Watchmaker Patek Philippe has long been a favorite of celebrities, including Joe DiMaggio, Albert Einstein, Princess Diana, and Victoria Beckham. But in recent years, the reputation of the Swiss company has changed unexpectedly.
Hip-hop may not be new to mentioning high-end brands, but Patek Phillippe’s allusions in lyrics skyrocketed in 2017. According to the music website Genius, one-third of the songs on the Billboard Hot 100 that year referred to the company.
Cardi B (top image) “flooded” hers with diamonds, Gucci Mane said his was “going’ make this crooked judge try to throw the book at me,” while Travis Scott sang about his “two-tone Patek.” Lil Uzi Vert has such a love for the watchmaker that he created two songs celebrating it, “Patek” and “New Patek,” while Young Thug, Migos, and Future have all highlighted their Patek Philippe timepieces. (In the latter, he said, “New Patek on my wrist, white diamonds, they sh**s hit pink.)
According to Nick Marino, executive vice president of content at online watch magazine Hodinkee, the craze coincided with a broader upsurge in interest in collecting watches.
He explained through video chat, “It sprang to sense that Patek Phillipe would be the one that everyone was talking about as it has long been one of the most prominent watch companies.
Back to Run-“My DMC’s Adidas,” hip-hop has a long and illustrious tradition of promoting musicians’ favorite brands. It just so happened that watches went viral.
Rappers are intelligent, he continued. “They are aware of what exclusivity and status entail. Rappers love Richard Mille, a young, flamboyant, “new money” watch brand, so you could expect them to mention that. However, I appreciate that they also enjoy the old-money watch companies.
“Rappers are putting themselves in the elite family tree that dates back to the 19th century by establishing themselves as Patek clients. That’s strength.”
The company’s current position in mainstream culture is a far cry from its “Generations” advertisements from the 1990s, which primarily starred White parents and their kids bonding over priceless timepiece heirlooms. The well-known campaign assisted in popularizing the slogan, “A Patek Philippe is something you never genuinely own. You only take care of it for future generations.”
The 182-year-old company may have felt awkward about becoming a status symbol for the Instagram generation because it emphasizes history and legacy as indicators of quality. However, according to Marino, the watchmaker has not overtly changed the image of its brand and does not need to be concerned about becoming too well-known: “In many respects, the youthful audience, the hip-hop audience, has perhaps found Patek rather than the other way around.
Twenty-seventeen was a lifetime in hip-hop, yet people are still talking about these watches. “This brand has been a symbol of luxury since 1839, so I don’t think there’s any danger of them being perceived as a flash in the pan,” he added.
Patek Philippe’s position in the zeitgeist is “a very promising indicator” for its future, according to Sharon Chan, director of watches at Bonham’s auction house in Hong Kong.
Over the phone, she stated that elderly customers tended to purchase Patek Philippe timepieces “five to eight years ago.” The younger group, the second or third generation (down) from the original collector clients we had, has taken over in recent years.
“Their collecting preferences and the kinds of timepieces they are interested in varied greatly. Experienced collectors in the past searched for the most intricate variations of things. Nowadays, people tend to prefer simpler designs or objects made of various materials over those with more complex functionality. The majority of consumers are now asking for stainless-steel Patek Philippe watches, as opposed to the past when precious metals made about 80% of the watches we sold.”
Rarely, she continued, “do (the watches) truly just get passed down to the next generation.” However, it is a brand that bridges generations.
Fewer difficulties, more money
If you go by auction records, Patek Philippe is the most expensive watchmaker in the world, which may explain celebrities’ obsession with the brand. Eight of the ten most expensive timepieces ever sold at auction were from this brand, including the stainless-steel Reference 1518 that sold for over 11 million Swiss francs ($11.1 million) and the pink gold version that outperformed expectations to sell for nearly $9.6 million in September.
The Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication, one of the most intricate mechanical watches ever created, was sold for 23.2 million Swiss francs ($24 million) in 2014, making it the most expensive wristwatch in history. Five years later, an unworn Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime 6300A-010 made specifically for a Geneva charity auction and selling for 31 million Swiss francs ($31.2 million) completely shattered the previous record.
The company, formerly known as Patek, Czapek & Cie, was established in Geneva. The current name was chosen after Frenchman Adrien Philippe and Polish co-founder Antoni Norbert Patek joined forces. One of the watchmaker’s earliest customers was Queen Victoria, who bought one of its “keyless” watches—the first in the world to function without prior winding—at London’s Great Exhibition in 1851.
The attraction of Patek Philippe among the rich and renowned of the time would continue to be supported by new technology. For the Hungarian Countess Koscowicz in 1868, the business created what it claims to be the first wristwatch ever made (a claim vehemently contested by rival Breguet, which asserts that a timepiece it created for the Queen of Naples in 1810 was the first ever). Since then, Patek Philippe has received more than 100 patents, including the first perpetual calendar mechanism for pocket watches and “time zone” timepieces with an extra hour hand for travelers.
The Nautilus, however, has turned out to be one of its most exclusive ranges.
The cost of a Nautilus watch ranges from $30,000 and above, with secondary market costs frequently being much higher. The 1976 collection debuted and has been worn by royalty, rappers, business moguls, athletes, and Hollywood stars, following popular ranges like 1932’s Calatrava.
More lately, Drake has flaunted his Patek Philippe Nautilus Reference 5726, a custom-made timepiece by the late fashion designer Virgil Abloh, while Kylie Jenner is frequently seen wearing a Nautilus Reference 5719 made of white gold and diamonds. The Nautilus is frequently featured on Instagram, with posts ranging from the understated (like John Mayer wearing one in a selfie in front of a mirror) to the overt (like reality sensation Scott Disick standing outside a Patek Philippe store with the remark, “What time ya opening @patekphilippe?”).
In celebrity circles, the stainless-steel Nautilus Reference 5711 is the model that has achieved cult status. Only “highly vetted clientele” would be added to a waiting list, according to a 2019 New York Times story, after which they would have to wait up to eight years to buy one.
The corporation then provided an unexpected reaction to the demand last year by ceasing production of the 5711.
Patek Philippe’s president Thierry Stern, whose family has owned the watchmakers since 1932, said in the aforementioned Times piece that the company did not want to be perceived as a one-model brand. The fundamental Ref. 5711 in steel is simply one of the 140 versions that Patek Philippe currently produces, he was reported as saying. There are a lot of alternative models that are perhaps more complex and attractive.
However, the 5711 briefly returned in late 2021 with the introduction of a limited-edition olive-green model and a Tiffany & Co. collaboration in the US jeweler’s signature blue. However, for the time being, at least, the model doesn’t appear to be available on the company’s website, where the sought 5711 stands out for being missing among more than 25 other Nautilus models.
Waiting lists and skyrocketing resale prices unmistakably support the brand’s exclusive image. But supply and demand may be the true cause of the scarcity. According to Chan, Patek Philippe may only create 50,000 timepieces annually, compared to Rolex’s estimated yearly production of around a million, Chan claimed.
“Everyone believes that waiting lists are a marketing ploy, but because demand has grown so quickly, they are unable to satisfy it. My watch circles have seen ten times as many inquiries for the Nautilus or the Aquanaut over the previous two years “She mentioned another well-liked line that was introduced in 1997.
“That’s just my small circle, so can you imagine how many others are trying to get one, two, or three for themselves all over the world?”
According to Marino of Hodinkee, if the watchmaker increased production, it might be at the expense of quality, which would put the brand in jeopardy.
Any high-end watchmaker will tell you that they make as many as they can to uphold the standard of quality that their clients need, he continued. “Could Patek make a ton more timepieces now and brand them with their name? They might. But at that point, Patek would no longer exist. You are initially paying for the craftsmanship and the limited nature.”