It’s not uncommon. In fact, it’s pretty much expected that the chairmen and owners of some of the most notable watch companies have a private collection of timepieces. After all, you have to believe in the product you sell right? But what do you collect if your family owns one of the most respected and one of the last truly independent manufactures in haute horlogerie?
Patek Philippe has been in the hands of the Stern family since 1932 and today it is Thierry Stern who sits at the helm, as president. His father, the honorary president Philippe Stern, has one of the most epic collections of timepieces in the world; so epic that the Europa Nostra Awards 2017 gave him the EU Prize for Cultural Heritage.
Over the last 40 years, Philippe Stern has collected around 1,200 timekeepers from across Europe; and while the majority are from Switzerland, there are also pieces from France, England, Austria and the Netherlands. In 2001 (probably, I suspect, from a lack of space at home), he opened the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. Filled with watches, musical automata and portrait miniatures from the 16th to the 19th century, the museum also has a library dedicated entirely to horology and its related subjects.
If you can’t make it over to Geneva, however, there's an extensive catalogue of the most important pieces in the museum (not to be confused with this book which is on the history of Patek Philippe) by Philippe Stern himself and then compiled by Dr. Peter Friess, director and curator of the Patek Philippe Museum. Each piece in the catalogue is researched meticulously, has the details recorded and is even photographed using a specially developed technique in order to make all its parts, both inside and out, visible to the reader.
In many ways the philosophy behind this museum is in line with the spirit of Patek Philippe: by collecting these historic timepieces, the family inevitably becomes custodians of watchmaking history, evolving it for the next generation. After all, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe...”