Patek Philippe is considered the Real Madrid of watchmaking: Others also win, but more rarely. Responsible for the success is owner Thierry Stern, who led us through the company headquarters in Geneva.
To clarify the most urgent question straight away: No, Thierry Stern does not arrive punctually to the interview. Almost seven minutes later, the owner of the luxury watch manufacturer Patek Philippe is entering the wood-paneled conference room on the outskirts of Geneva . A short look behind the glasses in the round: interviewer, photographer, PR boss, manufacturers, all there. A precise hand print, a few well-calculated phrases, then Stern sits at the head of the long table in his leather chair and asks with a nod of the first questions: a man who lives by measuring the time and who does not have to lose any.
His delay would only be imposed on the company boss by pedants.In a world where many people are busy inventing occupations to be considered busy, Thierry Stern is indeed a busy man.It could be because the company he heads is actually owned by him.Or the fact that he heads the absolute number one.Patek Philippe, founded in 1839, is for watches in the highest price segment what Chanel for the ladies fashion or Real Madrid for the football: There are challengers who also win times, but in the end no one is as big as one itself.
“Trust is the best business foundation”
For four generations, the company is in the hands of the star, 58,000 models of about 20,000 euros upwards are manufactured annually.Keeping it at the top requires always the whole man.And his wife Sandrine. If the Baselworld watch fair is taking place at the moment, this is all the more true: his company is one of the most important exhibitors.
Otherwise Stern spends a lot of time in the aircraft between all continents and on customer events.In Geneva there are talks with nearly every member of the workshop, from the toolmaker’s apprentice to the master of the most complicated caliber, with the production manager, the museum staff, and the kitchen chef of the three canteens, who have lured the star from a star restaurant ;because at Patek they do not only make their watches as much as they can.
At the moment, the terrain is not very impressive: a new, huge building for future production and training emerges, five cranes tower into the sky, the investment covers several hundred million francs.Stern stands for it personally straight.And it is almost eerie:everyone will say what kind of a grounded and relaxed man the boss is, one with whom one can drink a beer – and yet the ambition in person.
Although there are chandeliers in his shops and retreats for good customers, Thierry Stern is very different from the competition.It begins in the manufactory: Even where gold and platinum housings are formed and occupied with precious stones, one can not see any surveillance cameras.”Trust is the best business foundation,” says the leader Daniel Jaquet, a senior with short ice gray hair.He has been with the company since 1964, worked as a production manager and could probably hold a stepping-up report on every water tap and tile.
These watches can not buy everyone
If you ask Stern how to create an icon in watchmaking, he says without hesitation: “50 percent are lucky.” Imagine a CEO of a stock company would be like this – it would probably not be there the next day ,In addition, Stern emphasized again and again that he could not be sold to his company, even if the “ten billion or so” could bring him.Money is a final motivation – and that makes him credible when he says passion for watch making is what makes his company stand together.
In product policy, Patek Philippe is known for not being able to buy models easily.Especially with the “Grandes Complications” the boss wants to know a lot about the buyers and then decides whether the client receives the piece.In general, there is no growth on the number of pieces, and what seems at first glance to be bold, proves to the second as a good method of continually awakening new desires.
Every clock the company has ever built, it can also repair it.With sometimes extreme consequences: the head of the department for the most complex models is sitting right on a 19th century pocket watch.Even the minute repetition, ie the percussion, still functions smoothly, only the perpetual calendar is broken.For him, the designers had developed a method of which no plans existed.Now, today’s watchmaker has exactly one attempt to disassemble the piece, to look through the mechanics, to reconstruct the whole thing again – or everything is, including the own reputation.Patek Philippe does not earn money with his service.
The house is set in a museum of its own.Even in Geneva, this navel of the watch world, this place is a highlight.Its roots have tradition in the doctrines of Calvin’s jewelery , which was forbidden to people, and so a piece of jewelery that had a practical use of time was developed. Today, around 2000 watches are on display, including models from competitors such as Breguet to whose founder, Abraham Louis, from the end of the 18th century simply go back many innovations.A journey through the history of the Sundial to Patek Philippe’s “Grandmaster Chime”, the most complicated mechanical wristwatch in the world, which was launched on the occasion of the 175th anniversary of 2014.
After the tour one has guaranteed a new concept of the richness of the tradition that continues Stern.Since the founding of 1839 only the best watchmakers worked at the company, simplified means that who had a crown in the 19th century in Europe, had a Patek Philippe.The elevator capper was invented without a key, and in the twentieth century, when the wristwatches prevailed, it was technically a leader.
In such a glorious past, there is a danger of becoming comfortable.But this should not happen as long as Stern controls the company.One might call it possessed by innovation.Many people had taught him the business before he came to the top.One of the influencers was resigned and melancholic after the long time: “Everything is invented,”said Stern,”there is nothing new.You do not need to try, you too, Thierry. “And today, the Patek Philippe’s boss stands up every day to prove that this man was wrong.
This creates a watch icon
But what, except happiness, does it take if you want to create an icon?Thierry Stern may ask, he takes a brief breath and begins to speak.He also dominates that, PR-stuff full of superlatives is alien to him.First of all, he says, is the experience.He has been watching the various markets, their needs and their peculiarities for so long – and then it is “listening” to their own people, dealers, customers, the press.The art consists in knowing when to go away, for not too many people should be involved if the result should be original.
That again is the core of the mystery – the surprise.It would have to be noticeable, if not too great: “When I hear words like” Thierry, that is perfect “or” That corresponds to our expectations to 100 percent “, I know: this will not be an icon.” the decision to present an aircraft watch has proved itself in the future – precisely because you do not connect your house with it.
The actual design and construction process is then primarily a question of discipline, Stern says in his black leather chair at the top of the conference table.This also means slowing down people, making them clear, not trying certain things: “Imagine I have a watchmaker who has something that nobody can ever be able to do.What would be won? “It must be a difficult moment to set such limits as a highly motivated employee.
In addition, for Stern: the best idea does not help if you do not care about years for minute details.Alone the case requires a lot of patience.You talk about materials and size, you sketch it, you discard it, you draw it greatly enlarged again, you start again, you build it in wax, in the material discussed – and this sometimes looks horrible not even polished, which can destroy everything again.Thierry Stern throws his hands in the air: Then the dial, up to 50 times you have to start there, you are still not at the factory.But giving up is never an option.
In the midst of the digital revolution
Then it is, as always, when one is talking to someone who really has something to say: The conversation time is around, even though you have only just begun.The photographer still needs a few minutes for the pictures – Stern stands up, goes straight into the lobby and poses before the installation of a huge clockwork on the wall.He smiles, feisty, head high, head slightly lowered, a few sayings in French fly through the air, the passing staff take no notice, they already know that.The interviewer roars his head, but he comforts himself quickly: It is good to know that even in the midst of the digital revolution outside of the IT industry sometimes brilliance reigns.
A final question is: What defines a Patek Philippe, what makes her recognizable?For the first time Stern hesitates:”That is hard to say.She has to … yes, she must be easy to see, so easy to read, but difficult to see. “On this sentence, his visitor could now think for three weeks.But Thierry Stern is already gone.This time with more than seven minutes delay in luggage.