700, a highly collectible and sought-after model today. For the Nautilus’ 30th anniversary, Patek released the refs. 5711 and 5712. Both of these references are among the brand’s most popular models, especially after Patek announced they would discontinue the 5711.
Patek Philippe Aquanaut
The Aquanaut came to the market in 1997. Believe it or not, the Nautilus was not selling well at the time, and in response, Patek Philippe wanted to release a new model. While clearly inspired by the Nautilus’ looks, the Aquanaut is still quite a different timepiece. As a typical sports watch (you might even call it a diver), the Aquanaut has a three-piece case, screw-down crown, and water resistance to 120 m (394 ft). The first refs. 5060A and 5060J were part of a 1,000-piece limited run in stainless steel and gold. Both proved very popular and sold out very quickly. Afterward, Patek Philippe released a second non-limited edition. The so-called “Jumbo” ref. 5065 Aquanaut has a 38-mm steel case and rubber strap. The ref. 5066 came after that, marking the final first-generation Aquanaut.
The second generation was released during Baselworld 2007. It had an even larger 40-mm case, a brand-new caliber, and a different dial, but it still came on a rubber strap. Next year marks the 25th anniversary of the Aquanaut, and we’re expecting to see something exciting from the brand. Until then, there are plenty of other amazing Patek Philippe models to choose from if we want to simply admire, or even wear, a creation from this prestigious Swiss manufacturer.