(Sept 2): “In 2018, I travelled to Geneva to celebrate Philippe’s 80th birthday. It was just the two of us. When we posed for this picture (below), he turned to me and said, ‘Woah Henry. Time flies. We’ve now known each other for at least 50 years. It’s important to pass on to our children this value that business relationships are based on friendships and tradition’.” — Dr Henry Tay, The Hour Glass

From left to right: Dr Henry Tay, Mr Philippe Stern 

Genesis 

In the 1960s, the Stern family and the Tay family laid the foundations for a multi-generational partnership and an enduring friendship. Based on trust and a shared dedication to both preserve the patrimony of the traditional watchmaking arts and to foster an appreciation for Patek Philippe watches, the finest in the world.

Dr Tay recounts: “In the 1950s and 1960s when Singapore was under British colonial rule and later on, part of the newly formed Malaysia, H Sena was the official agent of Patek Philippe; indenting watches directly from Switzerland since 1952. After Singapore claimed its independence as a sovereign nation in 1965, Watches of Switzerland, a company then owned by the Swiss Favre-Leuba family were also appointed as agents for Patek Philippe for both Singapore and Malaysia. Together with Watches of Switzerland, my father’s business — Lee Chay Watch — began retailing Patek Philippe watches from the 1960s onwards. In 1978, Orchard Watch, a subsidiary of Lee Chay & Co was also granted a Patek Philippe dealership. 

Patek Philippe advertisement featuring Lee Chay & Co and Orchard Watch in The Straits Times (Feb 18, 1978)

“I had returned to Singapore from Australia in 1971 and I recall it was also at that moment when Philippe Stern began assuming greater responsibility at Patek Philippe and had started making visits out to our market. In the 1970s, not many people were comfortable with spoken English in Singapore and perhaps the business mindset here was still not as open as in the West. Because of our ease of communication, Philippe and I forged a strong bond and more important for me, a lifelong friendship. Philippe is a truly authentic gentleman and, in my esteem, a legend in the era of modern watchmaking. 

“The Hour Glass’ journey with Patek Philippe officially began from the founding of the company in October 1979, 40 years ago to this date. By then, the distribution and servicing of Patek Philippe watches were managed by Jebsen and Jessen before finally being solely represented by Geneva Master Time, a company originally established by C Melchers GmbH & Co in the mid-1980s. Both Philippe and Geneva Master Time’s director, Dirk Paulsen, were extremely supportive of The Hour Glass and I was very happy we could further both our personal and business relationship between Patek Philippe and The Hour Glass. I recall that the first event we held at our new boutique was an exhibition of Patek Philippe watches in November of 1979. It was very well attended because we promoted it heavily in the newspaper. Many collectors from Malaysia and Indonesia also came to see the exhibition.” 

2004: The Hour Glass’ 25th anniversary 

Patek Philippe marked a significant milestone with The Hour Glass with the celebration of The Hour Glass’ 25th anniversary in 2004 when it created a commemorative World Time watch, the reference 5110P. With this edition, Patek Philippe replaced “Hong Kong” on the dial with the city of “Singapore” in red script. It was a poignant moment for us and for Singapore as the city had not appeared on a Patek Philippe world time watch for close to four decades. 

“One of the fondest memories I have was when I had asked Philippe if he could create a special edition for us to commemorate The Hour Glass’ 25th anniversary. Philippe said to me ‘Henry, we only do it for partners who have reached anniversary milestones of 100 years’ to which I responded, ‘Philippe, by the time The Hour Glass turns 100, we’ll both be long gone!’ He laughed heartily and then said, ‘Ok, we will do it’.” — Dr Henry Tay 

Celebrating Singapore’s Golden Jubilee 

To commemorate 50 years of Singapore’s independence, Patek Philippe created three unique commemorative dome table clocks, each reflecting a theme at the heart of Singaporean history and identity. Patek Philippe would then donate all three clocks to the National Heritage Board in Singapore that were subsequently auctioned with 100% of the proceeds directed to the development of the national museum.

 

Patek Philippe ‘Farquhar Collection’ dome table clock

The Hour Glass was successful in its bid for one of the clocks — the reference 1675M “Farquhar Collection”. Its design drew inspiration from watercolours of the flora and fauna of Singapore commissioned by Singapore’s first Resident and Commandant, William Farquhar. The Hour Glass subsequently donated the clock to Singapore’s National Collection, where it proudly sits as one of its key exhibits in the National Museum of Singapore. 

Patek Philippe in Thailand 

Twenty-five years have passed since Mr Philippe Stern and Prima Times’ past president Mr Narong Thamavaranukup first met. The leadership of both companies has since been passed to their sons Thierry and Narun, where the generational guardianship at both firms have continued to strengthen. 

