At Patek Philippe, Sometimes Fame Just Isn’t Enough

Imagine being on the waiting list for a Patek Philippe Nautilus – a wait that could last eight or even 10 years, but at least you’re in line.

Then you see an Instagram post from a Patek fan wondering if the model is shutting down.

This turns out to be true. And suddenly, the watch you’d expect to buy new for around $ 33,700 is only available in the second-hand market, selling for up to $ 180,000. You would probably be surprised, unhappy, even angry.

And those are the responses from much of the watchmaking world last month when @patekaholic, as Jasem al-Zeraei is known to his 344,000 Instagram followers, teases them with a post suggesting that Ref. 5711 / 1A-010, a stainless steel watch with a black-blue dial, would be phased out of production this year.

“The reaction has been insane,” al-Zeraei said on Saturday. “People are sad not to receive their allowance.”

Some messages castigated the president of the company, Thierry Stern. “There has been so much noise around this Nautilus. My God, ”Stern said in a video interview Friday from his home in Geneva. So why is he abandoning Ref. 5711?

“We can’t put a single watch on top of our pyramid,” he said. After all, Patek offers 140 models, including 26 other Nautilus variants.

But Mr Stern offered some hope to disappointed buyers, saying the model “will have a victory lap.” We will have a surprise final series of Ref. 5711. And that’s not what was left in the pipeline. “

“How many there will be, I cannot give that information,” he said. “It will not be enough for all those who are waiting for one, because it is not possible, but we will do our best.”

When the first Nautilus, the Ref. 3700, was added to the Patek catalog in 1976, it was one of the styles of watches that helped revolutionize the perception of luxury through the brand’s use of steel. (Today steel is only used in about 30% of Patek’s 60,000 watch production annually.)

The Ref. 5711 appeared in 2006, and in recent years – thanks to a combination of one-upmanship and social media scarcity – it has joined the Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Selfwinding with a blue dial and three non-vintage Rolexes (the Cosmograph Daytona, the ” Pepsi (GMT Master II and the Submariner) at the center of a global obsession with steel trophy watches.

The stars of many Instagram channels, Watches have ticked all the boxes for collectible watches: pedigree, portability, lasting value and what watch fans call “the power of the wrist.”

“Instagram killed the thrill of owning the Ref. 5711, ”said Kristian Haagen, a Copenhagen-based watch collector and author. “People have stopped seeing the watch; they would only see the money.

There may be little logic in ditching a hugely popular product, especially during a pandemic which the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry has said has slashed the industry’s growth by more than 20%. It would be as if Hershey decided to stop kissing or Porsche gave up the 911.

And the lack of ceremony surrounding the decision to withdraw the Ref. 5711 just five years from the collection’s 50th anniversary has intensified the digital outcry. Mr al-Zeraei posted on January 3, but the company did not confirm until mid-month that the model was on the 2021 episode list, what Patek calls the discontinued watch list it sends to retailers and distributors. every year.

“It probably wasn’t big news for Patek Philippe, but the general social media frenzy is increased because people basically want what they can’t have,” said John Reardon, founder of Collectability, an educational platform and online reseller of Patek Philippes. He was previously responsible for watches at Christie’s and worked at Patek for 10 years.

“End Ref. 5711 was a brilliant decision, ”he said,“ because there are too many speculators buying this watch. It’s Patek Philippe, not Bitcoin. “

The company, which has been making classically elegant precious metal watches with complications since 1839, was acquired by the Stern family in 1932. And the Sterns have a long vision of watchmaking, reflected in the advertising slogan of the company. company: “You never own a Patek Philippe. You just take care of it for the next generation.

Mr Stern said little about the Nautilus cancellation, but spoke to The New York Times last week. The interview has been edited and condensed.

Why did you decide to end Ref. 5711?

A watch doesn’t have to be a leader on its own. It’s too dangerous.

I always have two goals in mind. To protect Patek Philippe as an industry leader and push for the best product, we are constantly creating new models and innovating with our movements. The second thing is that I have to protect my client. For this, a Patek Philippe watch must retain its value.

What will happen to all those on the ten-year waiting lists?

We know, and our retailers know, that we will never be able to supply enough watches for everyone on the lists because we don’t have them. It’s that simple. That’s why we never allow retailers to accept a deposit.

Some retailers only get two Nautilus a year, but they have 100 names on their waiting list. It is their own responsibility to explain it to the customer, but it is not easy when someone insists on being on the list. You can’t just blame Patek Philippe for not delivering enough watches.

When did you decide to stop the Nautilus?

In 2019 at Baselworld I said I thought there were too many Nautilus there. Closure of Ref. 5711 was on my mind then. And when I made the decision in 2019, we already knew what was to come.

Why has everyone heard about it from the exhausted list?

We do not remove our watches by public announcement. The Nautilus does not deserve better treatment than another reference.

So what will happen now that the Nautilus is shut down?

Stopping the Nautilus was a big decision, but we have a plan. The replacement of Ref. 5711 will be quite large. It will be better than Ref. 5711.

But I will not say today in which metal or if it will be steel. It will be something else, very close and logical.

It’s like Christmas. You don’t want to know your present before Christmas, do you?

Which stores will be the first to receive this replacement?

These will be our own lounges located in Geneva, Paris and London. It is not the perfect solution and it will be a nightmare for them. That’s my suggestion for now, but we’ll listen to our store managers.

Do you think people will be disappointed and some may not forgive you for ending the Nautilus?

Yes, people will be disappointed. I know I haven’t made a lot of friends over the past few weeks. All I can say is I’m sorry. But I hope that in five or ten years they will understand me and forgive me.

We do this for our customers who already own a Patek Philippe and to prevent our brand from becoming too commercial. I can continue to make this fantastic product or sell 10 times more. But I don’t work for numbers. I protect the company for the future, for my children.

This is an opportunity to teach my children a lesson, who are the first to say: “Daddy, are you crazy?” They have to learn, as my father taught me: when you have a great brand like Patek, you have to protect the brand and not just a product.

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