Posted on August 20, 2012
I’ve never made a secret of my respect for Patek Philippe. Not only does the company manufacture some of the world’s most highly regarded timepieces, it markets them with a taste and sophistication that never fails to impress me.
Last Wednesday, that impression was bolstered even further. I attended a breakfast event at Patek Philippe’s first freestanding boutique in the United States, which opened July 27 on Beverly Hills’ famed Rodeo Drive. Owned and operated by Gearys, a Beverly Hills institution for the past 82 years, the boutique sits adjacent to a Rolex boutique, also operated by Gearys (and opened in June).
Gearys' new Patek Philippe boutique sits next door to its Rolex boutique on Beverly Hills' famed Rodeo Drive.
Gearys owner Thomas Blumenthal has carried Patek for just eight years. I say “just” because so many of the watchmaker’s relationships with retailers span decades—at eight years, Gearys is surely among its newest accounts. Yet for the brand to partner with him on its first boutique in the U.S. and only its seventh location worldwide means the retailer is clearly doing something right.
Larry Pettinelli, president of Patek Philippe USA, was in town for the press event and provided some context to the brand’s decision. “We always had a great presence on Rodeo, with Fred Joaillerie for years, then with Tiffany,” Pettinelli told me. “When Fred went out of watches and the business, one of their people, Mary Conner, moved over to work with Tom.”
From that seed sprung a fruitful partnership. At the breakfast event, Blumenthal, a third-generation jeweler, said that he began searching for a retail space for the Patek boutique at the end of 2009 (ambitious, to say the least—that year will always be remembered as the nadir of the financial crisis). When he finally found it, Patek arranged to have the French designer Patrick Gaguech fly out to oversee the decorating. Having created salons for the brand in Geneva, Paris, and London, Gaguech took the 1,250 square foot former Valentino store and styled it after Patek’s Paris flagship, whose Art Deco lines, birdseye maple and Indian rosewood panels, and custom chandelier epitomize the brand’s refined aesthetic.
What’s more, Patek Philippe created a one-of-a-kind cloisonné enamel dome clock to commemorate the opening. The clock depicts the valley quail, California’s state bird, in cloisonné enamel, one of the brand’s esoteric specialities. Blumenthal said the very first one already sold for $117,000.
Patek Philippe created a one-of-a-kind cloisonné enamel dome clock to commemorate the opening.
At a time when many retailers are fretting about the true intentions of their brand vendors—the concern often boils down to: are they plotting to open their own boutiques in the area and cut their retail clients out of the picture?—it’s refreshing to see a retailer-brand partnership that’s mutually beneficial.
“We’ve made a conscious decision not to undermine our retailers,” Pettinelli told me. “I understand why brands want to own their own stores: They don’t always get represented the way they should. We almost have the opposite problem: We can’t get our retailers enough product.”
Pettinelli said Patek’s worldwide door count has shrunk over the past five years, from somewhere north of 600 to 440. “The stores that are left are really passionate,” he said. “We try to look for independents where the owner is in the store. We can’t expect the salespeople to have the same passion. Sometimes there’s a disconnect if the owner’s not in the store.”
To hear Pettinelli tell it, Patek’s new West coast boutique is very much a reflection of Blumenthal's vision. “The amount of time, effort and financial commitment he made to develop this and the Rolex store is really impressive—especially on the heels of the recession,” Pettinelli said.
“This is a very important part of the country for us, a lot of collectors in the area,” he continued. “And the commitment from Tom—we’re very happy.”