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Patek Philippe, arguably the best known and most prestigious watch maker in the world, are the last independent, family-owned Genevan manufacturer and have almost 180 years of world class experience to their name.
Their story begins with Antoni Patek (1812 – 1877) who was born in Poland but moved to France in 1832 after spending time in the Army. A couple of years later he moved to Switzerland and after trying his hand at a couple of different professions he began trading pocket watches. In 1839 he formed a partnership with the Polish master watchmaker Franciszek Czapek and together they founded Patek, Czapek & Co. The firm produced about two hundred watches a year, initially all made to order, and all were decorated with themes inspired by Polish history and culture. After several successful years, Czapek left the company and was replaced by the French watchmaker Jean Adrien Philippe (1815 – 1894), who had invented the key-less winding mechanism. The company was known as Patek & Co. until 1851 when they became Patek Philippe & Co. It was around this time that they began large scale manufacture of watches with the aim of creating the highest quality pieces featuring the newest innovations and processes. Patek and Philippe worked hard and travelled extensively to promote their watches. At London’s Great Exhibition they presented Queen Victoria with an open-face watch which was to prove the first of several Patek Philippe watches acquired by the Queen and Prince Albert.
In 1853 they moved into new premises at 41, rue du Rhône, which the company still calls home today. They initially took on two floors of the building but over the following years added to this floor by floor until they eventually bought the entire building in 1891. The firm was always striving for new technical advancements; they made their first wristwatch in 1868 followed two years later by their first chronograph and they pioneered features such as the perpetual calendar, split-seconds hand and minute repeaters. Patek passed away in 1877 and was succeeded by his son-in-law who worked alongside Philippe until 1891 when the latter handed over his share of the business to his son Joseph Emile.
During the 1920s and 30s the firm made a series of exceptional watches for the American banker Henry Graves Jr culminating in the famous ‘Henry Graves Supercomplication’ pocket watch which had an extraordinary twenty four functions and when auctioned at Sotheby’s in 1999 sold for 11 million US dollars. Years later the firm created another record breaking timepiece to coincide with their 150th anniversary in 1989. The ‘Calibre 89’ possessed 33 complications, the most of any watch in the world when it was created and it remained so for over twenty five years. In 2001 the Patek Philippe Museum opened to the public, housing an important collection of Genevese, Swiss and European watches and enamels dating from the 16th to the early 19th century. Alongside this is an impressive collection of watches designed and created by the firm dating from its earliest days up to the present which stands as testament to their unique legacy of tradition, creativity and innovation.
Today the company is owned and run by the fourth generation of the Stern family who first became shareholders in 1932. The company remains at the forefront of pioneering technical inventions, they hold in excess of 80 patents and are as focused today as ever on creating beautifully designed and crafted watches that surprise and delight watch lovers all over the world.