Lil Uzi Vert and the Timeless Appeal of Patek Phillipe
In Lil Uzi Vert's latest single, "New Patek," the rapper makes no effort to conceal his favorite watch brand, singing on the chorus: "New Patek on my wrist / white diamonds them shits hit pink". He also sings that Franck Muller, AP (Audemar Piguet), and a new Rollie (Rolex) "made me proud of my wrist," but Patek Phillipe takes the headline billing in a song dripping with references to luxury brands. It's the logical endpoint of hip hop's obsession with luxury Swiss watchmaker Patek Phillipe. Like many trends in hip hop, noted watch enthusiast Jay-Z can take at least partial credit for the trend, but new artists – led by Migos, who mention the brand 28 times in Culture II – have taken the name dropping to the extreme. According to Genius, one of every eight hip-hop songs that charted in 2017 mentioned Patek (that's Puh-tek). So what do you need to know about the legendary Swiss watchmaking company founded in 1839 to carry on a conversation next time you run into Lil Uzi at New York's posh Wempe showroom?
A Brief Introduction to Patek Phillipe
Patek Phillipe traces its roots to 1839, when Antoni Patek and Franciszek Czapek started making watches together in Geneva. They separated in 1844 and in 1845 Adrien Philippe joined Mr. Patek to form Patek Philippe & Co. Fast-forward to today, Patek Phillipe is the last truly independent, family-owned watch maker in Geneva. It has been owned by the Stern family since 1932, and Thierry Stern currently serves as the firm's president. According to recent interviews with Stern, Patek Phillipe now produces between 40,000 and 50,000 timepieces per year; the company brought in 1.3 billion CHF in revenue in 2016. It's said that less than 1 million Patek Phillipe watches have been created since the beginning of the company. To this day, every individual part of a Patek's movement is hand finished, making these watches even more beautiful to look at from the inside than from the outside.
The Most Expensive Watch in the World
While Patek Phillipe has created some of the most important watches the world has ever known, none is more important than the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication.
This pocket watch was commissioned by New Yorker banker and watch aficionado/ addict Henry Graves Jr. Work began on the timepiece in 1925 and wasn't completed until seven years later. The Sotheby's catalogue provides this description for the 24 horological complications that make up the Supercomplication: "A gold, double dialled and double open-faced, minute repeating clockwatch with Westminster chimes, grande and petite sonnerie, split seconds chronograph, registers for 60-minutes and 12-hours, perpetual calendar accurate to the year 2100, moon-phases, equation of time, dual power reserve for striking and going trains, mean and sidereal time, central alarm, indications for times of sunrise/sunset and a celestial chart for the night time sky of New York City at 40 degrees 41.0 minutes North latitude"
I mean... look at that:
Supposedly, Graves Jr. was engaged in a dick-measuring contest with fellow watch collector James Ward Packard to see who could own the most complicated (and expensive) watch in the world. A 1920s rap battle, if you will. The Supercomplication was the result of the battle. It's gone up for auction twice, selling for $11 million in 1999 and most recently for $24 million in 2014, when it set the record as the most expensive watch in the world. The 1999 purchaser was a Sheikh of the Qatari Royal Family, who was forced to sell the pocket watch in 2014 after he fell deeply in debt facing a barrage of corruption charges (oddly, he died just days before the 2014 auction). It's not known who bought the watch at the 2014 auction, only that noted auctioneer Aurel Bacs was the bidder.
The Most Complicated Watch in the World
To commemorate the company's 150th anniversary in 1989, Patek Phillipe endeavored to create the Calibre 89, a watch with 33 complications and 1,728 components. Four versions were made, but despite its complications and rarity, the watch has struggled to sell at auctions. In 2017, Sotheby's declined to sell a yellow gold version when bidding failed to reach $6.5 million. To add insult to (a $6.4 million) injury, Vacheron Constantin introduced the Reference 52760 in 2015, which took the title of "world's most complicated watch," with its 57 complications packed into its 55mm-thick case. Among the complications are a religious calendar, Hebrew calendar, and seven different alarms. Of course, these newer complicated watches are designed and manufactured with the assistance of computers; this is what makes the entirely-manually produced Supercomplication all the more awe inspiring.
Patek Phillipe's Perpetual Calendar Chronographs
Perhaps buoyed by its production of the Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication in 1933, Patek soon endeavored to manufacture a complicated watch that could be serially produced for wealthy consumers the world over. Patek landed on combining a chronograph (i.e. stopwatch function) and a perpetual calendar (i.e. a watch that knows the number of days in each month and also automatically adjusts for leap years, such that it need not be ever be adjusted, in theory. Well, they have to be adjusted in 2100, because math is fun). Patek first produced a perpetual calendar with chronograph in 1941, bearing the Reference 1518. Patek produced 281 versions of the 1518, most of them in yellow or rose gold. Only four examples of the 1518 in steel are known, making it one of the most sought-after watches in the world. In 2016, one of these steel versions sold for $11 million at auction, making it the most expensive wristwatch in the world. For those keeping track, Patek can now claim the title of manufacturer of the "most expensive watch in the world" and "most expensive wristwatch in the world."
Not only are steel 1518s the most expensive watches in the world, they laid the foundation for a long line of Patek's design aesthetic for the next 75 years (as well as many other manufactures paying "homage" or downright copying the 1518's iconic three-register design with the moonphase at six o'clock). Patek's line of perpetual calendar with chronographs – references 2499, 3970, 5970, and 5270 – are all sought after references in their own right, with unique stories of their own.
