“You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation”. Or so we are led to believe. Patek Philippe’s modern advertising campaign, known as Generations, has been used by the manufacture to promote their watches since 1996, without interruption. The pairing of family photographs, seemingly timeless watches and the now iconic tagline is still going strong, such that it seems hard to imagine the brand using a different advertising campaign.
However, over its history, Patek Philippe has used a wide range of advertising campaigns. Indeed, for many collectors, advertisements are one of the most interesting aspects of collecting vintage Patek Philippe. For many of us, it gives us great pride to see a vintage watch we own featured on an excellent piece of advertisement.
Whereas the contemporary advertisements may be the most salient in our mind, during the mid to late 20th century, Patek Philippe had one of the strongest advertising campaigns ever created amongst Swiss watch brands. In this article, we will be sharing a small selection of our favourite advertisements from the historic manufacture, spanning different time periods and models.
"The watch that thinks"
Complicated Patek Philippe wristwatches, such as the perpetual calendar ref. 3448 or perpetual calendar chronograph ref. 1518, have deservedly gained mythical status today, such that seeing them featured in advertisements proves to be a rather surreal experience.
As we are more accustomed to these complications today, it is easy to forget that when they were first introduced, these mechanical objects were equivalent to computers that could fit on the wrist. Indeed, for a long period of time, Patek Philippe was on the cutting edge of technology and science, which may seem counterintuitive to many nowadays, when the focus of the brand is more on craft and tradition.
Patek Philippe’s technological breakthroughs captured the attention of newspapers and the media in general, especially during the ‘atomic’ ‘50s and ‘60s, when people were fascinated with futuristic concept. For example, when the first solar clock was released by Patek Philippe in the 1950s, it was labelled as “the clock wound by light” by the media, and later also by advertisements produced by the manufacture.
This technology seemed highly futuristic to the people of the time; just like this Patek Philippe Perpetual Calendar ref. 3448 would have seemed ahead of its time when it was first introduced in 1962 as the world's first self-winding perpetual calendar wristwatch. It is presented in the above advertisement as “the watch that thinks”, almost as a precursor to the personal computers which would enter households a few decades later. Indeed, the ability of the automatic ref. 3448 to mechanically account for a leap year must have seemed rather thoughtful at the time.
“The exclusive circle of a Patek Philippe”
The 1970s were a rather special decade for Patek Philippe advertisements. A letter sent by Patek Philippe to their authorised retailers in 1972 provides a telling insight into the advertising mentality of the manufacture at the time. It outlines the following rationale:
“The 1972/73 advertisement campaign marks a milestone in the history of Patek Philippe, for this is the first time Patek Philippe presents watches as well as jewellery items in one and the same ad. The campaign is doubly significant because, unlike most of Patek Philippe’s past advertising, it no longer dwells on the technical aspects of the watch but presents it as a hand-finished jewel in its own right, as something which transcends a mere watch.”
From this letter, it is very clear that during the decade which birthed the Nautilus and the Ellipse, Patek Philippe wished to present its watches as pieces of jewellery through their advertisements, focusing on the aesthetic rather than the technical perspective. This is useful context to consider a type of advertisement generally known as the lifestyle ad, which portrays a watch in almost human form, performing human activities, generally in a luxurious setting such as this high-end restaurant.
In this particular advertisement, an Ellipse wristwatch and a waiter are alone in a restaurant, with no-one else in sight. It implies to the viewer that the inner circle of a Patek Philippe owner is so exclusive that that few – or in this case none at all – can have access to it; or perhaps that the owner of a Patek Philippe has the power to reserve every single seat in the restaurant and dine just by themselves.
The use of colour is equally interesting, with the warm tones of the room broken up by the distinctive blue gold dial of this Patek Philippe 3748 on a yellow gold bracelet. Unlike most Patek Philippe advertisements that were made before the ‘70s, this advertisement has very little writing on it, again focusing on the aesthetics rather the technical significance of the watch.
“They work as well with a wet suit as they do with a dinner suit”
Birthed from the same decade as the Ellipse, the Nautilus has become a veritable horological icon thanks to its pioneering role amongst high-end, luxury sports watches. In many ways, this advertisement (one of the first advertisements for the model) captures much of what was innovative about the Nautilus at the time.
The tagline of the ad, “they work as well with a wet suit as they do with a dinner suit”, is representative of the idea at the core of the Nautilus: that a sports watch in steel, executed with the highest attention to detail, could be considered a refined, luxury item. Inspired by the design of a ship’s porthole, the Nautilus ref. 3700 was water-resistant to a depth of 120 metres, thanks to a sealing system designed specifically for the range. At a time of great change within the watch industry, this concept of a luxury sports watch with an integrated bracelet was a truly revolutionary idea.
