Patek Philippe Commands the Future
Thierry Stern looked pleased when, in an interview in early December, he said 2019 would be a record year for Patek Philippe.
“I’m not running after records every year, though,” Mr. Stern, the chief executive, said, declining to detail the company’s turnover. “This is the beauty. We don’t have any shareholders. We don’t care.”
Patek Philippe has been in the hands of the Stern family since 1932 and, despite repeated reports of interest from major luxury groups, is still independent. It does not make its financial results public, but according to estimates, in 2018 it had sales of 1.45 billion Swiss francs, making it Switzerland’s fifth-largest watch company.
But unlike the four ahead of it, a list that is topped by Rolex and Omega, Patek Philippe’s output is small in comparison. Mr. Stern says Patek makes 62,000 watches a year. Rolex is believed to make more than a million.
If he has a concern, Mr. Stern said, it is the rise of what the watch industry calls “flippers,” buyers who purchase high-demand watches to resell them at a premium, a practice he says he wanted to curtail. But he said he was not working with retailers to solve a problem in which prices of pieces such as Patek’s steel Nautilus have skyrocketed on the pre-owned market, sometimes to more than double list price.
Looking to the next decade, Mr. Stern said that he had no plans to expand into new territories and that he was not pushing hard in China, which his competitors have identified as critical to traditional watchmaking’s long-term success.
“I’m not afraid to stay behind. We go step by step,” Mr. Stern said. “This is how we do our business. It’s worked in the whole world.”