Patek Philippe Interview with Larry Pettinelli
Laurie Kahle recently spoke with Patek Philippe’s U.S. President Larry Pettinelli about this year’s hits, what we can expect to see more of from the brand, and the “wild West” of pre-owned watches.
This year, Patek Philippe got a lot of buzz around the Nautilus perpetual calendar in white gold, the perpetual calendar in platinum with rose gold dial, and the Aquanaut Chronograph. Were you surprised by any of the reactions at Baselworld?
We expected a good reaction on the chronograph Aquanaut, specifically with the black strap. But we were shocked by how many people accepted the orange strap from Patek Philippe, which is a little more conservative by nature. They said, ‘Yeah, I would wear that orange strap on a weekend.’ They were really all in.
What complications and styles is Patek Philippe currently focusing on?
We happen to be making more travel time and world time watches, so that seems to be a theme that the Sterns want to examine and explore. For us, it’s a good way to have a very classic looking watch with a little more complication.
We also feel like we’ve overlooked Calatravas, basic round watches, and perpetual calendars. So, we are making a point of talking about them. We make so many supercomplications and those tend to get the most headlines, but we skip over a whole segment of what people maybe can afford, what’s a little more realistic.
Those more basic models can also attract a younger clientele. What are you doing to reach them?
Well, you need to be in a certain financial place in your life in order to spend a reasonable amount on watches. With last year’s Grand Exhibition in New York, we tried to target the 20-to-35-year-old category a little more—just to get people to understand who we are and learn about the brand, whether you can afford it or not. Just having brand awareness is important at that level. And then, if they get into watches, no matter where they start, hopefully we can become an aspirational purchase.
We’ve been looking at social media for about five years, and we’ve been really just dipping in our toe. But for the Grand Exhibition, we did a really targeted Instagram campaign, and the wave just grew empirically. You have to talk to young people where they get their information, and they are getting it from Instagram—maybe not Facebook, so much anymore—and some of the blogs. The trick is that when you go on Instagram, they focus on a few styles. The idea for us is that we are not just about the Millennials and steel. And that is what the young people on Instagram will repost. So, we have to figure out a way to talk about the breadth of the line without ignoring what the young people are actually interested in.
Vintage watches have been particularly hot in recent years. Do retailers feel a sense of competition—are they challenged by the auction craze?
There are two different things going on. You have the vintage world, which is the true auction scenario. Then, you have what are called pre-owned watches, and that is a whole different world. It’s interesting because usually, it’s people who maybe can’t afford to buy a new piece, and they will look at a pre-owned piece.
Nautilus 5711 © Patek Philippe
The pre-owned market is more difficult sometimes because those are barely new pieces. People don’t understand why a piece that was sold seven years ago is selling for more than retail, which happens with Patek because of the market values. The ref. 5711 is a great example: It costs $28,000, but you can’t get one, so they are on the market for about $50,000 pre-owned.
Are retailers expanding on pre-owned in their stores?
About 20-to-30 percent of retailers have always had pre-owned. In most cases, they are taking watches back in trade to bring their customers up to another level, and this is how most of the collectors work. And some retailers have made a separate business out of pre-owned. There are no rules; it’s like the Wild West at this point. For us, it’s more of an affirmation that there is value in the brand.
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