Can you call yourself a true watch collector if you don’t own at least one Patek Philippe? Widely considered to be the most prestigious watchmaker in the world, the Swiss brand has had an uninterrupted history of production for 180-years. Over that time, they have created more than 20 calibers and received more than 100 patents for their innovations. But far beyond their technical advances, their portfolio is stuffed to the gills with some of the most famous designs ever to grace a wrist. From the simple elegance of the Calatrava to the icon that is the Nautilus, Patek Philippe has remained the epitome of horology excellence for generations.
With all they have to offer, it is no wonder the brand is so highly sought-after. But another factor that affects the massive demand is the actual number of watches they make. Whereas Rolex are known to produce around one million pieces each year, Patek have made roughly that many – since 1839. That amounts to, in the modern era, around 50,000 annually, spread out over the 200 or so different models currently in the lineup. They are the farthest thing from a mass producer, with their most basic models taking around nine months to complete, and those at the most complicated end requiring the better part of two years.
That level of commitment certainly doesn’t come cheap. An entry level Patek (if there is such a thing) is still the thick end of $20,000. But, as with all things luxurious and exclusive, buying a Patek Philippe is not as simple as just walking into a boutique and picking one off the shelf. With such a low production number, competition for the most popular models is extremely fierce, and you will most likely have to work to get your hands on one.
Below, we have laid out everything you need to know to buy your first Patek Philippe.
New or Pre-owned Patek Philippe?
First things first; are you going for a brand new model or a preowned/vintage one? If you decide you want a box fresh, never been worn watch, there are three places you can go to find one.
Firstly, Patek operates its own Salons in London, Paris, and Geneva. That’s just three worldwide, none of which are in the U.S. However, what they lack in accessibility, they more than make up for in experience. Visiting a Patek Salon is something every horology fan should do at least once in their lives. Like walking into a fine gentleman’s club, every one of the brand’s 200+ watches are set up amidst all the dark mahogany and buttery soft leather upholstery.
Unfortunately, just because you can see them doesn’t automatically mean you can buy them. Only the most relatively plentiful models will be for sale, such as the likes of the Calatrava. If you were hoping to get one of the more rare or hugely complicated pieces, you will suddenly find yourself up against some very big spending VIPs who have dedicated years to establishing a relationship with the salon.
That shouldn’t put you off though. The service you receive will be second to none, and you will likely get the opportunity to try on some incredibly valuable watches that you may have only seen in pictures before. Additionally, it is not out of the question to come away with a few add-ons with any watch you end up purchasing. As well as some (very classy) merchandise in the shape of Patek pens or watch wallets, they might even throw in the watch’s initial service for free. Plus, you have taken the first step in building your own rapport with the Salon – something that will only help grease the wheels in the future. Just don’t ask for a discount!
Like most very high end brands, Patek has their own network of authorized and licensed retailers, each owned and operated by third-parties. At the present time, there are 78 of these dealers in the United States, and with the lack of any Salons in the country, they are the only places to go if you want a brand new watch and don’t fancy international travel. Again though, it is just not as easy as that. Most will only have a very limited number of models in stock, so there will be a struggle for the most coveted pieces here as well.
However, one big advantage is the fact that Patek ADs are only permitted to sell to local customers. You will be asked to provide details of your address to make sure you are not out of state. They are also forbidden from selling over the phone, so your competition for the best models is no longer global billionaires but instead restricted to a much more confined area.
Another detail worth its weight in gold is that official ADs are not allowed to charge over retail price for any of their pieces. Anyone who has perused the secondary market will know just how much above MSRP the most desirable models can go (just think about stainless steel Rolex Daytona prices), so it makes sense from that point of view. But obviously, everyone wants the lowest price, which explains why there are always so few watches up for grabs, and often long waitlist for the brand’s most popular models.
Here, just as much as with a Salon, making a connection is key. Being a good and loyal customer will pay off in the long run with the dealer going out of their way to get you the watch you want down the line. Unlike a Salon though, certain ADs will grant a discount of some sort; at their own discretion of course, and not on the models everyone is fighting tooth and nail to buy. Play your cards right and you might just walk off with a few freebies here too.
Non-Authorized dealers are those retailers not affiliated with Patek in any way, and as such, are not bound by any of their restrictions. Most sell online through their own websites, and they can be the best (if not the only) place to buy those exceptionally hard to find pieces immediately, without having to sit at the end of a five year-plus waiting list.
That level of convenience does not come cheap though. With no one from the brand itself having a say in the matter, non-ADs can charge whatever they want for a watch, or rather, whatever the market will bear. And when that market contains fans of Patek Philippe who are also some of the wealthiest people on earth, it can bear quite a lot. Don’t be surprised if the model you want is selling out quick at more than twice its retail price.
On the upside, getting a discount on one of the more straightforward models is easier here than anywhere, and it is also the place to discover some of the best discontinued and vintage watches from the archives. However, it all comes with the usual word of caution; nowhere is the old adage of ‘buy the seller’ more fitting than in the horology industry.
Skullduggery and footpaddery are rife, and while Patek’s extraordinary dedication to the very highest quality makes out-and-out fakes fairly easy to spot (if you know what to look for), “frankenwatches” – those assembled from different parts of genuine models, are far less so. Considering the level of outlay required for even the least expensive example, there really isn’t such a thing as doing too much research, on both the watch and the seller.
Hopefully that gives you a good starting point to begin your journey into the impossibly sumptuous world of Patek Philippe. Buying your first from the Maison is a major event and should be a memorable and rewarding experience. The watches they produce are pretty much without equal, and even ignoring the aesthetic and engineering virtuosity, they are one of the very few brands that can be classed as a wise investment. There is little out there that holds its value as well as a Patek Philippe.