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Patek Philippe Looks Beyond Nautilus and a Prototype Is Ready

Patek Philippe analogue clock.
Patek Philippe SA will soon introduce a new model line for the first time in nearly a quarter century. (Shutterstock)

Patek Philippe SA will soon introduce a new model line for the first time in nearly a quarter century, a fresh offering that the head of the family-owned Swiss watchmaker expects could one day compete with its most desirable timepieces.

President Thierry Stern said the new model line is expected to be unveiled later this year, or next year once all the final elements are in place.

“The design is done, and the prototype is ready and really, I like it,” he said in an interview at the Geneva Watches and Wonders fair.

A new offering from Patek would herald a significant event for the storied brand founded in 1839 and controlled by Stern and his family for generations. Patek last introduced a new model line in 1999 with its ‘Twenty~4′ women’s collection.

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“To create a new line of products — that’s really the challenge,” said Stern, 52, who in addition to his chairman duties, oversees the design of new watches at Patek.

Stern didn’t say whether the new line will consist of sports models like Patek’s most sought-after Nautilus — originally designed by Gerald Genta — or dress watches like the Ellipse or its Complications and Grand Complications lines.

Surging Demand

Patek has been dealing with a surge in popularity and demand for the Nautilus collection in recent years. Prices soared to unprecedented levels on the secondary market during the pandemic before pulling back sharply over the past year while still selling well above retail prices.

The company responded to the hype by ending production of the blue dial steel 5711, the definitive sports watch that was its most popular model. The brand later introduced a similar watch, the 5811, housed in a white gold, slightly larger case and at a higher price of about $70,000 compared with about $35,000 for a steel Nautilus.

Stern said more modestly priced watches still remain a key component of the luxury brand’s portfolio.

“You should not only do a million-dollar watch; we don’t have only very, very rich people,” as customers, he said. “We have people who are passionate about watches and who can spend a maximum of $30,000 or $40,000 on a watch — which is already a lot of money.”

Overwhelming demand for Patek’s watches has played a role in the company’s decision to cut its retail distribution network by some 30 percent. Stern said the company makes 70,000 watches a year and simply doesn’t have the capacity to produce more while maintaining quality.

“As I couldn’t increase the production, my only other choice was to reduce the point of sales so that everybody could get a little bit more watches,” he said.

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Stern said Patek has no plans to follow Rolex SA and authenticate its watches for resale on the secondary market through authorised dealers.

“I’m a watchmaker, I’m selling new watches,” he said. “That’s what I’m good at.”

Succession Planning

Stern said his two sons, aged 20 and 21, have both decided to join the family-owned company and will begin learning all aspects of the business next year. It could take as long as a decade before either might be ready to begin taking on significant decision-making duties, Stern said.

In the meantime, long-time executive Laurent Bernasconi is taking over as Patek’s general manager after nearly two decades with the company as part of its succession planning process. The shift has been in the works for some time, with the move announced internally to Patek employees in 2021.

Though Patek Philippe is one of the last and most coveted independent Swiss watchmaking brands and would have no shortage of potential suitors, Stern said there are no plans to sell the business, which his family has controlled since 1932. In fact, a sale to a larger luxury conglomerate such as LVMH or Richemont would almost certainly herald the beginning of the end for the Patek brand and diminish the value of its watches owned by collectors, he said.

“If I’m selling Patek Philippe to a group, for sure I am going to be the winner. I can sell it for billions,” he said. “But then I’m going to kill Patek Philippe in less than five years. You can be sure you will only see Nautilus, because that’s what the group would do.”

By Chris Rovzar and Andy Hoffman

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