Superlative engineering has distinguished Patek Philippe for 174 years. The brand has earned the official Geneva Seal for its mechanics and boasts the world’s two most expensive watches, including the $11 million Henry Graves Supercomplicated Pocket Watch. With as few as five to as many as a few hundred timepieces, collectors wait up to five years for them. “We don’t try to make expensive watches encrusted in diamonds,” says Larry Pettinelli, president of Patek Philippe U.S.A. “We just make complicated ones that are generational and that appreciate in time.”
Palm Springs Life asked Pettinelli about cell phones, Queen Victoria’s endorsement, and staying at Parker Palm Springs.
When is it OK to be fashionably late?
Honestly, we are all fashionably late all the time, but everything worthwhile takes time. When you’re getting ready for a party, you want to be 100 percent presentable. Mr. [Thierry] Stern will not release a timepiece until it’s ready. Often a client will wait for three years, and if the tick doesn’t sound right, they’ll have to wait even longer until its perfect.
What’s your take on cell phones as timepieces?
We don’t mind anyone looking at their cell phone or any of their other 15 devices for the time. We have never been a watch company that merely tells the time. We are efficient, wearable art and an artistry that is irreplaceable. We are a part of the wardrobe, and our challenge is educating the younger generation.
From the wrist of President Putin to the film Drive, what has been the most unexpected place you’ve seen a Patek Philippe?
We don’t gift to celebrities or do product placement, so if you see a Patek Philippe, it’s because the person really wanted it. I do remember a situation on Fifth Avenue where a person brought in a timepiece they found on the street. With our meticulous service records and archives dating back to 1939, we found the owner.
What’s your take on the brand’s history with the royals?
My experience with the monarchs is mainly reading about them in our Geneva museum. We have about 4,000 timepieces on display, mainly from the hierarchy and the royal families. We were invited in 1857 to the Crystal Palace, where Queen Victoria bought herself and Prince Albert new keyless watches. And anyone taking notes made it big news [watches previously required winding keys]. It was our launching pad, and we continue to create one-of-a-kind pieces for them.
What brought you to the desert?
I used to be the West Coast rep for the company and loved coming out to the desert. I’d go twice a year, stay at the Parker [Palm Springs], dine on El Paseo, and chat with Terry Weiner at Leeds & Son about the latest and greatest. Now, I look for any excuse to come out, stare up at the mountains, and just relax.