Patek Philippe for most of its history has with some considerable justification been considered the most blue-blooded of all the Swiss watch manufacturers. There have to be sure been many other fine watchmakers in Switzerland, and elsewhere, that could be considered candidates for the first name in horology; these range from Patek’s fellow Swiss firms such as Vacheron Constantin and Audemars Piguet, to some German firms as well such as of course, A. Lange & Sohne. And of course there are independent, small watchmaking concerns such as Roger Smith and Kari Voutilainen, the quality of whose work cannot be gainsaid.
However, no company has quite the combination of virtues that Patek Philippe has offered throughout its history. It has consistently created some of the most classic, the most complicated, and the most beautiful pocket watches, wristwatches, and clocks made anywhere in the world and it has done so with an orientation towards exclusivity that few if any other companies can match. As a result Patek enjoys not only an unmatched reputation but also an ability for its watches to hold their value over time, and even to increase in value – sometimes many fold, as can be seen at auction where especially desirable vintage Pateks routinely set records and can easily run into seven figures.
And yet in recent years, there have been signs of Patek’s reputation beginning to erode. There are for instance, examples of the company simply being more interested in making money than in making interesting watches. Its production of limited editions can easily seem like money grubbing – the limited edition watches for the anniversary of the Nautilus, with their gauche dials and the release of 600 steel so-called Pilot’s Calatravas last week are but two examples. They show signs of abandoning some of the most essential core elements of watchmaking in their insistence on incorporating silicon escapement components and balance springs, which ask nothing of the rare skills in adjusting traditional components that were for many decades an essential part of what Patek offers. They have over the last dozen years, raised prices to such an extent that it is no longer possible for entire professions that once were the core of their support, to consider buying a Patek Philippe watch without feeling as if they are being had. And perhaps worst of all, there are signs of corners cut in quality – finish, especially, it is whispered and sometimes said straight out, is no longer what it once was.