Why are Patek Philippe watches enduringly popular, despite the hefty price tag?

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar model 5146G

Patek Philippe Annual Calendar model 5146G - Credit: Archant

Mark Hearn is the managing director of Patek Philippe UK. He tells Kate Houghton a little about what makes him, and lovers of these classic timepieces, tick

Mark Hearn, MD Patek Philippe UK

Mark Hearn, MD Patek Philippe UK - Credit: Archant

How did you start your career in the watch industry?

After spending three and a half years in Geneva working for the Swiss division of Procter & Gamble (P&G) in the Marketing department, I had the chance to join the watch industry and jumped at this opportunity as watches were my passion since my childhood. I joined Zenith Watches UK and worked there until 2000, when I was invited to join Patek Philippe as Managing Director for the British market.

What is it about ‘luxury’ watches that draws people in, like moths to a flame?

In our case, the customers are looking for the quality, accuracy and heritage with our timepieces.

How do you sum up Patek Philippe watches, for those who aspire to own one?

Patek Philippe has values that summarise really well what our timepieces represent: independence, tradition, innovation, quality and fine workmanship, rarity, value, aesthetics, service, emotion and heritage. Also I would say that our timepieces are a combination of technical perfection with timeless aesthetics.

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What watch do you wear every day? Or do you change them according to your dress or mood?

I change according to the occasion, but probably wear an Annual Calendar model 5146G the most, as it has a very useful complication which was invented by Patek Philippe, namely the Annual Calendar which takes into consideration the 30 and 31 days changeover at the end of the month, so it only needs to be adjusted at the end of February.

How has the market changed over the last few years? Have you noticed a change in attitude towards the purchase of luxury brands?

Yes, I believe people are looking for traditional and high quality products. The global recession, for example, showed that peoples’ values had changed; they started looking more for understated excellence. The ladies watch market was another area that had some interesting changes. Ladies have been more interested in the inside of the watches, being more interested in complicated mechanical than quartz movements.

Every Patek Phillipe watch movement is handmade at your premises in Switzerland; how many craftsmen are employed there and what does their apprenticeship look like?

We are 2,000 employees worldwide, being approximately 200 qualified watchmakers. We constantly invest in training not only to have the most capable professionals, but also to pass the skills to the next generation of watchmakers, polishers etc. We aim at keeping the skills and expertise alive. Each year we create 49,000 mechanical pieces and 9,000 quartz ladies’ models.

Patek Philippe retains an aura of style that is more Grace Kelly than Kim Kardashian, how is this managed and is it a deliberate strategy?

We are an understated company with focus on excellence. We live and breathe to produce the finest watches in the world. The accuracy and quality of our watches and service we offer are key for us. Our advertising reflects this well. We do not do celebrity endorsement; it is not part of the company’s communications strategy. The stars of our campaigns are our watches.

What do you say to people who raise their eyebrows at the price tags?

In our case, our customers do not raise their eyebrows, they know that the price reflects the true quality and craftsmanship that has gone into manufacturing their timepiece and that it is the right one for each watch made.

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