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Patek Philippe is widely regarded as the most prestigious watch brand in the world. One of the most revered Swiss watch manufactures of all time, the Patek Philippe brand is synonymous with impeccable craftsmanship, exclusivity, and a rich history of pioneering watchmaking inventions.
Founded in 1839, Patek Philippe has built a reputation for pushing the boundaries of fine mechanical watchmaking. It has made several world-first mechanical complications, including the first double chronograph (1902), the first wrist chronograph (1923), and the first wristwatch with a perpetual calendar (1925).
Moreover, Patek Philippe is renowned for their hand-finished watches and skilled craftsmen who ensure that every timepiece is of the highest standard. Patek Philippe is also famous for its longstanding tagline: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation.” Indeed, fans of the brand attest to the fact that they are built to last several lifetimes and treat them like family heirlooms.
Whether you’re looking for a classic timepiece like the Calatrava, sporty like the Nautilus or Aquanaut, or complicated like the Perpetual Calendar, the elegance and heritage of a Patek Philippe watch is unmatched. Explore our selection of authentic, pre-owned Patek Philippe watches at SwissWatchExpo.com.
The history of Patek Philippe began in 1839, when Antoine Norbert de Patek, a former Polish cavalryman, established a watch factory with François Czapek, a watchmaker. Named Patek, Czapek & Cie, the partnership lasted for six years. The company was eventually liquidated and Patek would go on to work with another watchmaker, Adrien Philippe, the inventor of the keyless winding mechanism. The company was renamed Patek Philippe & Cie.
From 1845 to Patek’s death in 1877, the company created the world’s first Swiss wristwatch and received a number of patents, including those for their keyless winding and hand-setting system, and their precision regulator.
In 1901, Patek Philippe became a joint-stock company. Philippe’s offspring continued to run the company as a family business, and installed seven shareholders into its first board.
Worldwide repercussions of the Great Depression led the owners to seek a solvent buyer for the company in the 1930s. They turned to their dial supplier, Fabrique de Cadrans Sterns Frères, and its owners Charles and Jean Stern. In 1932, the Sterns purchased a majority interest in the Patek Philippe & Co business. A year after, they hired Jean Pfister, a renowned watch maker, and announced that they would be making their own movements instead of sourcing them from LeCoultre.
Under the guidance of the Stern family, the business quickly picked up and were followed by two grand accomplishments in the history of the brand. They launched their flagship watch, the Calatrava in 1932; then introduced a historic commission from American industrialist Henry Graves Jr. in 1933. “The Graves” supercomplication watch took five years to make, and houses an astounding 24 complications in double-faced gold housing. It remains the most expensive pocket watch in history, last sold for $24 Million in 2014.
Patek Philippe has been under the ownership of the Stern family since then and remains the oldest family-owned Genevan watch manufacture. In 1977, Philippe Stern, Charles Stern’s grandson, took over the company and helped it navigate the Quartz Crisis that crippled the Swiss watchmaking industry. It was during this time that they introduced the Patek Philippe Nautilus, one of the first luxury sports watches made in steel. By 1984, vintage watch collecting became a popular hobby, thus revitalizing interest in Patek Philippe.
Beginning in the year 2000s, Patek Philippe timepieces have repeatedly set record prices in auctions worldwide. As of 2018, seven among the world’s top ten most expensive watches ever sold at auction are Patek Philippe timepieces.
The modern Patek Philippe selection is no less impressive, with plenty of highly coveted pieces – from sport luxury watches like the Nautilus and Aquanaut, to beautifully designed complications including the Annual Calendar, Flyback Chronograph, Pilot Travel Time, World Time, and World Time Chronograph.
Less than one million Patek Philippe watches have been produced since 1839, which is fewer than what most Swiss watchmakers produce in a year. Still, Patek Philippe currently offers 160 models and 40 movements. While that’s a small collection compared to other brands, it’s still a dense collection.
To understand Patek Philippe’s portfolio, their watches are grouped into the following families: Calatrava, Nautilus, Aquanaut, Complications, Gondolo, and Twenty~4.
The Patek Philippe Calatrava is a collection of Bauhaus-inspired, minimalist dress watches. Introduced in 1932, the same year that the Sterns took over the company, these are defined by slim round cases, elegant lugs, and clean dials. The Calatrava is known for its simple functionality, which can either be time-only or accompanied by a date. It is important to note that in recent years, there have been complicated watches under the Calatrava name, but these are housed under the Patek Philippe Complications or Grand Complications collections.
