Everlasting Conquest: Interview with Patek Philippe's Thierry Stern

1 year ago . 6 min read
Robert Yota
Writer at Forbes Indonesia
Everlasting Conquest: Interview with Patek Philippe's Thierry Stern
Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe & Co (Photo courtesy of Patek Philippe)

Patek Philippe is one of the most desirable watch brands on the planet, thanks to its alluring 180 years heritage and its magnificent timepieces from the minute repeaters to its Nautilus and Aquanaut watches. Craftsmanship and artisanal skills are the hallmarks and one of the keys to the success of one of the last family-owned independent watch manufacturers in Geneva. To showcase these qualities, it held its fifth watch exhibition in Singapore. The Watch Art Grand Exhibition that was held from September 28 to October 13, 2019, is the largest exhibition from the marquee and the first-ever to be held in Asia.

Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition Singapore 2019  (Photo courtesy of Patek Philippe)

“It’s not for selling watches, to be frank, I want to educate people to show them who we are, what we do and also, of course, to help the new generation to understand about mechanical watches,” Thierry Stern, 49, the president of Patek Philippe & Co. says during an interview at the opening of the exhibition last September.

Thierry is the fourth generation of the Stern family who has owned the company since 1932, his father Phillipe Stern is currently the honorary president of the company. Thierry who started to work in the company since 1990, took the helm at the company almost a decade ago.

Museum Room (Photo courtesy of Patek Philippe)

The brand held its first exhibition for the first time in Dubai in 2012, followed by Munich in 2013, London in 2015, and New York in 2017. For the latest exhibition in Singapore, Marina Bay Sands Theatre was converted to ten theme rooms spanning 1800 m2 so that watch aficionados can immerse themselves into the world of Patek Philippe, as if they were personally visiting the historic salons on Rue du Rhône in Geneva, the manufacture in Plan-les-Ouates, or the Patek Philippe Museum.

“It’s not easy for everybody to visit Geneva and I could not receive everybody in there, so the other way was quite interesting to say Geneva should come,” Thierry says.

Singapore was chosen because it has a special affinity and the hub for the brand in the region. The history and relationship between Patek Philippe and Singapore started in 1965 when Philippe Stern traveled to Singapore with plans to develop a sales network, resulting in signed agreements with the first two multi-brand retailers. Geneva Master Time Marketing LLP (GMT) was incorporated in Singapore as a subsidiary of Patek Philippe as the sole distributor for Patek Philippe timepieces and jewelry. It's market coverage spans across Singapore, Malaysia, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, and the Philippines to support 26 points of sale and 9 boutiques in the region.

Singapore and Southeast Asia room (Photo courtesy of Patek Philippe)

“Singapore was one of the first ones we started in the 60s. So, I think it’s all so beautiful, you know, today to imagine doing something so big it was just a dream.” Thierry says.

Holding an exhibition with such a scale for two weeks is not an easy task and not all 72 countries that Patek Philippe partnered with can handle such a mission. The brand must do it on the main market, it cost a huge budget and complex to organize. The country needs to have the proper venue and supporting infrastructures such as hotels. The brand aims to hold the exhibition every two years and is still to decide the next host country, however with the high requirements sometime in the future eventually the exhibition will come to an end.

“You cannot do it, you know everywhere, we are working with so many countries and not all of them can handle such an exhibition, so there will be certainly an end. But when this one will be over this kind of event; we will do some other one. There’s no need to always do a bigger one like this, you can also do smaller ones, but very nice.” Thierry says.

Rare handcrafts room (Photo courtesy of Patek Philippe)

According to Thierry, the exhibition is important, especially to educate younger generations that there are mechanical watches that are fascinating. Allowing knowing what real manufacture in terms of watchmaking and a wide experience of what they can do in the future. To that aim, the exhibition hosted Family Days during two Sundays of the exhibition. During the day, children can participate in various activities from doing a watch tattoo to becoming a Patek Philippe watchmaker through a mechanical clock making kit for children.

“It’s important, one day those kids can be the greatest enameller, or watchmaker, or even a customer. Maybe in 40 years, they would be the greatest artist, and they say, ‘I decided to do this because I visited Patek Philippe and it gave me a dream’, this would be much better than selling a piece for me.” Thierry says.

Watchmakers room (Photo courtesy of Patek Philippe)

Keeping the brand to be innovative and exclusive, results in the success of the brand. Aside from having top class products Patek Philippe keeps its production low. Like ultra-luxury brands such as Ferrari, it limits its production to maintain the exclusivity and desirability for its timepieces. Customers can’t walk into a boutique and ask for a coveted model, even for some models a customer needs to apply a resume to Patek Philippe and wait to have an allocation that can take at least a year.

The brand only produces 62,000 watches per year, that figure consist of 47,000 automatic watches, 7,000 Quartz ladies’ watches and only 8,000 manual winding watches. On the contrary of some Swiss watch brands that currently create more steel version, Thierry refrains the brand to produce more steel watches that are more affordable, despite these models being high on demand. He limits the production in terms of the quantity of the material and the model, he put an example that the Aquanaut can sell ten times more compared to the Nautilus, but it can destroy the Nautilus in a few years.

“It is easy to sell steel, but it will be complicated to go back to gold after that, that’s why I’m not willing to only sell steel, our movement doesn’t deserve only steel version,” Thierry says. “Patek Philippe is not just for me about the money, for me it’s about having the chance to create 140 different models, being creative every year and launching 20 models at Basel with technical innovations, that’s what I want to keep,” He says.

He is also vigilant in not only growing one model because one day people will have enough of it. So, a watch brand needs to be always ready or prepares something else. “In Patek Philippe, you talk about the wide range of watches, Nautilus is just one of them. I should have stopped Nautilus, to be frank,” Thierry says. Patek Philippe has always been strong in terms of creativity, and Thierry is devoted to preserve Patek Philippe’s technological leadership and unceasingly advance the quality and long-term reliability of its timepieces. As the last family-owned independent watch manufacturer in Geneva, it enjoys the total creative freedom to create its watches and it currently owns more than 100 patents.

“I think people expect from Patek to be creative, I can create a beautiful traditional watch and I can create an innovative watch. Everything can go together, it just needs to be qualitative, and you need to also surprise people” Thierry says.

Written By
Robert Yota
Writer at Forbes Indonesia
Watches & Jewlery