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20th Anniversary
Patek Philippe - Philippe Stern

Patek Philippe Philippe Stern

Former president**

Sow the right seed at the right time, and you’ll reap a bountiful harvest later. This axiom offers a perfect summary of the life and work of Philippe Stern. The leading role played by the Patek Philippe brand in the 20th century is the fruit of vision and precisely-targeted actions, with the now much-coveted ‘Nautilus’ being a powerful case in point. When he was at the helm of the company, Philippe Stern was far from convinced by the hype surrounding this sporty, elegant stainless steel luxury wristwatch. “It seems to me to be so totally wrong to go about saying, as is often heard, that those who buy a Patek Philippe can resell it the very next day at a huge profit; buyers should in fact be motivated by a highly personal interest in the piece.” And that was a large part of why he took stringent measures with respect to production and sales.

Philippe Stern

Philippe Stern © Patek Philippe

In the face of increased demand, he went against prevailing wisdom, curbing production, thinning out the retail network, and imposing very strict discipline. He brought together watch manufacturing and administration on the same site, creating a splendid complex of buildings in the Plan-les-Ouates district of Geneva. In 2001, he inaugurated the company’s museum, an unparalleled achievement. That same year, Philippe Stern, born in 1938 and the father of Thierry Stern – who was appointed President in 2009 – took part in an ambitious research project to investigate silicon. In doing so, he laid the foundations for the ‘Advanced Research’ project, which in 2005 resulted in the first top-of-the-range wristwatch to feature a silicon escape-wheel. The Spiromax® balance spring, launched the following year, now powers most Patek Philippe mechanical calibres. Philippe Stern also kick-started the brand’s manufacturing of its own cases and bracelets. He bought up a dial factory and revived forms of craftmanship that had faded into obscurity. In a nutshell, he gave Patek Philippe unprecedented growth – and renown bordering on the legendary. Philippe Stern has never asked anybody’s permission; at the very most, he has sought advice. The outcome has been a series of decisions that have helped secure the brand’s future, with characteristic objectivity. “It’s a real advantage for us to be a family firm. We can plan and invest for the long term, because we know exactly who we are working for. We can always allow ourselves time to think about exactly what we want to do – and not do. For us, at the end of the day, it’s the result that counts.”

*Written by Gisbert Brunner

*On the occasion of GMT Magazine and WorldTempus' 20th anniversary, we have embarked on the ambitious project of summarising the last 20 years in watchmaking in The Millennium Watch Book, a big, beautifully laid out coffee table book. This article is an extract. The Millennium Watch Book is available on www.the-watch-book.com, in French and English, with a 10% discount if you use the following code: WT2021.

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