What do the Dalai Lama, Karl Lagerfeld, Mikhael Gorbachev and Placido Domingo have in common? They are among the many extraordinary people who have either been interviewed or contributed to the Patek Philippe Magazine over the past 25 years. I have had the great privilege and honor of having worked on every single issue since the first one was published back in the Fall of 1996. Here is a little background on how the magazine came about and some favorite highlights from the 47 issues.
In the mid 1990s, a lot was going on in Patek Philippe’s marketing department. The company was looking for a new ad agency to create a global campaign that would gain awareness for the then relatively unknown brand. This was brilliantly achieved with the ‘Generations’ campaign, launched in 1996 with the now iconic line, “You never actually own a Patek Philippe, you merely take care of it for the next generation”, and which is still running over 25 years later. In addition, the company wanted to produce a marketing tool that would give back to owners, a special membership to the rarefied world of owning a Patek Philippe. The initial idea was to create a custom publication in English, primarily for the USA market – a luxury magazine that would give readers exclusive access to people, places, art, and culture; an opportunity to learn something new – to read or see something that had not appeared in another publication. The magazine therefore had to contain original images and articles commissioned exclusively.
I still remember a day in the Fall of 1995, sitting next to Philippe Stern in the Patek Philippe conference room at the then headquarters in the building on Rue du Rhône and listening to an extremely impressive editorial pitch from Forward Publishing (now Bookmark Content) executives describing a beautiful, unique custom publication for Patek Philippe owners. When the presentation had finished, Mr. Stern turned to me and said, “I think we should produce this magazine for all our markets, not just in English”. And so it was that the magazine was created and published in eight languages, English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese, Chinese, and Russian. The plan was to produce two issues a year, and except for a couple of special double issues and the global pandemic in 2020 when one issue was published, the magazine has faithfully lived up to its bi-annual publications and goal to be ‘the most beautiful magazine in the world’. It was also important to Philippe Stern that the magazine was not commercial, and even though many other companies have tried to place ads, none were accepted.
Over the years, many accomplished people were willing to be interviewed such as architects Frank Gehry and Richard Meier, Oscar winning set designer Sir Ken Adam, opera singer Angela Gheorghiu and writer Barbara Taylor Bradford. One of the most extraordinary interviewees was the Dalai Lama in the Fall of 2000. His Holiness rarely gives interviews, but for the Patek Philippe Magazine he was willing to talk about his own special Patek Philippe watch which he received from President Roosevelt in 1943. The watch was a gift thanking the Dalai Lama for allowing the Allies to build a road that crossed Tibet from India to China during the Second World War. On opening the gift and discovering it was a Patek Philippe watch, the Dalai Lama explained, “I was very excited. It was a very beautiful, smart model. I still have it and it works.” Unlike other mechanical gifts that the Dalai Lama has received over the years, he decided not to take his Patek Philippe apart to see how it works!
Readers of the magazine were also given intimate access to the Stern family. For example, Philippe Stern personally shares his favorite pieces from the Patek Philippe Museum in the Timekeeping Treasures series. When Thierry Stern became president in 2010, an article about the history of the Stern family by Nick Foulkes included never-before-seen pictures of the family (above).
Because the goal of the magazine was to share a lifestyle rather than be a catalog of watches, the articles about Patek Philippe timepieces never exceeded the general interest stories. However, the watch articles always give readers detailed information, not available elsewhere, about new collections and watchmaking techniques unique to Patek Philippe. John Reardon, founder of Collectability has shared his expertise on vintage Patek Philippe with readers for many years. His regular page in the magazine, ‘Collector’s Guide’ provides an insight to classic and iconic watches to be considered for any serious collection of Patek Philippe.
As you can imagine, it is a challenge to produce articles on subjects that will be new to most readers. Particularly now with the internet, information on virtually anything is available at the touch of a button. Special credit must therefore be given to the exceptional editorial team in London at Bookmark Content, many of whom have worked on the magazine from day one and are still there. Their tenacity for finding subjects and people not covered before in any other publication, or for getting extraordinary people to be interviewed or to write about something new is inspiring.
Internationally acclaimed writers such as John Fowles, Günter Grass, Dava Sobel, Ben Okri, Jung Chang and Giles Foden to name but a few all contributed to the magazine, often writing about subjects outside their wheelhouse, but willing to accept the challenge for the Patek Philippe Magazine. For example, award-winning Dutch novelist Cees Nooteboom contributed several times, including an interview with the brilliant florist, Daniel Ost in Spring 2001. People not normally known for writing also contributed such as Placido Domingo who interviewed Donatella Flick in the Fall of 1998, applauding the patroness for supporting young conductors (above).
Some of the world’s most acclaimed photographers contributed to the magazine. For example, renowned war photographer Sir Don McCullin CBE, took on the commission to photograph the most extreme land peninsulas in Europe such as Land’s End in Cornwall and Finistère in France; legendary Magnum photographer Rene Burri who has photographed everyone from Che Guevara to Picasso, photographed Richard Meier for the magazine in the Spring of 1997; Lord Snowdon photographed twice for the magazine including a portrait of Angela Gheorghiu in the first issue. Jason Bell who has photographed almost every Hollywood star photographed Thierry Stern when he became president of Patek Philippe in 2010. Acclaimed landscape photographer, Simon Norfolk renowned for his photographs of the war in Afghanistan contributed several times to the magazine. In the Fall of 2016, he visited the remote and desolate frontier region of Russia’s Kamchatka peninsula and photographed Eurasia’s largest brown bear in front of geothermal steam clouds in the Valley of Geysers (above).
Documenting remote and rarely visited corners of the world was a challenge happily taken on by several courageous writers and photographers. Catherine Hyland travelled along the Yangtze River and into Mongolia to capture the magnificent statue of Genghis Khan in Spring 2017 (above).
In the Fall of 2019, Simon Ings and Jack Grange travelled to Sri Lanka to photograph and report on the hidden Sigiriya palace complex built on top of a towering rock in the fifth century (above).
Many extraordinary places and private collections opened their doors exclusively to the Patek Philippe Magazine. Places such as the ancient Khizanat al-Qarawiyyin library (above) in Morocco founded by a woman in the ninth century (above); Santo Sospir, a private home in Cap Ferrat whose walls are painted by the French artist, writer, poet and film maker Jean Cocteau; and Closerie Falbala outside Paris which is an architectural ensemble of work by Jean Dubuffet.
The magazine was given priviledged access to collections such as rare samurai armor kabuto head dresses from a collection in Dallas; René Lalique’s glass hood ornaments from the 1920s; and a collection of unique pieces of jewelry, hand-made by artists such as Calder, Picasso and Man Ray.
For 25 years, Philippe Stern took a personal interest in the magazine. He read and approved every article and made the final choice for each unique and dramatic cover. The baton has now passed to Thierry Stern, and together with the diligent and committed care of Jasmina Steel at Patek and Kristin Fleener at Bookmark, we can look forward to more issues of this very special publication.
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