The Calatrava is named after the Spanish knightly order of the Calatrava, who saved the city of the same name and secured European independence. The lily cross of the Order of Calatrava is the trademark of Patek Philippe watches, which are engraved on the winding crown and the case base.
The Patek Philippe Ellipse d’Or or Golden Ellipse are thin, elliptical time-only watches introduced in 1968. These watches take their inspiration from the Golden Ratio formula, the divine proportion that makes objects pleasing to the eye. They are characterized by ultra-simple dials with only two hands as embellishment, and ellipse-shaped cases made in gold or platinum.
Patek currently makes only men’s sizes of the Golden Ellipse watch today, but the collection used to offer versions for men and women, and were particularly popular in the 1970s and 1980s. The Golden Ellipse was re-introduced in “jumbo” sizes in 2008.
The Patek Philippe Nautilus was the brand’s first foray into luxury sports watches. Introduced in 1976, it was designed by renowned watch designer Gerald Genta. Knowing the Stern family’s passion for yachting, Genta designed the Nautilus’ octagonal bezel to resemble a ship’s porthole. It also has an integrated bracelet that Genta is known for.
The Nautilus was a revolution for Patek. First, because it went head-to-head with the increasingly popular quartz watches of the time; and second, because it was a Patek Philippe in steel. Aside from very rare vintage models, Patek Philippe watches were only made of gold or platinum.
On the 30th anniversary of the Nautilus in 2006, Patek introduced the ref. 5711 – the most popular reference from the collection, and the most valuable steel sports watch in modern history. It remained faithful to the design of the inaugural Nautilus (ref. 3700) all while incorporating contemporary styling and a new in-house movement. The discontinuation of the Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711 in 2021 has caused the grail watch’s value to skyrocket.
The Nautilus was introduced as a time-and-date watch, and today is offered with complications including chronograph, annual calendars, and dual time zones. There are also ladies’ Nautilus watches now available, with smaller case sizes and often set with diamonds.
If the Patek Philippe Calatrava is composed of classic round watches, the brand’s “form” dress watches that come in rectangular, cushion, or tonneau shapes fall under the Gondolo family. The designs of the Patek Philippe Gondolo line embrace the Art Deco era, inspired by the brand’s golden age.
The Gondolo was not launched as a collection until the 1990s, but it was in fact inspired and named after Patek Philippe watches made for Brazilian retailer, Gondolo & Labouriau in the early 1900s.
The Patek Philippe Aquanaut was introduced in 1997, as a more attainable alternative to the Nautilus. It features a rounded octagonal case shape like the Nautilus, but with the absence of the “ears” on the side. It was also the first Patek Philippe watch to come with a rubber strap, giving it a more casual look intended to attract younger audiences.
For the 10th anniversary of the Aquanaut in 2007, Patek revamped the design, retiring its previous embossed checkboard pattern, to a sleek gradient pattern that mimics the image of the latitude and longitude on a globe.
In its infancy, the Aquanaut collection was predominately home to stainless steel models with simple time and date functionality. Today, there are a few gold models to choose from, as well as some complicated versions with chronograph and dual time functions.
In horology, a complication is any function of a watch that goes beyond telling time. Some popular examples are the chronograph, dual time, annual calendar, world time and power reserve indicators. In the Patek Philippe catalog, watches with two complications (excluding the date) fall under the Complications family.
The Patek Philippe Grand Complications line is where the brand truly shows off its mastery of horological complication. Patek Philippe watches with 3 or more highly-complex functions fall under this category. Thus, it is home to exquisite creations such as the Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar, Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, Split Second Chronograph, Alarm Travel Time, and Celestial.
The Patek Philippe Twenty~4 is the exclusive ladies’ watch of the brand. Available in 36 mm or smaller cases, round or rectangular, they are usually embellished with diamonds to channel feminine elegance.
Introduced in 1998, the Twenty~4 line was created exclusively for women, and remain so until today.
Patek Philippe uses reference numbers to properly document each watch. This helps identify a particular watch without having to write the whole model name – in fact, it is common for Patek Philippe collectors to refer to watches using their specific reference number.
Patek Philippe also makes logical use of reference numbers, where each digit and each position denotes a collection of characteristic of a watch.
The full format of a Patek Philippe reference number is xxxx/xxxxX-xxx but most commonly, collectors use the first four digits when referring to a Patek Philippe model.
First digit – starts with either a 3, 4, 5, 6 or 7. Men’s watches start with 3, 5, or 6, while ladies watch models have references that start with 4 and 7.
Next three digits – these are a bit of a lottery, although watches of the same families do tend to share the first two digits. As Patek Philippe fans would know, watches beginning with 57xx are Nautilus models, while 51xx and 52xx series are round-cased Calatravas.
