Patek Philippe, the world’s most expensive watch

The origins of Patek Philippe

The history of Patek Philippe dates back to the middle of the 18th century, at a time when Poland was under Russian control, and the repression following the rebellion of 1830 led many Poles to seek a new life in Western Europe. One of them, Antoni Norbert Patek, born in 1812, arrived in Geneva under the name Antoine de Patek.

There, guided by his passion for watchmaking, he joined the world of high-value pocket watches. The extreme care he took with each of his products quickly earned him a select clientele. The success of the project led him, in 1839, to partner with watchmaker François Czapek and found the Patek, Czapek & Cie company. Czapek then left the partnership six years later.

At the time, we had already heard of Jean-Adrien Philippe, a young watchmaker’s son, born in France in 1815, who at the age of 21 had created a factory to manufacture movement components. One of his innovations, keyless winding, led him to meet Antoine Norbert de Patek in Paris in 1844. Their shared passion was all it took for the two men to decide to start a collaboration. The young Philippe first joined Patek & Cie until, in 1851, they created Patek Philippe with the firm ambition to offer the world’s best timepieces. The rest is history.

The world’s most expensive watch

“Time is money” is an unforgivable cliché when it comes to watches, with the exception perhaps of this particular one. In November 2019, at the Only Watch auction in Geneva, Switzerland - the world’s major luxury timepiece auction - a record was established when it was announced that watchmaker Patek Philippe was going to donate this exclusive model. Specialists had predicted that the price could reach 3.4 million euros. The piece was, as they said, the “jewel in the crown”.

The watch in question, the “Grandmaster Chime”, was created by Patek Philippe for the biennial charity gala organised to raise funds for research into Duchenne muscular dystrophy. Its reversible case contains two dials: on one side is a black dial, and on the other an 18-carat rose gold dial with the words “The Only One”, evoking the uniqueness of the piece. In the end, “The Only One”, with its 20 complications and 100,000 hours of work, went for nearly 28 million euros at auction.

As the watchmaker himself explained, as surprised as anyone else at the sale price, “the piece was reevaluated in a room full of bidders used to paying tens of millions for a work of art.” Patek Philippe thus made the step from watchmaking atelier into the art sector, snatching from Rolex the ownership of the world’s most expensive watch.

This surprising evening undoubtedly reaffirmed not only the undisputed quality and exclusivity, but also the flawless reputation of Patek Philippe watches.

The end of an era for the most sought-after watch 

With the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711, the Swiss brand achieved what every other brand on the planet had dreamed of: creating a product that everyone wants. 

The model - an elegant steel watch with a dark blue dial and a simple date function - was in such demand from collectors that the waiting time to get your hands on one was, rumour has it, 10 years. How did Patek Philippe respond? By increasing production of the 33,710-dollar watch to increase profit margins? By creating special editions of the piece to sell a wider variety? No. Quite the contrary, the brand did the unthinkable and completely put a stop to the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711.

Watchmaking trends had become more relaxed over the last decade, so the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 took on the role of the brand’s iconic model. This is the watch most often seen on celebrities and the piece collectors seek more than anything else. The popularity of the watch can be explained by Patek’s decision to stop production.

God save Patek Philippe

Queen Elizabeth II is quite the watch enthusiast. Indeed, throughout her long reign, she has been spotted wearing models from the major watchmaking brands, including Patek Philippe who, judging by how often she wears them, appears to be one of her favourite watchmakers.

Elizabeth II has worn many different Patek Philippe pieces, but one has particularly attracted attention. Worn on important occasions such as the opening of parliament and coronation anniversary ceremonies, her Ellipse watch was made especially for her by the historic Geneva manufacture Patek Philippe. It is a fine watchmaking work of art, with a dial set with diamonds and a white gold case encrusted with diamonds and finished with a pearl bracelet.

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