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Sunday August 18, 2013 MYT 12:00:00 AM
Sunday August 18, 2013 MYT 9:26:32 AM
by nasa maria entaban
A Patek Philippe timepiece is cutting-edge technology meets traditional watchmaking know-how.
Patek Philippe president Thierry Stern talks about the brand’s unwavering commitment to quality.
ASSEMBLED by hand, containing hundreds of individual parts (some nearly impossible to see with the naked eye) and taking up to 12 months to build, a Patek Philippe timepiece is cutting-edge technology meets traditional watchmaking know-how.
This, among others, is one of the reasons that the Swiss luxury manufacturer is widely considered to be the most prestigious watch brand in the world, and needs not change its strategy or identity despite market demands in the fast-paced and ever-changing luxury watch industry.
Patek Philippe president and member of the management committee Thierry Stern, who was in Kuala Lumpur earlier this week for the opening of the new standalone boutique in KLCC, took time out to talk about the brand, its idealogy, vision and future plans.
Appointed president in 2009, Stern is the fourth generation to take the lead in the company (founded in 1839) since his great grandfather Charles acquired the watchmaking firm in 1932.
As per the family tradition, Stern, 43, has worked in all aspects of the business including manufacturing, production, retail, management and customer service, and knows the trade inside-out.
“We have had a lot of important collectors here for a long time, and with Patek, people expect to find not only beautiful watches but also a nice place where they can look at them. not only to buy them but where they can sit, relax, talk, meet people who are knowledgeable,” said 43-year-old Stern about the new boutique, which is managed by Cortina Watch. “It’s a top and prime location and I’m quite happy here.”
With a pool of existing clients who are familiar with the brand and its products, Patek Philippe has a different challenge in this region than say, China, where the brand has boutiques in Shanghai and Beijing.
“In China we have to work more on the education side, new people maybe wouldn’t know the brand very well, they’ve heard the name and they know it’s a good brand but they have no idea why,” he explained. “It’s our duty to explain to them who we are, what we are doing, as a family business they enjoy that also, it’s important to talk about it.
“Even more important is to have good service, Chinese people love to travel, they buy the watches when they are abroad and when they have a problem I think that’s where we can help them with good service in mainland China, so they don’t have to wait or to send the watches back to Europe.”
In Malaysia, people are familiar with the brand but there is always a need for good retail executives who truly understand the brand’s workings and history.
“The level of knowledge here is higher but when you have a mature market like this you also need to know the history of the brand, these collectors will come for these vintage watches and this is very difficult to know the whole story of Patek, you really need to be a real expert, and also with the new products that come in every year,” said Stern.
For now Stern is quite content with the number of boutiques they have around the world, and is more focused on training, and making sure after-sales service is of the highest quality.
“We have to know the history, the vintage watches, and we have to transmit that to the sales staff. Patek is not the only brand, the others are moving very fast, you also need to be able to give the right argument. That’s what people are expecting. It’s expensive to buy Patek, you need to have the right person in front of you selling the watches.
When it comes to watchmakers, the challenge lies in training people and then, preserving them. Patek Philippe timepieces are the most complicated in the world. For example in 1989, the created the Caliber 89, a pocket watch with 33 functions and 1,728 unique parts. One of the brand’s most famous pocket watches, the Graves Supercomplication created in 1933, took five years to design and build with 900 separate parts and sold at an 1999 auction for US$11 million(RM35,970,000).
“We have a lot of information in our database and records from all the watches, today for example, enameling would be difficult, the young generation doesn’t want to train for 15 years to master the craft, and these kinds of craftsmanship would be difficult to preserve.
“That’s what I would say is our secret,” said Stern. “You need to go to our own school to become a good watchmaker, with Patek there’s a certain level of knowledge and technique. It’s also hard to preserve them after that, because for sure, everyone will come to see those watchmakers and they would love to take them.
“It’s also part of my job to preserve them to give them a very attractive business and a good salary and a place where they can work. That’s important.”
The brand’s tagline is “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely take care of it for the next generation”, and the same can be said of the Stern family, who have passed on the company for four generations now.
With two young sons (aged 10 and 12), it may be Stern’s dream to someday hand over the reins to them, but he says he will let them make their own choices.
“They are still very young and I think the first challenge is education at school, this is what we should give them and they can make their own choice,” he said, laughing. “I’m not going to push you, I just expect you to finish school and to have a good education, after that it’s up to them.”
To Stern, Patek Philippe is more than just a brand or a company or a business – it’s about history, family and memories.
“If it was only a product I don’t think it would work,” he explained. “It is really something more than that, it’s not only the beauty of the watch, it’s the whole meaning behind it. The spirit of your family is what you have to continue.”
In conjunction with store’s opening, over 100 timepieces, including the Baselworld 2013 collection, will be exhibited at the store until August 25.
The Patek Philippe boutique is located at Lot G41 and 42 of Suria KLCC.
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