Thierry Stern, president of luxury watchermaker Patek Philippe, talks about family values, why the young generation is so important and what he will to taking to BaselWorld
THE WATCHMAKING industry as the world knows it today has not only become increasingly competitive over the years but is also facing challenging market conditions. Even some of the forerunners can no longer fully rely on brand loyalty but are having to adapt, among them Patek Philippe, one of the oldest and longest standing watch companies that has pioneered countless pieces of technology since 1839.
During the Stern family’s leadership, Patek Philippe has grown to become one of the most highly regarded watch brands in the industry. Thierry Stern, president and the fourth generation of the family that has owned the company since 1932, recently visited Bangkok to attend the grand opening of the Patek Philippe flagship boutique at Iconsiam, Bangkok.
At the event, Stern was quick to congratulate Narun Thamavaranukup, managing director of PMT the Hour Glass, the brand’s partner in Thailand, for its superior boutique. He also reaffirmed the brand’s long-term commitment to Thailand.
The boutique’s architecture is, as one would expect, is driven by the pursuit of perfection. Collectors and enthusiasts are warmly welcomed on their arrival to explore a wide range of Patek Philippe timepieces in the watch gallery area with its custom-made large windows and counter displays. To the right of the atrium, clients are invited to discover a patrimony exhibition area that showcases Patek Philippe’s 180 years of historical milestones. Every detail of this exceptional boutique reflects the rich heritage of the brand, among them the emblematic Calatrava cross etched in the glass wall.
Under the leadership of brothers Jean and Charles Henri Stern, the brand has created some of its most iconic models. In 1932, they debuted the first Calatrava Ref 96. In 1968, they introduced the first Golden Ellipse Ref 3548. Then, in 1976, Patek Philippe launched the first Nautilus sport watch model. To commemorate the company’s 150th anniversary in 1989, the brand debuted the most complicated pocket watch ever – the Calibre 89 with 33 complications. This timepiece featured a minute repeater, perpetual calendar, and moon phases.
In October 2014, Patek Philippe presented its 175th anniversary collection, drawing the attention of all watch enthusiasts with the WorldTimer and its Moonphase Ref 5575G and Chiming Jump Hour Ref 5275P. But as stunning as these were, all eyes were drawn towards the collection’s crown jewel –the Grandmaster Chime Ref 5175R, the most complicated and most expensive Patek Philippe wristwatch ever.
Thierry Stern, president
To this day, Patek Philippe continues to thrive as a family business with its superior quality and commitment to innovation echoing the vision of the founders.
Thierry Stern joined the company in 1994. Two years later, he initiated the publication of the twice-a-year Patek Philippe Magazine and the “From One Generation to the Next” campaign, bringing a new international image to the brand and giving birth to the slogan “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation”.
He kindly took time out from his busy Bangkok schedule to chat with The Nation. Excerpts:
HOW DO YOU SEE THE POTENTIAL OF THE LUXURY WATCH MARKET IN THAILAND?
The potential is quite big. There are always a lot of watch lovers and collectors. However, at the same time, the market is also difficult as we can see that many pieces come to Thailand through different channels, which is not easy to control. So we need to improve also the presence of Patek Philippe with our store and official partner. That unfortunately means a lack of pieces so here again production has to be improved so that customers can come here and buy without the need to go to Europe or elsewhere. Thailand’s collectors are passionate. They know all the references. We can also see also a new generation of watch enthusiasts. They like us and that’s fantastic.
HOW DOES THE BRAND APPROACH THE YOUNG CUSTOMERS?
Thanks to their parents, they know Patek and the quality it represents. They also enjoy the new collections – the Nautilus, the Aquanaut. Those types of pieces talk to them and they like wearing them. You need always to bring fresh new models and beautiful pieces. We need to propose a really wide collection of pieces. When we design the collection today, I prefer to think of the son or the daughter instead of the parents. I think if the younger generation likes the watch, the older one will sure to like it. The quality is the same or even better. The young generation is Internet savvy and that means they have a lot of information. They know how difficult it is to fabricate it. They ask tough questions. They are curious, I like that.
WHAT WILL YOU BRING THIS YEAR TO THE BASELWORLD WATCH FAIR?
Every year at BaselWorld, we try to come with 20-30 new models. Some of them are aimed specifically at the younger generation, some are more complicated, and, of course, there’s the matter of price. We need to be more open to the ladies and for them we have launched the new Twenty4 model. I see no difference between men’s and women’s watches, both are important. There is also a new demand for a complicated lady watch, which makes me very happy because the movement we have is very thin and that allows me to create the most beautiful complicated lady watches. So you will really see the whole mix in Basel. It reminds me of when we launched the Aquanaut, which targeted young customers but our collectors really liked it too and wanted to wear it on the weekends. That’s a bit tricky.
The Aquanaut collection
HOW ARE YOU DEALING WITH THE RECENT RUMOURS ABOUT A POSSIBLE SALE?
No, we are not for sale, that’s for sure. Every year it is the same – the rumours start before the BaselWorld. The press could have checked with me.
AS THE OLDEST FAMILY OWNED WATCH BUSINESS, CAN YOU SAY A LITTLE ABOUT THE ROOTS OF THE FAMILY VALUES THAT ARE INSTILLED IN THE BRAND’S HERITAGE?
Family values are not complicated, they’re just about loving doing what you do. That’s the most important and it’s what you pass on to your children. You just have to educate people, to show them the passion behind your work – that if you are willing to do something, you should do it well. At Patek Philippe, we always have this passion in mind. There is no way you can work at Patek if you do not love watches, for example. It could be very difficult, this is not something you just take from the book and learn. First, you have it inside you, which is part of your education. Then as a family, you have to accept the others. We all have different ideas but we aim for one thing, which is to make the finest watch in the world. Once you agree with that, I think those values are natural. When you come to Patek, you are not just there to make money but because you have the passion to make the finest watch in the world. If you do that, the money will come afterwards. That’s what I see in the group of watch industry. I respect our shareholders and I am well aware that they want to earn as much as possible from our watches. But I look more at the long term – what will happen when I am gone and my children take over. So I have to prepare the future for them. I’m just part of it for a few years. I just do my best for the next generations – to ensure that the family values are carried on.
FINALLY, HOW WOULD YOU COMPARE THE WATCH INDUSTRY NOWADAYS TO THAT OF THE PAST?
When I started, there were a lot of family-owned companies. There were a lot of people who really loved watches; they were there because they really enjoy the movements and the designs. Now with the big groups, they are professionals and all about marketing. It’s part of life; I cannot change it. But at Patek Philippe, I can keep up the level of passion – that’s my personal goal.