— Behind the gold and diamonds, the frenzied desires of aficionados and its formidable reputation, Patek Philippe is an organisation dedicated to incredible high-quality watch production.
It is simply impossible to describe this tour in detail. The profusion of objects and operations prevents any coherent narrative summary, so we will have to stick to a conceptual summary. Patek Philippe has attained a degree of production autonomy that is virtually unique; a level of development quality that places it in a league of its own; and meticulous craftsmanship that while perhaps not unequalled definitely stands out by its sheer breadth and depth. No other brand produces such a variety and quantity of Grande Complication watches; no other brand at this level of prestige has so many tools and machines. Patek Phillippe blanks, cuts, burnishes and polishes its wheels, pinions, plates, bridges, springs, levers… and even its screws! Is independence an end in itself? Only if it serves to guarantee execution on a par with its demanding standards that would otherwise be unattainable.
In response to my astonished reaction to his explanations, my guide kept saying: “sure, obviously”. To which I repeatedly replied: “there’s definitely nothing obvious about it”. What he considered as standard practice in fact denoted exceptional concern for details and complexity. Among a number of examples, Patek Philippe uses only a single spark erosion machine, serving to cut out parts that are too thin to be machined by a milling-cutter that cuts into the material. In a comparably sized factory, especially one producing so many Grande Complication models, one would expect to find around five of them. Patek Philippe has in fact taken the quality of its machining to such a high level that it can produce even the most detailed parts using tools that others would consider too unwieldy. The same goes for profile turning: Patek Philippe uses exclusively computer numerically controlled profile-turning machines. The size of its series, meaning the maximum number of identical parts, is so small that standard cam-type profile-turning machines (which are heavy, reliable, stable and widely appreciated) are simply not suitable – offering eloquent proof that the diversity of its production attains heights rarely seen elsewhere.
However, even more distinctly than the manufacturing and assembly operations relating to the movement, cases are the true gems in Patek Philippe’s production crown. And this is not due to the army of polishers, although they naturally play an important role. Nor is it because of the number of operations involved in shaping the cases, creating all manner of barely noticeable design elements. Once again, the core of the matter lies in the uncompromisingly rigorous approach implemented across the board. Which other brand can claim to such a large and fully occupied gemsetting workshop? Or to such a variety of precious dial-making methods ranging from grand feu enamelling to miniature enamelling along with guilloché motifs and pantographic reproduction? The brand applies the full force of its considerable expertise and resources to all stages in production. Witness the technical department that comprises no less than 110 people, including those involved in prototyping. New models are developed in six years, compared with the industry norm of around three. Talk about perfectionists!