What Does the Modern Woman Want? When It Comes to Luxury Watches, Patek Philippe Has a New Answer
The storied Swiss watchmaker presents an updated version of a beloved classic.
Last week in Milan, Patek Philippe offered a response to an age-old question that has long dogged the watch industry: how to court that elusive, discriminating female consumer? The answer, it would seem, is with the same precision and performance that Patek uses to court its male clients.
To set the stage, the historic Swiss watchmaker transformed the courtyard of the neoclassical Milanese palace Palazzo Serbelloni, set on the Corso Venezia, into a winter garden for a multi-dimensional presentation. When Patek Phillipe debuted the new Twenty~4 Automatic, it was to a buzzing crowd who milled around inside a metallic glasshouse, laden with verdant décor of foliage and flowers.
Amid the cocktail party, a modern dance performance took place after a live musical concert. Then the company’s president took the stage.
“Patek Philippe has always strived to make the finest watches—and throw the best parties,” Thierry Stern told the glittering crowd. “What we are unveiling tonight is something we had been dreaming about and are now ready to reveal… because we really like it.”
And the family-owned watchmaker is betting that its female clientele will like it, too. This is the newest attempt by the Swiss company to seduce a demographic that commands some $10 billion in luxury sales.
If Patek Philippe is to be believed, what women really want today is a classic 36mm round-case watch with legible Arabic numerals, an automatic movement, a bejeweled bezel, a soft metallic bracelet, and a range of colored dials. They just may be right.
An Evolution Five Years in the Making
The Twenty~4 Automatic is an “evolution” within the family of Patek Philippe’s Twenty~4 collection, a women’s line first launched in 1999 with a rectangular case and a distinctive articulated metallic bracelet that quickly became an iconic and highly popular model in Patek’s collections.
The new addition was, according to Stern, five years in the making, with many prototypes and countless designs scrapped until Patek Philippe finally opted for a classic round case and an automatic movement.
“We worked through at least 40 prototypes and many different bracelets before we decided on this design,” Stern said. “In the end, we chose the round case and adapted the original bracelet which had been the force of the original Twenty~4.”
For Sandrine Stern, head of creation at Patek Philippe, the goal was to update a beloved design that was nearly two decades old without antagonizing its faithful clientele.
“The challenge was to find the right proportions that would not result in a complete relooking of an existing product that has been very pleasing to our clients, and yet retain some of the strong features of the original design,” she said.
The original Twenty~4 was powered by an in-house “mechanical quartz” movement—unusual for a brand admired for its complicated mechanical movements—which was 25 percent quartz and 75 percent mechanical, making it something of a “hybrid” that allowed the watchmaker to fit the movement inside a small rectangular case.
“Presenting the original Twenty~4 with a quartz movement was not easy for Patek Philippe,” Thierry Stern said. “We decided that today’s woman should have a precise automatic movement.”
As a result, the new Twenty~4 Automatic is powered by Patek’s caliber 324 S C self-winding mechanical movement.
“The 324 SC is one of Patek’s best automatic movements, one that is very precise and also used in our men’s lines,” Sandrine Stern said. “It shows how far forward we are pushing the women’s collections.”
A Choice for the Modern Woman
In two decades, the contribution and perception of women as consumers of luxury have changed. Patek Philippe’s new women’s watch is an attractive and wearable high-end option, with just enough jewels to also tick the box for consumer value.
“The Twenty~4 Automatic is for a woman who is active, solid, a connoisseur, and is looking for a product that others don’t have,” Thierry Stern said.
But is it modern enough for today’s woman? Sandrine Stern believes that its modernity comes from the combination of a sophisticated movement and jeweled details.
“The woman of 1999 is not the same as the woman of 2018,” she said. “Today we are capable of making a women’s watch that has an affirmed femininity without being masculine, and with a modernity that comes from having an automatic movement inside a diamond-set watch.”
The Twenty~4 Automatic boasts 160 diamonds weighing 0.77 carats set in a double row around the bezel, a choice that, according to Thierry Stern, adds a touch of luxury without being too ostentatious.
“Is this a totally new model?” he asked, rhetorically. “No. Why should I do something completely new today when the design of the original Twenty~4 was so beautiful?”
History on the Sidelines
On the sidelines of the party, several artists invited by Patek Philippe had set up their easels and busily drew portraits of female guests or alternatively attempted to capture what a party hostess called their “attitudes.”
Guests were also invited to admire the glass showcases set along one side of the indoor garden to demonstrate Patek Philippe’s longstanding tradition of producing timepieces for women, with a number of antique pieces brought over from the brand’s Geneva museum.
Two delicate pendant watches that had been presented to Queen Victoria at the 1851 Universal Exhibition of London, both bearing a décor of flowery bouquets set with rose-cut diamonds on a blue lapis lazuli enamel base, were tokens from a bygone era when timepieces were disguised as jewelry. They also showed how far the company, then known as Patek, Philippe & Co., has come in catering to its female clientele, as it continues to up its game by marrying aesthetics, precision, and wearability.
“The seduction of this timepiece is in its details,” Thierry Stern said. “Some may not be visible immediately until you take the watch in your hands, wear it on your wrist, and notice the softness of its bracelet and how easily you can read the time.”
The five models presented on stainless steel or 18-karat rose gold come with different color dials and prices ranging from $26,000 to $56,700.
“We have never hesitated to improve a product because we are driven by passion, not shareholders,” he said. “That is the beauty of Patek Philippe.”
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