A Conversation with Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe A Conversation with Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe

A conversation in September 2012 by Jessica

TimeZone met with Patek Philippe President Thierry Stern during his visit to the Patek Philippe Boutique on Rodeo Drive. Steeped in over 170-years of continuous history and tradition, Thierry Stern shared the values of his family-owned company and insight into the Ladies First Complications, the design process and commitment to quality, his continuing passion for movement complications and the factors he considers when deciding to open a boutique.

Thierry Stern, President of Patek Philippe

TimeZone (TZ): Three years ago, Patek Philippe launched the Ladies First Chronograph, Ref. 7071 with a new in-house caliber 20-535 chronograph movement; then, the Ladies First Split Seconds Chronograph, Ref. 7059; and most recently, the Ladies First Minute Repeater, Ref. 7000. In what part of the world have women responded the strongest to your Ladies First Complications?

Thierry Stern (TS): That’s something new. Before that, we had a lot of ladies models that were simple movements. But then, a lot of women in Asia started to ask when were we going to make a complicated movement.

For 10 to 20 years, these women wore beautiful Patek watches with quartz movements or simple mechanical movements. Many of their husbands are watch collectors with minute repeaters or split seconds and their knowledge and understanding grew. Then, these women wanted to have their own complications in a watch designed for them.

This is not just fashion or trend. These women really enjoyed having something complicated and they were ready to buy complications for themselves. So the wave came really from Asia, and now you see it all over the world.

TZ: What type of women are buying the Ladies First Complications?

TS: These are self-made women with great positions in business who want something quite nice and are willing to spend the money for it. They don’t need a husband to buy a watch for them. They’re independent and able to buy one themselves. They are passionate for watches, and sometimes even more passionate than men collectors.

TZ: The design is very thoughtful and balanced. The Ladies First Split Seconds is comfortably sized at 33.2mm and the Ladies First Minute Repeater is perfectly sized at 33.7mm.

TS: The target was not only to provide a complicated movement, but also to have a great design. To do that, I must say that I was happy to have my wife Sandrine work with me. She designed the ladies watches. She’s been working with Patek for 12 years and she designs watches that she would love to wear.

When I was making them, as a man, I could do 80% of the job. But I’m not wearing them. So there was always something missing. We don’t have the same tastes, we are different. So at one level, I need to have a woman in charge of ladies design. Someone who has this final touch that I will never have. That’s how it started. We could build the complexity of the movement, and the beauty and aesthetic of the ladies line is made by a lady.

What was important at the time, and remains today, is that Patek Philippe makes the smallest and the thinnest movements in the world. That helps us create beautiful design.

That’s why at Patek we’re always aiming to have small movements. First of all, it’s fantastic in terms of technology because they are a challenge. But secondly, it allows us to create the perfect shape of a case that’s very flat on the wrist and not big and thick. We cannot create a great design if a movement is too big. The watch will simply be big. With Patek, the movements are so thin that we’re able to realize beautiful designs. Even since I was a child, we have always made a thin movement. We need the thinnest movement because that allows us to create beautiful watches.

7071G Ladies First Chronograph with grey opaline dial and Caliber CH 29-535 PS

TZ: Last year, one of the most beautiful watches released at Basel was the new ladies Nautilus, Ref. 7008. It has a stainless steel case, a mother of pearl dial and an automatic movement. However, it’s only available with a diamond bezel.

TS: I’m very limited in production, so I can’t always provide choices. It’s not always easy for me to decide. Since 50% of women are willing to have diamonds, it was a difficult decision. In fact, we had a lot of discussion about this watch and finally decided to release it with diamonds.

TZ: With the diamonds, the ladies Nautilus is $10,000 more than the men’s stainless steel Nautilus with no diamonds. So it really becomes inaccessible for a woman like me who then has to make a choice of paying substantially more for a ladies watch or settling for a men’s model, or something discontinued or even vintage.

TS: It’s true. I totally agree with you. I’m pretty sure some day you will see a ladies Nautilus without diamonds. [Smiles].

TZ: With a mechanical movement?

TS: Definitely, it will come.

TZ: [Smiles]

TS: But understand we cannot make everything for everybody. It’s not possible to provide all the varieties people want because with every watch, the aesthetic quality has to be there.

TZ: 15 years ago, Patek lead the market with affordable complications such as an annual calendar and world-time. Is this still the company’s strategy to focus on complications?

TS: This is our skill. It’s not only strategy, this is more our passion at Patek. We’re always willing to develop new movements. We like that. It’s always more exciting to have a movement more complicated. The whole process at Patek has been created to develop complications. This is why we are so known.

We worked really hard in the 1980s where everybody was dead. The quartz movement came in the 1970s, so all the other watchmakers threw away everything, both their equipment and their movements. In the 1980s is when we started to redevelop all our complications. At the time, my father [Philippe Stern] had a vision that only one type of watch should remain – the one with a mechanical complication. He believed there would always be people who appreciate fine mechanisms, whether it’s manual winding or automatic. And he was right. It’s like a nice painting. It’s something unique, rare and made with passion.

So the target is always to do something better, always more complicated. It’s like a brainwash. When you come to Patek we need to make the best complicated movements. We are willing to do that. On the production side, the entire structure is developed to do that.

5270G Chronograph with Perpetual Calendar

Caliber RTO 27 PS QI – minute repeater, tourbillon escapement and instantaneous perpetual calendar

TZ: Our readers were delighted to learn of the opening of the Patek Philippe Boutique in Beverly Hills. What does Patek Philippe look for in a city when opening a boutique and can we expect more boutiques in the future?

TS: The strategy for Patek is not to open a boutique everywhere. We are not willing to do that. We are very cautious. When we open such a boutique, first it has to be in a major city where there are potential collectors and where there are collectors who already understand Patek. When you have production like us of only 50,000 pieces per year, there is no other way to be but very, very exclusive. It’s quite logical to decide to open in a big city. Then you must have the right retailer. It could be the best city in the world, but if the retailer is weak, I will not open there. So you need to have the right partner.

I wish I could please everybody, but it’s not possible. And I’m not willing to increase quantity just like this [snaps fingers]. I’m not aiming for that. The pleasure we have is to be exclusive and to make the finest watches. This is what I will always fight for. So I don’t have a choice. I have to be very, very cautious. One boutique in the United States is fantastic. I don’t know if there will be a second one, and I’m not in a rush. I’m willing to make you happy. That means, when you come into the boutique, it’s something really exclusive and quite unique as an experience. And yes, that’s Patek and it will never change.

Patek Philippe Boutique Beverly Hills – the most sophisticated boutique on Rodeo Drive

TZ: Finally, in closing, we have a TimeZone tradition of asking what watch are you wearing?

TS: The Aquanut Travel Time. It’s very appropriate for me as I travel all the time, so I really enjoy it. I have been wearing it now for a few months and it still works, which is really good. [Both laugh] It’s really useful. You know, I just click to know the time. I have the time set to Los Angeles and the Geneva time. So it’s midnight and I have to go to bed. [Both laugh]

TZ: Thank you so much for your time.

TS: Well, thank you.

Thierry Stern wearing his Aquanut Travel Time, Ref. 5164

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