A pandemic of epic proportions notwithstanding, Patek Philippe has had a busy year. Even as the world emerged from a lockdown earlier this summer, the Swiss brand released a flurry of novelties that began with a steel Calatrava to mark the opening of their new production building in Plan-les-Ouates, Geneva in June. A month later came three heavyweights – the Ref. 5303R Minute Repeater Tourbillon, a gorgeous split-second chronograph in platinum, the Ref. 5370P, and a yellow gold version of the perpetual calendar chronograph, the Ref. 5270J. If you were hoping for a quiet last quarter, Patek had another surprise in store; in November they unveiled the Ref. 6103P Grand Sonnerie, a chiming watch that combined a grand sonnerie, a petite sonnerie, a minute repeater, and a jumping seconds indicator.
“It’s a special watch and I’m glad we could launch it today, on my father’s birthday (former brand president Philippe Stern),” said Thierry Stern, who succeeded his father at the helm of what is arguably the watch industry’s most famous family-owned business. Stern was speaking to a small media Webex huddle following the launch of the Ref. 6103P on November 10.
Most watch companies consider the grand sonnerie complication to be the pinnacle of all watchmaking achievements. Only a few are able to combine the trio of complications – a grand sonnerie, a petite sonnerie, and a minute repeater – in a wristwatch. Much to their credit, Patek Philippe conceived the Ref. 6103P as a timepiece sturdy enough for daily wear. Although it is hard to imagine anyone opting for a CHF1.25 million watch as a daily-beater.
Stern agrees that a few decades ago, a grand complication timepiece like this one would have been tucked away in a safe. “Not today, we have a built a watch that’s sturdy enough to be worn every day,” he said. The 6103P Grand Sonnerie uses a platinum case, which is an unusual choice for a chiming watch. Most minute repeaters are cased in gold or in more recent times, titanium - both metals offer exceptional sound quality. However, the Geneva brand was keen on using a noble metal like platinum for this project.
“If you are the top of the watchmaking pyramid, you have to prove it. Platinum’s density makes it a tougher material to work with for a chiming watch. People can say what they want about it, but they need to hear the sound we have created on this new watch,” said Stern.
According to Stern, although there is plenty of interest among Millennials for entry-level models like the Nautilus, Aquanaut, and the Calatrava, the company’s hallowed grand complication range still attracts folks in the 45-60-year-old category. “This is not to say that younger folks do not have an interest in high complication pieces, but in general we have seen that those who enjoy watches like this are 45 and older. However, there are younger customers too, it’s not uncommon today to see a millionaire who is just 30-years-old,” said Stern.
The Sterns went from being the family that supplied dials to Patek Philippe to owning the watch company in 1932. They have managed to keep it independent of the large luxury conglomerates although there have been many rumors of takeover bids over the years. Stern recalls growing up in a household where discussions around enamel dials and minute repeaters were quite common. “It’s also the reason why it was so important for me, personally, to get the dial right on the Ref. 6103P. It had be simple and readable. The simpler the dial, the harder it is to execute,” says Stern referring to the watch’s glossy black grand feu enamel dial.
“I’m happy we were able to launch this watch on my father’s birthday. This is the beauty of a family-owned business. I don’t have shareholders telling me to produce more Nautilus watches,” says Stern referring to their coveted steel sports watch, a model that that has spawned waiting lists at boutiques because of its popularity.