Patek Philippe The challenges of selling Patek Philippe watches
You might think that managing one of Patek Philippe’s biggest stores is easy, but it’s not without its challenges, as Patrick Cremers, manager of the Patek Philippe Salon in Geneva, explains.
We interviewed Patrick Cremers, the director of the Patek Philippe Geneva Salon, during the special exhibition of the newly released 2018 rare handcrafts timepiece collection.
You have an exceptional exhibition of the rare handcrafts pieces at the Patek Philippe Salon in Geneva. What does such an exhibition bring to the Salon and your regular visitors and customers?
The first objective of such an exhibition is above all to show off the variety of skills that we master in-house at Patek Philippe. Those who were unable to come to Baselworld, for example, would otherwise never have the chance to see this collection. The only way that you can usually see these watches and clocks is to go to Baselworld and visit our stand.
I have often said to the Stern family that it would be good to do an exhibition. Unfortunately it isn’t possible every year but for the image of the brand it’s great to be able to show the level of quality and expertise of our craftsmen and craftswomen. I think it’s important to be able to show that everything we do is done with the utmost respect for tradition.
Unique piece dome clock Ref. 20069M with grisaille grand feu enamel using blanc de Limoges © Patek Philippe
The Patek Philippe Salon in Geneva is an historically important location and we welcome between 36,000 and 38,000 visitors here every year. For us, the local customer is very important and they are people for whom we have a lot of respect. We organise a lot of events for them, some of which are very discreet and as Mr Stern rightly says there is very little commercial character to our events. They are more about maintaining good relationships and also informing and educating our customers, who are very passionate about Patek Philippe.
Every year we also organise a collectors’ dinner, which is our only international event here. We invite the best customers from all our salons around the world to Geneva. This year we decided to organise it simultaneously with the exhibition, so the collectors will be able to dine right among these fantastic pieces. It allows us to show off some of the other rare crafts that are mastered within the factory.
As the manager of the Geneva Salon it must be a considerable challenge allocating these sought-after pieces?
For a brand like Patek Philippe, which has a lot of rare watches and a lot of demand for them, it is not always easy. You have to do a lot of explaining and you need a lot of understanding. You also need to be honest with the customer. Sometimes you quite simply have to tell them that you will not be able to get a particular watch for them, but more importantly you have to explain why.
Limited edition set of two Calatrava Ref. 5089 wristwatches with wood marquetry dials © Patek Philippe
I think it is a big challenge for Mr Stern, too. My role is to share information with him on which customer has requested which watches and why. Some of the customers he might already know very well, but he might need more information on others. The most important thing for the Stern family is the passion for the brand.
Are Patek Philippe customers already prepared for this in a certain way, thinking of the waiting list for the Nautilus, for example?
I think people understand it more readily if they have an explanation. If you were to come into the Salons without knowing that you had to wait for a Nautilus and I told you that you had to wait six or seven years, you might think I was just trying to get rid of you. If, however, I explained the Patek Philippe quality standards and that we on no account want to fall into the same trap as other brands by only producing the Nautilus, even if it is one of the most iconic models in recent watchmaking history, you might understand the reason for the waiting list. We have to try to manage things as best we can, but it’s not always easy.
Is a customer who wants a Nautilus ever likely to change their mind and go for a different Patek Philippe watch, given the waiting time?
We have to offer alternatives but without being pushy. There may be an Aquanaut or a Calatrava or a complication that could be interesting. We are looking for something that gives us pleasure so sometimes people might say that we did well to suggest an alternative. This doesn’t always work, of course, and there is also the question of budget. Some people have saved up for their entire life to buy a Nautilus. This is why we will always favour the local customer. Any salesman worth his salt knows that the local customer is the foundation of their business, whether it’s a bakery or a Patek Philippe Salon. In this case we will do our best to ensure that the local customer doesn’t have to wait as long.
The latest Aquanaut models. An alternative to the much sough-after Nautilus? © Patek Philippe
Do tourists try to beat the system by asking around different Patek Philippe salons?
Yes, of course. In these cases we explain to the customer that we respect our distribution network and recommend that they enquire with their local retailer. We cannot prevent people from insisting that they want to buy their watch in Geneva, of course, but we try to explain the situation.
My job is to manage expectations and to explain things honestly, so that the customer at least feels that they have been considered. A customer who leaves our salon and checks up on Internet or asks other retailers will at least know that we have been honest and may even discover that other retailers have even longer waiting lists.
Is it nevertheless possible to walk into a Patek Philippe salon and find the watch you are looking for?
Not for the rare pieces, and this is true all over the world, not just in Geneva. As soon as we receive a rare piece we will call the customer and deliver it. But we do have plenty of watches available for sale!
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