We caught up with the President of Patek Philippe, Thierry Stern in Singapore recently when he was hosting the Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition.
We had a wide ranging discussion on many matters, and bring you into the conversation to eavesdrop. As usual, we paraphrase the responses.
Watch Art Grand Exhibition, Singapore 2019
We began with the Grand Art Exhibition. As is known, the Singapore Edition is the fifth and largest show so far. Earlier editions were Dubai in 2012, Munich in 2013, London in 2015, and New York in 2017. Thierry remarked that Singapore was chosen partly because of the long term relationship with retailers and maturity of the collector community. But added that the serendipity of being able to secure the Sands Theater, allowed them the large space in one single level.
The site was interesting that the owners were able to offer a stripped down theater by removing some 1700 seats. The Sands Theater being the smaller of two, the other being the Grand Theater available on the location. The Patek Philippe team did a tremendous job in building up the show., transforming from the terraced seating and stage morphing into the salons of Geneva. “The only thing we couldn’t bring is the lake”, Thierry joked, “but even that we manage with the high resolution video of the lake and the Jet d’Eau in Napoleon Room.” We understand the huge video wall showing high definition videos of the Geneva lake is live, but time shifted 12 hours.
The intent of the exhibition is to provide a point of reference and to showcase the skills and expertise of the Patek Philippe manufacture. To Thierry, the aim of the exhibition is education.
“For me, its not commercial, this is really cultural. I am happy to present what we know, what we can do, what are our skills.”Thierry Stern
The impact of mounting such a large show, with expenses amounting to more than S$20 million is not immediate. However, Thierry confirmed to us that there is an impact which can be seen over two years following. The retailers will see this as an increase in sales, but for Thierry, his focus is to generate interest, to improve the prestige of the brand through heart-share and mind-share. The Kids Program is one aspect he highlighted. In these workshops, children are introduced to watchmaking workshops and exposed to hands on sessions to help them understand the rare arts. Perhaps, he quipped, “the future master craftsmen may perhaps be drawn from those attending these workshops.”
Of Patek production and steel watches
Thierry said that the current production is about 62,000 pieces a year, and will remain the same, with a small compensation for inflation. We have heard numbers in the 2% to 2.5% range annually. He emphasizes that the proportion of steel to precious metal watches will remain the same. This means that even with the current situation of consistent extremely high demand for watches like the Nautilus (and Aquanaut), they will not be increasing production of those.
He realizes that by constraining production growth, will mean Patek will begin to lose the market share. And happy that this is the case, as long as Patek keeps the brand image and prestige up.
We asked what he sees Patek in 20 years. His reply is that he is already currently working with plans and visions for 20-25 years, and thus this topic is familiar territory. The main leitmotif of his response is that there will be no big surprises. Aim to retain the Patek brand image as the top watch brand. And continue to make advances in watch design and technical capability.
So the focus of the family firm remains affixed to quality and not quantity. The most important criteria in his own KPI is to increase the prestige of the brand. As a family owned business, they can keep this focus and renegade commercial concerns to the back seat. “If we take care of the important things like brand image, stay on top in creativity and movements, the money will come.”
“The day we say that think that we are the best, we are done with.”.
He added that Patek values the relationships they have made with their partners throughout the world. And will only venture into boutiques opened together with them. He talked about the great respect and admiration for the partners who grew up with the brand, and promoted and helped Patek grow to be a leader in the field. As a result, Patek will not be opening boutiques solely owned and operated by the brand, disenfranchising them, but will always be in retail with their partners.
Patek has also no plans to retail over the internet. He feels that as a luxury brand, the need for the human touch is critical in improving the relationship and the brand. And this human touch is always to be provided by retail partners.
The next generation
The conversation then steered to the next generation of leadership in Patek, with Thierry being the fourth generation owner. He spoke of his two sons, one 18 years old and the other 16. The elder of whom is in Singapore for the exhibition. On a mission to see, to listen, to learn.
He compared that to his own experiences, being brought into the business by his father Philippe at an early age. How he too had to learn the ropes and to prove himself to the team that he is a worthy leader. Thierry spoke about his values of being a hard worker and the importance of customer service. And the virtues of staying humble. Qualities, which we do see in generous amounts when meeting and talking with him.
He reiterated to us that he brought the elder son to Singapore as an introduction to the business, to learn the DNA of Patek. The 18 year old is currently studying Hotel Management in Lausanne. Thierry feels that this field of study is excellent to help them understand customers. And from there, form the respect for customers and partners, and an understanding of how people behave. Thierry thinks that his son’s interest is in the product creation, the same way he started in the business.
The other son is doing his watchmaking school in Geneva, and will perhaps join the family firm later as well.
He also revealed that his father, Philippe Stern is still involved in the business,though not directly with the daily operations. Philippe is now 82 years old and have set his priority in building the Museum. The elder Stern still comes to work once a week and meet up with Thierry and the CEO Claude Peny to discuss important matters.
What’s on his wrist?
Question on our minds? What is he wearing?
We ended the discussion with a photo session, and with that we came away feeling the warmth and genuine passion of the man who now runs one of the most prestigious watch houses in the world. Bravo Thierry Stern!
The exhibition is still on-going till October 13: