On the brand’s 175th anniversary, its strategy to stay on top and the risks of the Chinese market.
ESQUIRE: What is your message for 175 years of Patek Philippe?
THIERRY STERN: To be honest, this year is important but last year was equally important and next year will be too. Of course, we should be proud of these 175 years of work, but I’m more interested that we are ready for our 200th anniversary. This October will present a surprise, which I can’t really talk about. However, it is important that the quality of our products is always the same.
ESQ: Which of the watches presented at Baselworld are you most excited about?
TS: There are two pieces that have caught a lot of attention. The first is the Nautilus Chronograph Time Travel [reference 5990/1a-001], a very useful model for travellers. The second is the chronograph with annual calendar which we made with a steel case and bracelet [reference 5960/1a-001]. The dial design is very aggressive and I really like it.
It is an important commitment to the international market because I found some resistance, but I told them we had to do it. This is not the first time it’s happened. It happened with the twenty-4: many people told me I was crazy to make a wristwatch case in steel and diamonds, and warned me that it could never work. Today, 13 years later, the twenty-4 is still a very strong product for us. It also happened to Aquanaut, a watch with steel case and rubber strap that many questioned and is still extremely successful. Sometimes you have to lead. Moreover, we have around 180 models. It does not mean a change in strategy or anything like that. Sometime we must watch and have fun creating.
ESQ: Is steel considered a subordinate material for watches?
TS: In the field of high-end watches steel is not liked for good reason: it’s very easy to go from gold to steel, but it is very difficult to return from steel to gold. So brands like Patek Philippe, Chopard and Rolex, among others, are very careful. There must be a limit. In our case, the steel watches must not exceed 20 percent of total production. It is our rule and that works very well.
ESQ: Do you have a favorite material for watches?
TS: I still like the yellow gold because it seems to me that if a watch looks good in this material, it will look good in any other material. It is similar to what happens in the automotive industry, where prototypes are made in gray because it is the best colour to appreciate the design and structure. However, I’m not so crazy that I would make the reference 5960 in yellow.
ESQ: Is it true that you listen to and evaluate all Patek Philippe watches with minute repeaters?
TS: Yes, it’s true. The minute repeater watches are very important because we do not produce many and each costs between RM 1.04mil and RM3.5mil, as in the case of the sky moon tourbillon. So I do it out of respect for customers. It is also important in terms of quality control. True, we have microphones and sound machines that record each minute repeater, and even graphs that indicate its operation, but nothing can replace the human ear. It is not the hardest part of my job; in fact, I quite enjoy it and I always have the watchmaker with me. This is critical because sometimes I can reject a part in just one or two minutes. And when a watchmaker has been working on the sound for up to 200 hours, it would be inappropriate to tell someone else that watch has been rejected. So it is up to me, to listen to the watch and explain what I like and what not, and what he might do to improve it. It is a way to show the respect I feel for the watchmakers. They are always proud to show their work and love the pieces they produce. We grade the minute repeaters with A, B or C: A is perfect; B is good, C is rejected. I look at three aspects: sound, harmony and vibration. To a watchmaker that is interesting because they learn how to improve their work and even learn to distinguish the type of sound I like.
ESQ: When doing the assessment, how does the watchmaker develop his ability ?
TS: This is a skill not everybody can do; it rather depends on how many watches minute repeater you’ve heard. It’s