Patek Then vs. Now

Patek is regarded by many collectors to be the greatest watch brand ever, having consistently produced museum-worthy icons. However, Patek has changed over the years, evolving from a niche atelier into a luxury behemoth. That premise begs the question, are these developments for better or for worse?

The best way to track the changing of a brand is to focus on design, especially considering Patek Philippe’s rich heritage in watch design and manufacturing. Classic collectors prize Patek’s due to their simplistic elegance and unwavering prowess throughout the brand’s history. In order to identify a trajectory, it is necessary to compare modern Patek and those of the past. Firstly, design has remained relatively classic across Patek’s range of dress watches. Patek Philippe still strives for excellence in design while conforming to their philosophy; simple yet elegant. However, with the advent of luxury sports watches, the Patek lineup has been constantly changing. One area in which Patek had, in my opinion, been led astray is in the release of the Patek Philippe Neptune. This watch was a disaster even if you disregard financial aspects. This release likely damaged the reputation of Patek and put a damper on the high expectations for the new millennia, despite the fact that it has been discontinued.

In addition, the recent evolution of the Aquanaut collection have increased the appeal to younger audiences and those who live an athletic and adventurous lifestyle. While this tapped into new markets, it was a bold step that ignored Patek Philippe’s tradition of restraint when it came to jumping on trends or “innovative” design. Despite the newer Aquanauts appearing fantastic, this could be a classic case of strategic overstretch and a loss of brand identity. Avant-garde is not congruent with the tradition of Patek Philippe.

If one were to look at the latest auction catalogs, vintage Patek Philippe invokes visceral emotions in terms of the sheer beauty of the watches. It makes one wonder what has been lost. Today, the watch market is larger and more mainstream than ever before. Patek is no longer niche, and it must compete to draw the (often tasteless) eye of the consumer. Due to this, many watch designs are nearly entirely of high polish; promoting gleam and glamour at the expense of richness. The key element that is missing is texture; and this applies to many modern watches. The art of satin, brushed, and frosted finishing has been lost at Patek, with the exception of near-relics and the irreplaceable; Nautilus, 5196, and so on. Patek Philippe watches are still the cream of the crop, but will lost design considerations return to an industry so heavily focused on corporate standings?

Colin Carpenter