Heritage Fashion spoke with Mr. Thierry Stern, president of luxury Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe, on his visit to Vietnam.
Heritage Fashion: What have you done to build the legacy of Patek Philippe?
Thierry Stern: Patek started in 1839 and my family took over in the 1930s, and the vision was always the same. We never changed the strategy. It’s about creating and developing the finest watches in the world. This is important, when you see that today many brands and groups are changing all the time. One year they may give you a sport watch, the next year a fashion watch, and they always change their strategy.
It’s very clear for Patek that we are not a sport brand or fashion brand. We are a brand that makes beautiful watches. And this is not just about the design, but also the movement. To do that requires a lot of creativity and knowledge and it takes a long time. People don’t buy your watches because they are beautiful, they buy them because there is a philosophy behind it.
Heritage Fashion: Can you explain a bit more about your advertising slogan: “You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation.”?
When you own a Patek Philippe it’s like a reward. You buy it for something specific in your life. It is a moment maybe when you graduate, when you have a wedding, when you know you have a successful job. With Patek Philippe, people buy a watch to commemorate something. And that’s beautiful. It means they believe in us, they believe in the quality of the products and they associate that with their own success, in private or in business life.
And also what’s important is that the value of the watch doesn’t go down. But I don’t like to say it’s an investment because you have to wear it. I don’t want customers to look at Patek Philippe as a business; it’s a passion for me. And I believe that customers can feel that. They know that Patek Philippe is not only acting to please our shareholders because there are no shareholders.
What do you think about how digital technology is changing the industry? How does the brand evolve to meet the demands of new consumers?
We are quite slow, to be frank. We first had a website which is pretty good, we update it all the time. And we are using Instagram since last year. I think we are the last one on Instagram. But that doesn’t hurt us, as Patek Philippe is a small production company with 60,000 pieces per year. We don’t need to communicate massively to sell.
Digital is important to communicate about the technical innovation, to connect people but not to sell. To sell, you need somebody to bring you the watch, to touch the watch, to explain what it is, how it works. This is not something that can be done on the internet. Maybe in 20 or 30 years, but not today.
Why did you choose Vietnam and this time to open the new boutique (located in Hanoi’s Metropole Hotel)?
We are keen to open new markets. But the market has to be ready and finding a good partner is even more important than selling. Good location is important too. Whenever we enter the market, we stay in the market, we stay to build the market. We are not a brand that can be opportunistic with a very limited supply. We have to be able to understand the market is ready, the clients are ready, the partner is the right one. Everything has to be aligned and it took three years to do that with our partner.
For 15 years, we have been shrinking our retailer network but improving our visibility, in how customers can see and buy our watches. So you can see this is a large store and it allows people to sit down and discover the history and heritage of the brand. We can explain to them at each piece. They don’t have to immediately buy and go. It’s about building the relationship with the clients locally with our team. And I think it’s a long-term relationship.