A few days ago I wrote about a new watch coming out of the house of Patek Philippe. Namely, the reference 5960P at about $80,000. A beautiful watch, but why all the hubbub for a timepiece that costs so much? For that money anything should be possible right? Well some people find themselves waiting around for such watches to come out, for others, we observe such watches with mere interest or strong desire. Regardless, Patek Philippe is serious about its product in America, at least on paper they are. The true message to Americans will be to appeal to our sense of value, taste, and preferred methods of purchasing luxury goods.
In a recent InSync Watch Magazine interview, Patek Philippe’s ruling father and son team shed some light on the mentality at work behind one of the world’s most exclusive watch manufactures. Philippe Stern and his son Thierry, take charge at the helm of what is a “family” run business. This is no joke as big makers like Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet are actually family run, and considered small for the number of employees they have.
“We have to respect people; we don’t want to be snobs about our watches” says the younger Thierry Stern. Thierry is the vice president of Patek Philippe and will someday rule in his father, Philippe’s place. Philippe, in the same interview, mentions that “people [in America] really had no culture of fine timepieces.” At the same time he also mentions that America represents 25% of Patek’s market, the biggest single slice. This discrepancy in statements is odd, as though Patek has a sense of disdain for it’s largest market here in the US.
A clue to the Patek Philippe attitude toward the US might be in why they think American’s buy “nice” watches. “Today [in America], more and more business people really realize that watches are a type of statement and status symbol” explains the elder Philippe. I am not convinced that this is true, and the sentiment at work in Philippe’s mind seems to be that people in America buy watches for the wrong reasons. Not to appreciate or enjoy them, but as mere status symbols. The European watch makers perform the task of watch design and creation with passion and serious interest. When they get the idea that someone is simply buying their creations to look good, without appreciating the taste or labor involved, there is bound to be resentment. Think of the emotional artist who has an offer from a wealthy buyer to outfit their new house with paintings. The buyer perhaps has no real interest in the artist or their art, but thinks the art would look good to cover barren walls. The artist agrees due to the money involved, but perhaps is not excited about the exchange.
Such may be the way that Patek Philippe and others might feel about the “new rich” of America who invest in status watches. However, there remains an inherent fallacy in this concept. Those in other parts of the world who purchase these watches for these prices are wealthy too, but perhaps have a more cultural tie to watches, or have “old” money. The message here to Americans who want “nice” watches is, “go learn to appreciate watches on your own, then come to us when you can afford them.” Patek should instead educate and display their watches in a dignified yet humble manner. So that upon the ability to purchase such a watch, one will do it based on appreciation, not merely price.
The result of this is that Patek Phillipe is snobby about their watches, and cater mostly to the already rich. Using their “private” meetings, and sponsorship of elitist events, they are shielding themselves off from becoming a maker of fine watches and art; to remaining a caterer of luxury goods to the ultra-rich. Perhaps when Thierry Stern succeeds his father things will change. Already other watch makers are beginning to understand the importance of reaching out to new markets. Regardless, Patek Philippe still has an amazing line of watches, whose lasting appeal cannot be argued. I just know that if I can ever obtain a Patek Philippe watch, I’d buy it from a private buyer, not an authorized dealer, just to show Patek how Americans enjoy a good value because we know where to find them.See Patek Philippe watches on Amazon here.