With the global economy once again bracing for uncertainty, we look back to almost a century ago when the situation was decidedly grimmer. The decade of economic contraction, mass unemployment, and suffering that is referred to as the Great Depression started with the crash of the stock market in the United States of America in 1929. However, with the importance of the American market to the global economy, the effects of the crash soon spilled over to much of the rest of the world
Far away from New York City, in their offices on the Rue Du Rhône in Geneva, the management of Patek Philippe were also feeling the effects of this downturn acutely. Stock that had been shipped around the world, from the US to Brazil, with duties and taxes paid for by the brand, sat unsold. Patek Philippe had over-leveraged itself financially and several rounds of salary cuts and instances of melting down precious-metal cases to pay staff were not looking like they would be enough to sustain the 90-year-old business.
As is often the case in moments of existential crisis, this period saw a number of fundamental decisions that would prove to be crucial to Patek Philippe’s modernisation and survival. The first order of business had to be the infusion of fresh capital. The brand had a prospective buyer in its movement manufacturer LeCoultre but it favoured the offer made by its dial maker, Stern Frères, headed by brothers Charles Henri and Jean Stern. The Stern brothers, with their majority stake in the company, hired Jean Pfister, a man who had something the brand’s new owners did not: experience running a watch brand.