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Patek Philippe re­mains a model for a well-run fam­ily dy­nasty

As the last fam­i­ly­owned Geneva-based watch man­u­fac­turer, Patek Philippe ap­pears a shin­ing model of a well-run dy­nasty.

Ladies Cala­trava Travel Time Ref. 7134G 18K white gold case with

di­a­monds, al­li­ga­tor strap, and Cal­i­bre 215 PS FUS 24H man­ual wind­ing move­ment, Twenty-4 Ref. 9748/1.GR. 18K white gold ear­rings with di­a­monds, and Aqua­naut Luce Pure White Ref. 275.2/1.G 18K white gold ring with di­a­monds, Patek Philippe.

Top, Ce­line

Ladies Au­to­matic Nau­tilus Ref. 7018/1A stain­less steel case with di­a­monds, match­ing bracelet, and Cal­i­bre 324 S C. au­to­matic move­ment, Patek Philippe. Top, pants and boots, Gucci

“What gives Patek watches their char­ac­ter? The Stern fam­ily. We have been in charge of the brand and the cre­ation of our prod­ucts for 81 years.

In our watches, you will find our fam­ily’s DNA.”

Baselworld 2009: News had just come in that Philippe Stern, pres­i­dent and third-gen­er­a­tion owner of Patek Philippe, would be step­ping down af­ter 20 years at the helm. His son Thierry, who had been in­creas­ingly in­volved, would be tak­ing over.

As Thierry fielded ques­tions about step­ping into the new role, he chal­lenged this re­porter to pose the same ques­tions per­tain­ing to man­age­ment and busi­ness strate­gies to his fa­ther, whose in­ter­view ap­point­ment came next. “His an­swers will be 99 per cent sim­i­lar. We have an al­most tele­pathic un­der­stand­ing,” he said. He was right.

Four years on, as Philippe as­sumes the more con­sul­ta­tive role of an hon­orary pres­i­dent, Thierry man­ages the day-to-day af­fairs of the busi­ness – and the fa­ther-son bond re­mains strong. “It is a good re­la­tion­ship; a nor­mal re­la­tion­ship be­tween a son and his fa­ther. He lives in Geneva too so we see each other quite of­ten,” says Thierry.

On the busi­ness end, both men still per­son­ally in­spect the qual­ity of the brand’s minute re­peaters be­fore they get shipped to their new own­ers. They also sit to­gether on the ex­ec­u­tive board and act as co-guardians of the Patek Philippe Seal, which was in­tro­duced in 2009 to re­place the com­monly used Geneva Seal as a qual­ity hall­mark for all of the brand’s own me­chan­i­cal move­ments.

“The Patek Seal rep­re­sents the ways and val­ues of my fam­ily and the busi­ness. It puts a stamp on what we say and do, and our val­ues of qual­ity and hon­esty,” ex­plains Thierry. “In many ways, the Seal also re­flects our in­de­pen­dence. It shows that we have to­tal con­trol over our cre­ations, and that we are an­swer­able only to our­selves and our cus­tomers.”

And to­tal con­trol, in essence, is what be­ing a fam­ily-run en­ter­prise means to the own­ers of Patek Philippe. The brand has been owned by the Stern fam­ily since 1932 and Thierry is adamant about keep­ing it that way.

“We are not a group of share­hold­ers who are just in it for the busi­ness. I guess we are seen as a bench­mark of own­er­ship within

the watch in­dus­try. Our cus­tomers know that there is only one fam­ily be­hind the com­pany, and we are fully com­mit­ted to pro­tect­ing the legacy of the brand,” he says.

In­deed, it’s as if the Sterns are a real-life em­bod­i­ment of their com­pany’s oft-quoted tagline: “You never ac­tu­ally own a Patek Philippe. You merely look af­ter it for the next gen­er­a­tion.” Thierry still fondly re­mem­bers the time when he was six, and his fa­ther showed him his col­lec­tion of an­tique pocket watches with in­tri­cate hand-painted enamel di­als. “Some­thing clicked and I knew that cre­at­ing watches was my life’s call­ing,” he rem­i­nisces.

Some might find it as­tound­ing that any­one could be sure of his call­ing at such a ten­der age. But as his­tory proves, Thierry did ful­fil his am­bi­tion – and not with the kind of con­stant nudg­ing from his fa­ther one would imag­ine. “He was care­ful not to over-in­dulge me. He brought me into the busi­ness slowly and made sure I was al­ways aware of my de­ci­sions,” he says.