Next five digits / letter – A Patek Philippe reference number is usually followed by a backslash, then a set of alphanumeric codes. This set is more rigid and indicate details of the case, bracelet, or dial, and work as follows:
xxxx / 1 - a watch on a metal bracelet
xxxx / 50 - a decorated dial. e.g enamel, gem-set or engraved
xxxx / 200 - gem set case (brilliant cut)
xxxx / 300 - gem-set case (baguette cut)
xxxx / 400 - gem-set case (high jewellery)
xxxx / 500 - engraved case
xxxx / 600 - enameled or lacquered case
xxxx / 700 - case with either gold or gemstones
xxxx / 900 - mixed techniques. eg diamonds and enameling
Next to the digits are letters that Patek Philippe uses to refer to the watch material as follows:
T - Titanium
R - Rose gold
J - Yellow gold
G - White gold
A - Stainless steel
P - Platinum
And finally, the reference will end with a three-digit number after a hyphen. These refer to the iteration of a dial in a reference. As Patek Philippe usually makes different dial iterations of the same model, they use ”001” for the first dial version, then ”010”, ”011”, and ”012” for the third iteration, and so on.
Patek Philippe watches are the benchmark of watchmaking, and are some of the most sought after watches in the market. Here are the most common questions asked about Patek Philippe watches.
Due to their extremely limited production and high value, there are many counterfeits of Patek Philippe watches.
Patek Philippe watches are known for their absolute perfection in all aspects, even under magnification. If you spot a mistake or any sign of shoddy work on a Patek Philippe timepiece, then it is likely a fake.
To ensure that you always buy an authentic Patek Philippe watch, it is important to always buy from a reputable watch dealer who can provide a guarantee of authenticity on the timepiece.
Patek Philippe only produces around 50,000 timepieces a year, which is very low compared to rival brands that create roughly a million watches annually. This makes for a limited number of models in existence.
Moreover, each Patek Philippe timepiece is crafted from the finest materials, and hand-assembled by highly-skilled watchmakers – a process that can take at least 9 months, and longer for complicated watches.
With their high quality, lower inventory, and steady demand, Patek Philippe watches command a higher price tag.
While we never advise clients to buy watches for profit due to a fickle market, Patek Philippe watches are known to hold their value well. As an independent, family-owned company, Patek Philippe does not mass produce its watches, and therefore have a firm grip on their value.
Patek Philippe watches are designed to be handed down to the next generations. To ensure longevity, Patek recommends a routine maintenance check every 3-5 years, couple with proper handling and storage.
Fine timepieces like Patek Philippe watches require routine maintenance and repair. SwissWatchExpo offers a full range of services, from basic maintenance to major repairs and restorations, performed by master watchmakers at our state-of-the-art service center. If you send your watch to us, you can be sure that it will be handled by expert watchmakers from start to finish. Learn more about our stringent Repair Services.
Our repair estimates are provided free of charge. The cost of the repair or maintenance service depend on the model of your watch and its current condition. When you send in your timepiece, it will be examined by our master watchmakers, who will then draw up estimate of the repair or maintenance to be done. Only when you approve the estimate will the process commence.
As a premier luxury watch manufacture, Patek Philippe is celebrated by everyone – from watch novices and younger collectors, to the most astute of watch enthusiasts.
Some of the most desired Patek Philippe watches are vintage models and complicated timepieces, that don’t fall under their current watch families. On the other hand, demand for models like the Nautilus and Aquanaut is extremely high, and although these watches are still in production, they tend to have years-long waitlists. If you are in the market for any of these watches, it makes sense to buy pre-owned.
With the pre-owned market, you can choose from all collections, limited or exclusive, vintage and new. The selection is much wider, which makes shopping for your desired Patek Philippe watch that much easier.
Another benefit of buying pre-owned is that you can enjoy a significant price discount while still owning an exclusive and valuable piece. While some vintage models appreciate over the years, a pre-owned watch is usually less expensive than a brand-new piece.
Lastly, pre-owned watches can be bought in mint and excellent condition – even unworn, if you prefer your watch as new as possible. SwissWatchExpo commits to delivering the watches in “like new” condition. Every watch we sell is inspected and restored by our expert watchmakers before they are listed for sale, that many of our clients tell us that they can’t believe it’s not new.
At SwissWatchExpo, we are guided by the principle that buying pre-owned lets the customer enjoy the maximum value possible. If you’re in the market for a Patek Philippe watch, our experts are ready to help find the right piece for you.