To keep my finger on the pulse of the watch industry, I frequent forums and Facebook, where enthusiasts rant and rave about companies and models. When Patek announced they were killing their golden goose, the Holy Grail of watchmaking, the steel Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711, they unleashed a widespread feeling of offense. That was especially true for . . .
the collectors on the waiting list, who trusted the Maison to deliver a steel Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711. Wealthy, influential watch lovers who spent years, impassive and stoic, waiting for “the call” from their authorized dealer. With a stroke of a pen, Thierry Stern betrayed their loyalty to the lineage, based on receiving a tangible reward for their efforts and patience. The Patek President’s reasoning . . .
We don’t want Patek Philippe dependent on one model, like Audemars Piguet with their Royal Oak. Also, there are too many luxury steel sports watches in the world now. Our steel “experiment” is over.
We will continue to produce the Nautilus, but the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 made of plebeian steel is no longer our future. I will follow my father’s sage advice: Patek Philippe makes precious watches out of precious metal. For “silver” we’ll use titanium.
From Mr. Stern’s point of view, he’s absolutely right. The luxury steel sports watch market is now crowded, from the mid-market Bell & Ross BR 05 to the upmarket Chopard Alpine Eagle and A. Lange & Söhne Odysseus. Patek Philippe has the strength to abandon the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 and steer the market in the direction of their choosing.
But the decision leaves in its wake the disappointed hopes of many who would have liked to become Patek customers and were unable to do so. The posts of disgruntled
Patek Philippe fans are out there for all to see. “I would have liked to give my wife a Patek Philippe for her birthday,” a former 5711 hopeful wrote. “But now I don’t think I will.”
In reality, for the average multi-millionaire, pursuing the steel Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 grail watch was almost as quixotic as pursuing the Holy Grail itself. Even so, it was the light that brightened the path of so many wealthy watch collectors, guiding them on their long impossible march to the Promised Land.
By abruptly extinguishing this light, Mr. Stern runs the risk of alienating his following. They may well turn to other, less “famous” watchmakers to scratch their horological itch.
Watchmaker F.P. Journe’s reputation is rising in leaps and bounds. Just look at the results of the latest auctions of fine watches, where the models bearing the Invenit et Fecit
motto dear to Lépine have exceeded the seven-figure hammer price for the
first time in their history.
Since Mr. Stern announced his decision to terminate the Patek Philippe Nautilus 5711 with extreme prejudice, the prices of the pre-owned and gray market steel 5711’s have doubled. In some cases, more. That’s ironic. Gerald Genta created the steel Nautilus (and the Royal Oak) to save the Swiss watch industry from the quartz crisis by using the cheaper material to “democratize luxury.”
In that sense, Patek Philippe’s President is killing the golden goose, returning the brand to its entirely aristocratic roots. We shall see if the strategy maintains Patek’s primacy or opens the door to another pretender, who will inevitably face the same dilemma. Because every important watchmaker ends up with a grail watch. To a greater or lesser extent, how they manage the model determines their future.
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You can read more of his horological writing at Quora.com