The serene fa­ther-son work­ing re­la­tion­ship seems al­most too good to be true, and Thierry does noth­ing to dis­pel the no­tion. “We don’t re­ally dis­agree with each other a lot. Not at this level. Af­ter hav­ing worked to­gether for over 20 years, we un­der­stand each other very well,” he says.

Sandrine Stern, creative di­rec­tor and wife of brand pres­i­dent Thierry Stern Patek Philippe fac­tory in Plan-les-Ou­ates, Geneva

“As a fam­ily busi­ness, we have the freedom to raise our qual­ity with­out hav­ing to worry about an­swer­ing to share­hold­ers who won­der why we are in­vest­ing more money in the pro­duc­tion process.”

And when they do dis­agree? Thierry main­tains it’s about see­ing the same is­sue from a dif­fer­ent point of view, and that they both al­ways aim for the same out­come. He adds that when they dif­fer on any­thing, it usu­ally has to do with watch de­sign or com­mu­ni­ca­tion strate­gies.

“Some­times he lets me win, and some­times I let him win,” he jokes. Get­ting se­ri­ous, he con­tin­ues: “He is mind­ful of our older cus­tomers while it’s the same for me with younger cus­tomers. Now, we gen­er­ally agree that we need to speak to both groups, and we of­ten take the mid­dle route.”

Also on board as part of the Stern lead­er­ship team is Sandrine, Thierry’s wife of 12 years and the brand’s creative di­rec­tor. Lead­ing a team of 10, which in­cludes de­sign­ers and artisans, Sandrine over­sees the de­sign of all of Patek’s watches.

The Ref. 7130 World Time watch for women on this is­sue’s cover, for in­stance, stems from a 2011 ver­sion that she de­signed, one that she re­mains most proud of. “It’s the first Patek women’s com­pli­ca­tion that I de­signed and it’s a huge chal­lenge to bring out the fem­i­nin­ity against the watch’s strong tech­ni­cal­ity,” says Sandrine.

Other no­table cre­ations this year in­clude the new Nau­tilus and Cala­trava watches for women, on which Thierry com­pli­ments Sandrine for her “in­stinc­tively fem­i­nine ap­proach”. Th­ese are evinced in ladylike ac­cents such as wavy-line em­bel­lish­ments on the Nau­tilus’ dial, and the Cala­trava’s soft colours.

“My de­sign ap­proach is the Stern’s ap­proach,” she said in a pre­vi­ous in­ter­view with this mag­a­zine. “Thierry and I don’t nec­es­sar­ily feed off each other at work. Our re­spon­si­bil­i­ties are pretty dif­fer­ent. I un­der­stand the brand well my­self, and know what works and what doesn’t. There’s a com­ple­men­tary as­pect to our roles. We also dis­agree some­times, but that’s only nor­mal.”

Re­call­ing the early days of work­ing with Sandrine, Thierry ad­mits there were teething prob­lems – just like when he started with the com­pany – but noth­ing that can­not be re­solved with proper train­ing and time.

“I can de­sign a nice ladies’ watch but it would never be 100 per cent fem­i­nine. Sandrine just has that fem­i­nine touch. She has reached a great level of com­pe­tence, for sure,” says Thierry. He adds that he wouldn’t make her Patek’s creative di­rec­tor if she was not up to the task. “If not, the staff will talk, or they will get jeal­ous.”

When quizzed on the chal­lenges of be­ing a hus­ban­dand-wife team, he ad­mits to the ar­range­ment hav­ing its fair share of ups and downs. “The worst thing about us work­ing to­gether? That would be when we mix work with per­sonal ar­gu­ments. I imag­ine that to be quite com­mon for cou­ples who work to­gether. The best thing, how­ever, is that we have an easy un­der­stand­ing. We don’t need to talk too much to get the idea across,” he says. “At the end of the day, it is good to know that I have some­one that I fully trust work­ing along­side me.” HAIR DENNIS SEAH/MOSCHE GRAND HY­ATT MAKEUP GRANIEL LOH MODEL KATE S/ MANNEQUIN

Ladies Nau­tilus Ref. 7010/1G 18K white gold case with di­a­monds,

match­ing bracelet, and quartz move­ment, Nau­tilus Ref. 9751/1.GR

18K white gold ring, and Cala­trava Cross

Ref. 275.6/1AGR 18K white gold ring with di­a­monds, Patek Philippe. Dress, Hermes

Philippe and Thierry Stern

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