Patek Philippe's Ref. 6007A-001 Calatrava celebrates the watchmaker's new manufacture in Geneva
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Patek Philippe’s Ref. 6007A-001 Calatrava celebrates the watchmaker’s new manufacture in Geneva

Patek Philippe’s Ref. 6007A-001 Calatrava celebrates the watchmaker’s new manufacture in Geneva

The facility, built at a cost of CHF500m on the company’s former parking lot at Plan-les-Ouates, was inaugurated in June

Patek Philippe

Modern Swiss fine watchmaking as we define it today, during its early days around 300 years ago, was essentially a series of skilled individual artisans working in silos creating specific components for watches.

An attempt to centralise production and gather these artisans into a single place where they could collectively pool their efforts to create a watch entirely in-house led to the creation of ‘manufactures’.

Patek Philippe, universally regarded as among the top three Swiss luxury watchmakers in the world, is one such leading Swiss manufacture. Polish immigrant Antoine Norbert de Patek, who arrived in Geneva in the 1830s, partnered with watchmaker Jean Adrien Philippe to create Patek & Cie – Fabricants à Genève in 1851, later renamed as Patek Philippe & Cie.

Patek Philippe has courted royalty – Queen Victoria purchased a pendant watch back in 1851, now displayed in the watchmaker’s museum – and industry titans. The Patek Philippe Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication, for example, was built specifically for US banking tycoon Henry Graves Jr and auctioned for $24m in 2014.

Patek Philippe
It took five years to complete the construction of the new manufacture, with the watchmaker spending CHF100m on the interiors and equipment installed in the building

Patek has also been a powerhouse of innovation. A rectangular Patek Philippe yellow-gold case wristwatch made on commission for the Countess Koscowicz of Hungary, was the first Swiss wristwatch. Two years ago, another timepiece, the Grandmaster Chime Ref 6300A, became the world’s most expensive timepiece when it auctioned for $31m.

But records and accolades notwithstanding, Patek hasn’t let itself slip into a dreary sense of complacency over the past few decades.

The brand was acquired by the Stern family in 1933, and remains an independent family-owned business at the very pinnacle of fine watchmaking.

In 1996, the former president of the company, Philippe Stern, inaugurated a new production facility in Geneva’s Plan-les-Ouates which, as the company says, was to “reunite under one roof the individual business activities that were previously distributed across over a dozen sites throughout the city and to thus secure the independence of the company in the long term”. Philippe reportedly spent a year’s worth of sales budget on that facility.

But as the watchmaker’s business subsequently expanded, some of its manufacturing needed to be shifted to the nearby community of Perly.

In 2015, Philippe’s son Thierry, who took the reins of the company in 2009, decided to construct an expanded production facility at Plan-les-Ouates to once again consolidate the manufacturing process at a single site and to support the company’s production for at least another three decades.

Five years later and at a cost of CHF500m, the new facility – built on the company’s former parking lot at Plan-les-Ouates – was inaugurated in June. Patek spent another CHF100m on the interiors and equipment installed in the building.

Patek Philippe
Acquired by the Stern family in 1933, Patek Philippe remains an independent family-owned business

The 10-storey unit (four of which are underground) is 189-metres long and 67 metres wide. Describing the architectural flourishes of the building, the watchmaker says, “The large-format glazing (abundant daylight is a must) interacts with white concrete passageways along the entire façade and the intermittent bronze-coloured fire escapes in the New York style.

The impression is that of a huge ocean liner with clearly defined forms…the slight horizontal curvature of the passageways [are] reminiscent of the gently rounded octagon of the Nautilus case, or the balustrades of the fire escape ladders with a silhouette that resembles the form of leaf-shaped hands.”

The four subterranean floors offer a 635-car-park facility, while the first and second floor above ground is dedicated to the production of components including the bridges and wheels, the manual-intensive process of polishing those parts, as well as the assembly of its bracelets and cases. The second floor also houses the restoration of antique pieces.

Setting the pace for the future of the company, an R&D and prototyping department is located on the third floor, and it also houses the Patek Philippe Advanced Research department.

Patek Philippe
The ten-storey structure includes four subterranean floors

“If you want to survive the future, you need to have a good idea about what you’re going to launch,” Thierry told Gulf Business last year, when explaining that he was already working on movements that were destined to come to market in 2023.

On the floor above, you will find the rare handcrafts skills division. Sandrine Stern, Thierry’s wife, is the head of Patek’s Rare Handcrafts department that creates one-off timepieces, including clocks, using intergenerational artisanal skills such as wood marquetry, enamelling and engraving.

A 299-person auditorium is also located on this floor. On the fifth floor, a “penthouse restaurant” can seat 880 guests and includes four VIP lounges.

The objective of the new production facility is not to ramp up production – Patek makes around 62,000 watches a year including 8,000 quartz pieces. Over the last 15 years, it has increased production by around 2-3 per cent annually, and intends to keep it that way.

With the current pandemic resulting in the cancellation of Baselworld earlier this year, Patek Philippe joined Rolex, Chopard and Chanel when they decided to exit from Baselworld altogether and set up a new watch show that would take place parallel to Watches & Wonders next year.

Like Rolex, Patek Philippe too did not announce any new novelties earlier this year. However, to commemorate the opening of the new facility at Plan-les-Ouates, Patek decided to introduce its first novelty for the year – the Ref. 6007A-001 Calatrava. Interestingly, this watch, limited to 1,000 pieces, is offered in steel – one of the most coveted case materials from Patek. For reference, a steel Nautilus has a waiting time of around eight years.

The commemorative Ref. 6007A-001 Calatrava features a self-winding Caliber 324 S C mechanical movement that operates at 28,000vph and has a power reserve of up to 45 hours. The 40mm steel case frames the grey-blue dial with a carbon pattern at the centre of it.

The white gold hands are covered in luminous material – the only Calatrava model currently in Patek’s arsenal to feature hands with this material on it. Turn it over and you’ll see an imprint of the Calatrava cross and the “New Manufacture 2019” inscription on it, referring to the time when employees began moving to the new facility. And with 2020 being a year that we’d all like to put behind us, it isn’t a bad idea to not have 2020 inscribed on that caseback.

Within weeks of launching the Ref. 6007A-001 Calatrava, Patek also announced the new Ref. 5270J-001 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph, now available in yellow-gold, the Ref. 5303R-001 Minute Repeater Tourbillon – it’s worth noting that every minute repeater is passed via Stern’s desk who personally inspects its tonal quality – and even a Ref 5370P-011 Split Second Chronograph.

Evidently, the new production facility is already off to a strong start.

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