To further accentuate the blending of casual sportiness and refined elegance represented by the Nautilus, the male wrist of the advertisement is wearing a rather rare variant of the original model: a 3700J in yellow gold, with 112 diamonds on the bezel. Quite the statement to dive with one of those, but it perfectly captures the versatility on the model.
Further, a favourite detail of ours is the tagline on the bottom right corner of the ad which states, “Owned by few, desired by many”. Considering that when the Nautilus was released, the retail price for the watch in steel was $3,100, comparable to many of Patek Philippe’s gold dress watches, that tagline seems deadly accurate.
“The watch as a work of art”
This advertisement sets itself apart from Patek Philippe’s general advertising campaign for a few reasons. Firstly, these advertisements were usually published in much smaller local newspapers and magazines and generally only appeared for a few weeks. Secondly, their goal was to promote Patek Philippe’s museum exhibitions that took place throughout the United States.
In the 1970s, Patek Philippe started to organise exhibitions all around the United States. These exhibits were also known as the Watch Art Exhibitions, which were essentially a travelling museum, where Patek Philippe would curate and display a selection of the finest timepieces from its private collection. At the time, the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva did not exist, so these exhibitions were the only way in which the brand demonstrated its historic savoir-faire to a wider audience. When not travelling around, these pieces were usually tucked away in a safe or displayed in the manufacture.
These exhibitions brought tremendous attention to Patek Philippe in the United States and local newspapers would cover these exhibitions with great interest. This helped Patek Philippe to gain popularity in almost every single corner of the country, the impact of which is likely still felt today.
As this advertisement was focused on promoting these museum exhibitions, it does not feature a watch from the Patek Philippe collection of the time, but rather two pieces from their private museum. The complicated pocket watch featured in the advertisement is the reference 859, featuring a minute-repeater, perpetual calendar and split-seconds chronograph. It was made in 1915, encased in 1966 and sold on March 5th, 1986. The smaller piece is an unreferenced pocket watch, that still can be viewed in the Patek Philippe museum collection alongside the ref. 859.
With watches such as these, the rest of the advertisement itself is bare and to the point. This format was used with a few different headlines, including “The watch only the hand can make” or “The creative hand”. In many ways, this unconventional advertisement is an interesting relic of a practice which cemented Patek Philippe’s reputation in the American market.
The case of the mysterious ref. 2499
Here is a rather unknown ad, with a very interesting story. This particular ad was published by a local jewellery store in Los Angles during the early 1960s. Ads featuring ref 2499’s are already incredibly rare, with only a few ever having been published and even fewer have survived for us to inspect today. Yet there is something else that makes the 2499 featured in this particular ad noteworthy.
As you may have already noticed, the dial configuration of this piece differs from other 2499’s from the same series (the third one, produced between 1960 and 1978, which is immediately recognisable for abandoning the tachymeter scale seen on the previous series). Ordinarily, the third series 2499 should feature baton hour markers, however, on this example, an applied “12” appears at the 12 o’clock position. Additionally, the other hour markers are much smaller than the ones used in the regular production ref. 2499. This is what makes this watch special and, as far as we are aware, unique.
Upon discovering this interesting configuration, I immediately started to do some research, in the hope to find more about this mysterious example. Soon, I found out that the jewellery store in Los Angeles actually had the watch for sale, but was unable to sell it, so kept advertising the timepiece until about 1963-64. I later discovered that a 2499 with the same exact dial configuration was sold at an Antiquorum auction in Geneva in 2002. The plot thickens. The Extract from the Archives, which accompanied the watch, stated that the watch was produced around 1960, which leads us to believe that it could be the exact same watch as the one advertised above.
Interestingly, there also exists a similar first series example which has baton hour markers on every hour except 12. However, it still features a tachymeter scale, unlike this example. As the production of the third series 2499 would have started in 1960, the watch from the advertisement is of the earliest examples of the third series. It could very well be that, as Patek Philippe was transitioning between the third and second series, this was an experimental dial.
It is also open to speculation whether there are more third series examples out there with the same dial configuration but - as is the charm and the curse of exploring vintage Patek Philippe - there is no way to know for sure. A very curious case indeed…
To finish this article, it seemed fitting to pick an advertisement that reminds us of something which Patek Philippe does very well: create beauty out of simplicity. This ad is very much a manifestation of that. The only thing displayed, other than the Patek Philippe name, is a master watchmaker at the bench working away peacefully on a movement. There’s not much more to add really.
Photo Credits: Patek Philippe