Patek's Reference 2499 replaced the 1518 in 1951, and stayed in production until 1986, when it was replaced by the 3970. But, the 2499 is almost as rare as the 1518, with only 349 produced over that 35-year period. Its slightly larger case (37.5mm, compared to the 1518's 35mm) makes it all the more desirable to modern collectors.
The most important 2499 is its platinum iteration, only two 2499s of which were ever made, at the end of the reference's production run. Eric Clapton famously came to own one of these platinum 2499s (the successor reference to the 1518), which sold for $3.6 million at auction in 2012. The other platinum verison remains on display at Patek's Geneva museum. The design of the 2499 varies over its 35-year run, with later versions losing the tachymeter scale on the outside of the dial and swapping Arabic numerals for baton hour markers. While later versions tend to auction for slightly less, prices still reach stratospheric levels in the middle six figures.
Patek replaced the 2499 with the Reference 3970 in 1986, which it continued to produce for 18 years. Over this time, Patek produced somewhere between 2,400 and 3,600 watches, meaning these watches are considerably less rare than the watches previously discussed. Poorly maintained examples of the watch will auction for $75,000, while more pristine examples easily reach six figures. Finally, Patek produced the 5970 from 2004–2011. It's perhaps the most sought-after modern collectible watch, with a large 40mm dial.
Patek shuttered the 5970 to begin production of the Reference 5270, which contains an in-house movement (as opposed to others discussed here, which were based off of movements from other manufacturers). Here's my favorite version, a platinum with salmon dial. Retail price for the platinum version starts at around $180,000. In fact, a 5720R (rose gold) recently featured on Showtime's Billions, when star Asia Dillion marvels at the watch's 456 parts and proceeds to walk into Fifth Avenue's Wempe boutique to purchase the watch for $164,400 without trying it on. The watch was just released at 2018's Baselworld.
Patek Gets Sporty: The Nautilus
While Patek's perpetual calendar with chronograph models have defined much of the company's history, rappers have most often been interested in another model: the Nautilus.
Introduced in 1976, the Nautilus was Patek's entry into the new "luxury sports watch" market, created and defined by Audemars Piguet's release of the Royal Oak four years prior. AP's novel octagonal Royal Oak created a new category that luxury watchmakers like Patek quickly aimed to match. The Nautilus was conceived by legendary designer Gerald Genta (the same guy who designed the Royal Oak). The original Nautilus, Reference 3700, with its 42mm case, remained in production until 2006, when it was replaced by the Reference 5711. A new Reference 5711 in steel will cost you almost $30,000 (and you'll probably be put on a waitlist to have the privilege of paying that much); vintage 3700 models can also cost this much, if not more.
In addition to the traditional three-hands–plus-date model, Patek has also experimented by adding different complications to the Nautilus; for example, it created a perpetual calendar in the reference 5740 ($120,000).
Rappers and Their Wrists
Many rappers have been seen wearing an iced-out Nautilus. For example, here's DJ Khaled's $300,000 Patek, along with his son's matching gold one:
Here's Offset on Instagram with an iced-out 5980 Nautilus:
And in 2018's Top Off, Jay-Z raps "No jewels in the Patek Phillipe / it's complicated, three million a piece." Jay-Z is likely referring to the Reference 6300 Grandmaster Chime, a $3 million, super-complicated timepiece.
Jay-Z's line seems to harken back to a time of appreciation for the complications of a fine watch and not just throwing diamonds onto a luxury timepiece for bling's sake. His taste recalls the days of Henry Graves Jr. commissioning the world's most complicated watch just because he could. It's an appreciation not only for the beauty and the bling of a luxury watch, but of the craftsmanship as well. Jay's long been at the forefront of rap's watch obsession, and perhaps his explicit appreciation for a grandly complicated Patek piece will push other artists to do the same.
The Future of Patek
On his hit 2018 album Daytona (yes, named after the famed Rolex watch), Pusha-T laments "had to find other ways to invest / 'cause you rappers found every way to ruin Pateks." Pusha, like many, seems to be suffering from Patek fatigue, looking for ways to differentiate his tastes and stand out from the crowd. Indeed, watch collecting and appreciation is about so much more than the following the trend.
So many watch collectors are drawn to mechanical watches because of a fine piece's ability to recall a "more simple" time, when men wore top hats and coattails with their finely crafted timepieces. But for most, these times weren't really more simple; the men wearing these mechanical timepieces were simply ignorance to the greater injustices and inequities all around them. That said, an appreciation for fine craftsmanship is timeless and spans generations.
I don't begrudge Migos of their "Culture" anymore than I do Henry Graves Jr.'s taste in a complicated pocket watch with little actual utility. Different people and different generations spend their money differently. I just hope that with any timepiece purchase comes a true appreciation for the design, artistry, and engineering that went into a particular piece. I fear a world in which Instagram incentivizes two things: (1) items that look great, with little appreciation of an object's internal intricacies, what lies just under the surface, and (2) a desire for the thing "everyone else has." (see: all the rappers with a Nautilus). And if humans are distracted by the shiny objects, how are we any better than the crows that fly or the algorithms taking our jobs? Instead, we've let the (Instagram) algorithm define what taste we have. Or perhaps it just takes tastemakers like Jay-Z to remind us what we should really appreciate.
In HBO's Billions, Dillon's character displays a clear appreciation for the 5270R, saying "it contain[s] 456 pieces inside a 38 millimeter case, hand-assembled by one horologist over the course of a year. Some of the pieces are invisible to the naked eye. It's precise to plus or minus 0.5 seconds a day, as close to faultless precision as possible." This is the appreciation that drives collectors to pursue and obsess over these watches.
Then again, Beyonce did recently buy this $5 million Hublot for Jay-Z. But if you're worth almost $1 billion, it's probably difficult to find an anniversary gift for you.