Recently in Dubai for the Watch Art Grand Exhibition, La Moda Dubai was able to obtain an elite interview with Thierry Stern, the fourth in a line of presidents who have steered 170-year old watch company Patek Philippe.
The man who is as sophisticated as the watches themselves, told La Moda Dubai about his passion for watchmaking, his confrontations in continuing an enduring family legacy, his visualization of the future for the Patek Philippe megabrand and his favorite Patek Philippe watch.
1. Passion is the driver to success, not pressure.
Thierry told La Moda, “I was six years old when I knew the first time that I wanted to make watches. I was actually in my father’s office at the time, and in his office drawer were around 10-15 pieces that he collected.”
“When I was opened one the drawers – I still know the smell and color of the drawer – I saw these evening pocket watches, and right then I told him I wanted to make something like that. All I knew at that time was the passion I had in wanting to make watches; I didn’t know I had to take over Patek Philippe.”
2. Never push your children to run the family business.
“Good thing though, I was never pushed by my father which is also the same thing that I do with my children. I believe that I should let them do what they enjoy.”
“When I was young, my father would always ask me if this was what I wanted and he would just say that it’s going to happen when I’m ready. I never had any pressure from my family. That’s why in my children, I believe that before Patek Philippe, it is their happiness that is more important.”
3. Keeping the company’s rich history alive is a huge challenge.
“I would say that my biggest challenge today is to keep this history alive and to keep the know-how alive. The collectors of Patek Philippe love to know the history behind the watches, and they are expecting from us that we can explain the history of this movement, etc. – and to do that well we need to use new tools, for example today we have launched an application for iPad that we are using internally.”
4. It is ok to be like your father.
“I have been working with father for more than 20 years, so I think you can say I’m a bit of a copycat from my father. Maybe the difference today is the way I work with technology. He never touched a computer. I’m all using computer today; I have to adapt myself to this. Otherwise, the philosophy, the spirit, the strategy my father was using with Patek was also the same that I’m using now. My father was also using as his father and his father was using the same as his father.”
5. Patek Philippe’s strategy is pretty simple: to make the finest watches in the world.
“It has always been clear that it is an easy strategy to make the finest watches in the world, and that is what is really nice with Patek. It is easy and everybody understands that and they agree with that.”
6. Patek Philippe is not going, and will never fall, into the trap of fashion trends.
“Since always we have a tradition of innovation in Patek Philippe but that should not include being a fashion brand. I don’t like it to be a fashion brand because fashion is nice for six months and then you keep it aside or throw it away. In Patek, you cannot do that. We innovate movement but in terms of design there are watches we are not willing to make square since it is always round and thin.”
“It has always been like this – we adjust the color, the size, add some details but not create a total change. This is very clear with Patek, and the collectors enjoy it. It is like collecting a Porsche, for example the 911 Porsche, you always see the same design with very small changes in colors. We make sure that we innovate yet we don’t get too far in changing designs, there’s always a limit.”
7. The future for Patek Philippe gears towards complications.
“The demand today is in complicated watches. I can see that the future for Patek is directed towards this. We keep the basics and also try having complicated watches and keep basic ones. From China Switzerland, America – I see the demand for complicated watches everywhere.”
8. One of the most beautiful exhibitions for Patek Philippe was the one recently held in Dubai.
“We did a lot of exhibitions before, maybe not like this one, but very often we have smaller and bigger exhibitions. This one in Dubai is perhaps the biggest and the nicest one. They expected to see watches but they got surprised to see the inside of Patek Philippe.”
9. The most expensive watch in the world is sold out, and will never be reproduced.
[referring to the jewel in the crown of the exhibition is the Patek Philippe Star Caliber 2000 – a double-faced pocket watch. Nine years of research and development were invested into the creation of this masterpiece, which has 21 complications and contains six patented innovations. It ranks third among the world’s most complicated timepieces, and displays not only the time, perpetual calendar and sunrise/sunset times, as well as the progression of the seasons, but also the movements of the lunar orbit and phases of the moon.]
“It took us a long time, nine years to be precise, but the spirit behind it was just to show the world the know-how that we have. This watch embodies the whole history of Patek Philippe – this is what we have learned for 170 years which we tried to put inside this watch. But this one is meant for die-hard collectors who are really deeply passionate for Patek Philippe.”
“This is the watch which I won’t sell to someone just because they have the money to buy it. Even you can afford, it doesn’t mean I will sell it to you. I only sold it to passionate people. And, this piece has been long finished. There is no chance for anyone to buy it. No we’re not going to make any of these, not anymore.It came in limited series wherein we made 4 sets. Every set had 4 colors but now it is finished. This piece in exhibit is the last one you can see, and we will keep it for the museum.”
10. The President of Patek Philippe wears the 5970.
“Well finding my favorite is difficult. It is like being asked which one is your favorite kid. But what I really enjoy wearing is the 5970. In my own eyes, this reflects the design and quality of Patek Philippe. So, when people are asking me what is in your mind the perfect Patek watch.”