At the Basel watch fair in 1999, four female staff members of Patek Philippe were given a new watch to wear: the Twenty~4. I was one of those lucky ladies and it was an experience I will not forget. Whenever I left the Patek booth, I was mobbed — “There’s the Twenty~4!” and suddenly my wrist would be grabbed and pleas to “take it off and sell it to me!” were all around. Sitting in a Basel restaurant or bar was immediately an opportunity for a small group to gather and fawn over this dramatic departure for Patek. Never had any of us experienced such excitement. Safe to say therefore, the Twenty~4 was an unprecedented success from day one. But why is a steel ladies’ watch Patek Philippe’s number one selling watch? Here’s the story behind the Twenty~4.
For decades, the Patek Philippe collection was missing a strong ladies collection, particularly an immediately recognized design that was a ‘must-have’ such as the Cartier Tank or a Rolex Oyster. With the exception of La Flamme, most of Patek’s ladies offering was an extension of the men’s collection – but smaller (as was the case with most watchmakers). Yet, from the very beginning, Patek has always placed great importance on its ladies’ pieces. Some of the company’s most historically important innovations were made for women such as the first known Swiss wristwatch for Countess Koscowicz in 1868, the first minute repeater wristwatch in 1916 and more recently, Patek’s first in-house chronograph, caliber CH 29-535 PS in 2009 for the ladies ref. 7150. Philippe Stern, always astute to the needs of the market wanted the company to “commit time and energy to become a major player in this market.” The new design needed to include something from the company’s DNA but resonate specifically with women.
Extensive research was conducted – unusual for a watch company – to find out what do women want in a fine timepiece? It was discovered that women want their watch to be a practical, comfortable piece of jewelry, something chic and elegant that can be worn to the office or gym in the day and cocktails at night. But they also wanted it to be recognized by their peers. A fine timepiece was not a discreet, ‘only I know its value’, other women had to recognize it (hence the success of the Cartier Tank and a ladies Rolex). And it had to be relatively affordable, something a woman could buy for herself if she so desired. It also needed a name that people would know and immediately identify with, not just a reference number. With these challenges taken on board, Patek’s creative team started the process of designing something completely new, exclusively for women, while keeping precision, quality and beauty as prime goals.
Taking design cues from the art deco inspired Gondolo collection, the ref. 4910/10 was launched in diamond-set steel – an unheard of combination for Patek Philippe. The choice of steel was specific: it immediately offered a practical, modern aesthetic, but it also kept the price down. The E 15 quartz movement also helped with the price point and was equally attractive to women as the watch was quick and easy to put on, with no need to wind. The original entry price of $7,800 was part of the initial frenzy at Basel – at last more people could enjoy the brand. Immediately, the Twenty~4 design had a strong identity and stood out from the array of ladies watches then available. The slim and cambered bracelet comfortably fit most wrist sizes, even though the size appeared initially large compared with other ladies models with a 25.1 mm x 30 mm case running seamlessly into the wide, cuff-like bracelet. Available with three dial options – Forever Black, Eternal Gray and Timeless White – with Roman numerals at twelve and six o’clock, white gold hour and minute hands, and a crown set with black onyx. The bezel was set with a luxurious line on either side of 36 Top Wesselton flawless diamonds providing just the right amount of sparkle. Here it was, a gorgeous watch that could be worn from day to night, from work to cocktails, from the beach to dinner (it was waterproof) and it had a name that was clever and easy to remember: Twenty~4.
With the launch came a new ad campaign on the heels of the ground-breaking two year old campaign, “You never actually own a Patek, you merely look after it for the next generation.” As successful as this iconic line was and is, it did not resonate quite so well with women. As the research had revealed, women wanted a watch that was an exclusive, chic luxury item for themselves to wear, enjoy and be recognized wearing, not necessarily something to pass on to their children. The dedicated Twenty~4 campaign shot by renowned photographer Glen Luchford and featuring a hot model of the time, Bridget Hall was presented with a new tag line, “Who will you be in the next 24 hours?”. It was modern and sexy and yet another departure for Patek Philippe.
The Twenty~4’s success led to a rapid expansion of the collection. The following year, a 18K rose gold version ref. 4910/11R with a Chocolate Dream dial was launched. In 2001, a smaller 22 mm x 26.3 mm version ref. 4908 was introduced in 18K rose and white gold. The collection grew further in 2003 with a satin strap version ref. 4910, and then an uber luxury line of Haute Joaillerie pieces pavé with various levels of rose cut or baguet diamonds. Even a mechanical version pavé ref. 4909/50G joined the collection – a smart move to attract serious male collectors of the brand to think of their wives. Even the advertising changed, and by 2006 a new line, “You don’t just wear a Patek Philippe. You begin an enduring love affair” confirmed that the company had solidified its relationship with women and their watches.
As the iconic collection grew and numerous versions became available, it wasn’t until the 10th anniversary of Twenty~4 in 2009 that a 18K yellow gold model was introduced. Presented in three small versions, the ref. 4907/1 had the following dial options: Timeless White, Night Glow and Autumn Gold.
Fast forward to 2018 and much has changed in the world, including women’s watches. Patek’s dedication to increasing awareness and appreciation of fine watches among women had paid off. The Twenty~4 had become an iconic watch, but now there was serious interest in complications and exquisite pieces were being produced exclusively for women. In addition to the Ladies First Chronograph ref. 7071, powered by the new in-house movement in 2009, additional Grand Complications were launched such as the Ladies First Split-Seconds Chronograph ref. 7059 and the Ladies First Minute Repeater ref. 7000 in 2011, as well as the Ladies First Perpetual Calendar ref. 7140 in 2012. Together with more traditional complications such as moon phases, Annual Calendars and Travel Times finding themselves on women’s wrists, many women wanted more than a quartz movement.
Twenty years on from the Twenty~4’s launch, Thierry Stern recognized that the ladies market is more mature and wants the option of a mechanical watch, especially a self-winding one. In October 2018, Patek Philippe showed its commitment to this market by introducing the Twenty~4 Automatic. Still related to its sister thanks to the instantly recognized bracelet, the 36 mm case of ref. 7300 is round in order to house the slim and accurate caliber 324 SC. According to Thierry Stern, “The round Twenty~4 was the result of five years’ research and five years’ listening to customers.” The bracelet design stayed the same because for Thierry Stern it was an essential part of the design DNA, “To me, it’s even more powerful than the Nautilus’s bracelet.”
Available in steel or 18K rose gold, the dial displays hours, minutes and center seconds, and has a date window at 6 o’clock. The original indexes have been replaced by Arabic numerals, reminiscent to the Calatrava Travel Time ref. 7234R, making the watch very easy to read. The diamonds increased to 160 on the bezel with various options for diamonds on the lugs, bracelet and crown – a clear indication that despite its technical heart, it’s still a watch with a feminine side.
Interestingly, the tagline in the new ad campaign to support the Twenty~4 Automatic changed again, this time reverting back to “Begin your own tradition”. Women were now thinking of their important timepieces as something more than a fashion statement.
Back to today and ‘what’s old is new’ is true for the the launch in 2020 of the Twenty~4 Manchette – manchette meaning ‘cuff’ in French. The ref. 4910/1200A is virtually the same as the original 1999 version except with a more contemporary, new dial with fully lumed hands and markers. This is the piece for a new generation.
Even though I’m privileged to own several beautiful Patek Philippe watches, I happily wore my Twenty~4 virtually every day for 20 years. It was with me through the birth of children and all significant moments during that time, and I felt proud and glamorous wearing it. It certainly was an enduring love affair.
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