It is no secret that 2016 was not a good year for the timepiece industry. Poor sales and waning consumer appetites dogged luxury watch brands, prompting readjustments of product ranges and prices in hopes of generating demand. Steel became the material du jour, thanks to its lower cost and more conservative image (flaunting a gold watch, is supposedly not the thing to do during a crisis).
However, this was not the case for every brand — at least, not Patek Philippe. “To me, the steel trend arose because [brands] had difficulty selling gold watches. But we don’t have that problem at Patek Philippe. So why should I do it?” says CEO Thierry Stern, while in town to inaugurate the storied manufacture’s newly revamped boutique at Marina Bay Sands. “Besides, as a rule, we have a certain percentage of steel timepieces at Patek Philippe and will not produce more than that,” he adds.
The Newly Renovated Patek Philippe Boutique at Marina Bay Sands
It is with this same consistency and clarity that Stern runs the company that he inherited from his father, Philippe Stern. Which also explains why, even after all these years, Patek Philippe only owns three boutiques in the world — in Geneva, London and Paris — choosing to collaborate with retailers on all its other points of sale. “We will never do otherwise. We are watchmakers and don’t want to go into the retail business,” Stern emphasises.
The renovated store we are sitting in right now, for instance, is the result of a partnership with local retailer Cortina Watch — with whom the Stern family has worked with for over 40 years. And its remodelling comes just after the brand’s other outpost at ION Orchard (its largest in Southeast Asia) received the same design treatment last year. Spanning 152sq-m in size, the Marina Bay Sands boutique is decked out in rich woods, plush leather upholstery and elegant accents made from Baccarat crystal and custom-made glass.
Available in this new store is an extensive selection of the brand’s timepieces — except perhaps the two exclusive Nautilus wristwatches launched by the brand last year to celebrate the iconic collection’s 40th anniversary. Although still in limited production, the watches are so hard to get a hold of that Stern gets phone calls from long-lost acquaintances hoping to get their hands on one. “Some of them were people I knew 25 years ago,” he shares animatedly. “But I always say: ‘Nope, sorry. There is nothing I can do.’”
One of the Nautilus 40th Anniversary Watches
Stern’s inability to procure additional pieces of its 40th anniversary Nautilus watches for potential clients is not for a lack of trying. The brand’s timepieces are simply too sought-after — limited releases or not. The sky-high prices that vintage Patek Philippe wristwatches fetch at auctions are indicative of this. In fact, a Ref 1518 in stainless steel set a new record of $11 million at a Phillips auction in November.
There is also the matter of the manufacture keeping a tight rein over its production figures. “At Patek Philippe, we are aiming for quality, not quantity,” asserts the fourth-generation heir. “We are producing approximately 60,000 pieces annually for the whole world.” He further explains that the rise in production figures for the brand remains between one and three percent every year, depending on the type of product being launched. A quartz-powered ladies Twenty-4 watch, for instance, could warrant an increase of three percent. A highly complicated minute repeater, on the other hand, can only realistically allow that of one percent. “And it’s enough. It has been like this for over 170 years now — and we are still here and still relevant,” Stern points out.
The manufacture’s conservative stance and focus on quality over quantity extends to its expansion plans as well. “We have to be careful and take things step by step. So for now, I believe we should simply work on stabilising what we have,” Stern says. As such, his attention is turned to training and educating current Patek Philippe boutique staff so as to enhance the end consumer experience. “I do not really have a main expansion plan right now. I think we should not rush into it, but instead, focus on improving quality levels,” he says.