Brief History: Patek Philippe Watch Company
Including Serial Numbers & Production Dates
1851 - Present
Even though our work and our web site is devoted primarily to vintage American watches, there are certain Swiss brands that stand above the rest in terms of their craftsmanship and contribution to the world of horology. Patek-Philippe is one such company and we include them here in recognition of their many achievements.
Antoni Patek was a Polish immigrant who had arrived in Switzerland after the Polish rebellion of 1830. While studying with renowned landscape artist Alexandre Calame, Patek began purchasing watch movements and supplying them to his wealthy Polish clients. Soon, the success of this new endeavor caused Patek (who was primarily a businessman) to partner with another Polish immigrant Franciszek Czapek (a watchmaker), and in 1839 "Patek and Czapek" was formed. At this stage, Patek was purchasing raw ebauches from various companies, and finishing them in their own shop.
In 1844, Patek had occasion to meet a young French watchmaker, Adrien Philippe, who was the inventor of the keyless winding mechanism. When Czapek left the company in 1845, Patek hired Philippe as his new head watchmaker, and by 1850 the company was producing the first Philippe-designed movements. In 1851 the company was renamed "Patek Philippe & Cie" and was incorporated in Geneva. The first watches were simply marked "PP" on the dial-plate. In 1857, Queen Victoria and Prince Albert purchased Patek Philippe watches after attending the Universal Exhibition in London, instantly boosting the prestige of the Patek brand.
Patek Philippe has, without doubt, produced some of the finest watches in the world. The Patek Philippe Calatrava with moon-phase and perpetual calendar stands as one of the classic designs in watchmaking history. Each watch produced by Patek is subject to the highest standards of quality control, and the level of precision and finish embodied in their movements is unmatched.
In 1932, the company was sold to Charles and Jean Stern, watch dial manufacturers in Geneva. The company has been owned by the Stern family since that day, and is currently led by Philippe Stern and his son Thierry Stern.
Patek produced the first wristwatch in 1868, and were at the forefront of development of many extraordinary features and "complications" in their watch designs. The word "complication" is used in watchmaking to describe additional functions or mechanisms beyond basic time-keeping that are added to the watch.
Patek produced exquisite chronographs and minute repeaters, and pioneered the perpetual calendar mechanism and the split-second chronograph. Patek is particularly notable in this age of "cake decorator" watches in that they design and produce their own movements in-house.
Patek produced some of the most complicated watches ever made. In 1933 the Patek "Supercomplication," produced for Henry Graves, Jr. set a new standard in watch complications. This watch had 24 unique functions, and stands as a testament to the watchmakers art and skill. The Supercomplication watch was auctioned at Sotheby's in 1999 for $11 million, which at that time was the highest price ever paid for a timepiece.
Patek has continued to be an innovator in complicated watches. The Calibre 89, first produced in 1989, has 39 separate "complications" including equation of time, sidereal time, sunrise/sunset, date of easter, star-chart, and automatic correction for leap-years. Keep in mind this was achieved in an entirely mechanical watch, using over 1700 unique parts... truly a spectacular watchmaking achievement.
Auction Prices for Patek Philippe Watches
In recent years, Patek Philippe timepieces have set records for high-prices at auction, but one must look a little deeper to get the whole picture. Much of the price escalation in vintage Patek Philippe watches may be driven by Patek Philippe themselves, as they have purchased many of their own pieces at auction, ostensibly for their museum in Geneva. Of course, high prices paid at auction contributes to the Patek allure, so the company's purchase of these pieces may be intended to elevate their own brand appeal. That said, Patek-Philippe watches command premium prices at auction, even for uncomplicated time-only movements.
Patek Philippe's "Nouvelle Technologie" division, working with external development labs and research institutions, continues to develop new materials and innovations in watch manufacturing. The silicon escape wheel, announced in 2005, is one such advance in material science. By using pure silicon, Patek is able to produce a wheel which is lightweight, hard, anti-magnetic, resistant to corrosion, more true to shape than a steel wheel, and its locking faces never require lubrication.
Similarly, Patek introduced the "Spiromax" balance spring, made of a "silicon-based material" known as Silinvar, which greatly improves the isochronal error of mechanical watches.
Patek Philippe Repair
We do not accept Patek Philippe watches for repair because Patek will not supply spare parts or technical information to qualified independent watchmakers, insisting that all watches be returned to them for service. In fact, Patek will not supply parts even to the watch's owner! Does someone really own a Patek watch if they can't purchase parts for it? To learn more about Swiss watch manufacturers' restrictions on parts distribution, read here.
Fake "Patek Philippe" Watches:
The Patek brand has been frequently copied, and you have no doubt seen email advertisements for imitation Patek Philippe watches at deep-discount prices. Don't waste your money! These watches are cheap, poorly-made fakes that are not serviceable and will not perform like the genuine article. Counterfeiting products is illegal. We do not encourage or endorse the purchase of any counterfeit watch!
Patek Philippe Watch Company
Patek Philippe Serial Numbers and Production Dates
This table will provide approximate production dates for Patek Philippe watches. Serial numbers were not always used or issued consecutively, so there may be holes or overlaps in published serial number data.
The definitive archive of Patek Philippe serial numbers is kept by Patek Philippe. Each watch is recorded in their serial number archives, so you should contact Patek if you have any question about the authenticity of your Patek Philippe watch. You should never purchase a Patek Philippe watch if the serial number has been removed or altered.
Patek Philippe Repeating Watches
Approximate Serial Numbers and Production Dates
These overlapping "blocks" of serial numbers were apparently used for repeating-strike watches, but we have no information as to which models used which block of numbers. If anyone has additional verifiable serial number data for Patek watches, please contact us and we'll include it here.
This is an unofficial history. Renaissance Watch Repair is not affiliated with Patek Philippe. The Patek Philippe name and names of various Patek Philippe watch models are trademarks of Patek Philippe. Information provided for educational purposes only.