Interview: Thierry Stern on His Family Legacy

This story originally appeared in the March/April 2017 issue of Elite Traveler.

Patek Philippe has been crafting timepieces to the most exacting standards of excellence since 1839. Roberta Naas talks to Thierry Stern, the fourth generation of the family to run the business.

Thierry Stern, president of Patek Philippe, has a tall order to fill. As head of one of the oldest independent family-owned watch brands in the world, he must continue its legacy and not only bring the company through another generation of precision and innovative new technology, but also position it properly for at least another 150 years of watchmaking excellence.

Since its inception, Patek Philippe has systematically built an empire – one graced with collector-owners such as 1920s moguls Henry Graves and James Ward Packard, who vied to acquire the most complicated watch in the world; silver-screen celebrities such as Richard Burton; artists like Andy Warhol; and a host of social and political leaders. Patek Philippe has been at the forefront of pioneering technical inventions, holds more than 80 patents and continually leads the way with new materials and new systems that surprise and delight watch lovers around the world.

“I know it is important, especially in today’s market, to be very innovative with products,” says Stern. “One of the best pieces of advice [my father] ever gave me was not to rush, to always think about the product first, to take the time to excel and be creative, and to offer the one thing our customers really want that may not exist in our line.”

Stern grew up in the watch world, “playing” in the Geneva-based factories and following his father Philippe and grandfather Henri around. The Stern family has owned and operated the brand since 1932, and Thierry’s rise to president in 2009 is part of the company’s long-term vision to control its destiny. The goal, according to the 46-year-old Stern, is to continually demonstrate to retail partners and end consumers alike that Patek is there for them, that the brand offers a philosophy of quality and trust through thick and thin.

“The watch world may be going through difficult times right now, but we have never left the side of our retailers or followers to run to another country that may be stronger economically. It is our plan to grow our relationships in each market according to its abilities through strong times and challenging times,” explains Stern. “This is the way we can establish long-term trust and strong relationships, and continually instill confidence in the quality of our watches.”

Stern is incredibly passionate when he talks about the brand. To him, Patek Philippe is a unique blend of heritage, exceptional quality and a vision for the future. “It would be easy to rest on our laurels, but that would not be fair or right,” he says. “There is always room to be creative and keep improving.”