From left to right: Mr Thierry Stern, Mr Narun Thamavaranukup and Mr Michael Tay

In 2008, Prima Times and The Hour Glass entered into a joint venture — PMT The Hour Glass, deepening its ties with Patek Philippe in Thailand. One that represents three family-run businesses united over a shared passion for Patek Philippe. A capstone in the partnership was the opening of the Patek Philippe boutique in Bangkok’s ICONSIAM in February 2019. 

Opening of the Patek Philippe boutique at ICONSIAM in Bangkok

Patek Philippe boutique at ICONSIAM Bangkok, Thailand

“Patek Philippe’s success is not only attributable to their emphasis on tradition or their mastery of fine watchmaking; it is also due to the values that guide the firm’s management. Being an independent, family-owned business means they do not have to bend to fashion and all of their watches ultimately become tomorrow’s classic. Patek Philippe is the gold standard of watchmaking that will always be upheld.” — Mr Narun Thamavaranukup, PMT The Hour Glass 

Patek Philippe: Then, now, beyond 

Patek Philippe Ref 5110P 

“Of all the watch industry leaders I have had the pleasure and opportunity to interact with, Mr Philippe Stern is the one individual I have the most profound admiration and respect for. Like my father, he is a man of few words and when he speaks, is highly insightful and holds tremendous weight. To date, no other individual in the watch industry in their lifetime has accomplished what he has been able to architect for Patek Philippe. Here is a man, who in the midst of the Quartz crisis assumed responsibility for the firm he inherited from his father. Who against convention and the prevailing thought of the day decided that mechanical watches could and should never be replaced and instead deepened his firm’s commitment in the field of horological innovation. On the back of that decision, he had his research and development team spend nine years developing and producing the world’s most complicated watch — the Caliber 89, which in itself spawned some of Patek Philippe’s most desired watches — the Star Caliber 2000, Sky Moon Tourbillon and Sky Moon Celestial.

“Beyond developing incredible watches, Mr Stern is also the world’s most important watch collector, having devoted the greater part of the past half-century assembling a collection that is uncompromising in both quality and scholarship. Most importantly, he has the generosity of spirit to publicly share his passion and collection with members of the public at the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva.

“From Mr Stern, I learnt the important lesson of focus. Of how to construct a family enterprise whose foundational tenets are enshrined in long-term thinking and the core values both the firm and family represent; to respect relationships and partnerships, and value commitment over the profit imperative. This is the very essence of what makes Patek Philippe so laudable as a watch brand and as a family endeavour. Mr Stern’s greatest success to date is undeniably the seamless transition of leadership of Patek Philippe to that of his son, Thierry.

From left to right: Mr Thierry Stern, Dr Henry Tay and Mr Jerome Pernici

“Thierry is not one who is content to rest on his laurels. He has been equally transformational in his agenda for Patek Philippe, successfully uniting all the production assets of the venerable house under one roof and over the span of the past decade, and inserting a new design vision into the entire Patek collection, with one exception — the Ellipse d’Or, a watch introduced when his grandfather Henri Stern was helming the company.

“He is a unique leader in the context of the watch industry in that he is the only President of a ‘Grande Maison’ who is also a trained watchmaker and craftsman. This has led him to appreciate the nuances of watchmaking, design development and innovation and, as a result, the watches he has conceptualised have more than exceeded the expectations of the new Patek Philippe enthusiast. Some of his important contributions to the collection are the expansion of the rare handcrafts collection, an area of fine watchmaking that has captivated him from a young age. He has also sought to introduce a new contemporary case aesthetic to the collection, as witnessed through the pierced lugs of the reference 5208, reference 5531 and reference 5205, and the emphasis he has placed on furthering Patek Philippe’s achievements in the realm of chiming watches with the new reference 5520P Alarm Travel Time.

(Above: Patek Philippe Ref 5208R Grand Complication and Ref 5520P Alarm Travel Time)

“One of Thierry’s principal traits is his latent ability to listen, curiosity and his openness to new ideas while always ensuring that he safeguards the primary values laid down by his predecessors and continues to develop ultra-long range objectives for the house. An individual who is constantly scanning the horizon, his affection for Patek Philippe is infectious. I shall always treasure these sagely words of advice he proffered — ‘You only have one life. Enjoy what you do and do it with passion. Otherwise, do something else’.” — Mr Michael Tay, The Hour Glass.

Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition

From Sept 28 until Oct 13, Patek Philippe will be hosting the Watch Art Grand Exhibition at the Sands Theatre (Marina Bay Sands). Taking place during the Singapore Bicentennial year, the Grand Exhibition underlines the importance of Singapore and Southeast Asia for Patek Philippe. These markets are not only significant when it comes to the numbers of collectors and enthusiasts based in the region, they also play a major role in building an appreciation for the work of fine mechanical watchmaking.

From left to right: Mr Michael Tay, Mr Philippe Stern, Mrs Gerdi Stern, Dr Henry Tay and Dr Kenny Chan