What's the world coming to…you can actually buy a Patek online?
It was obvious that the coronavirus crisis was bad when the pubs all had to close, and things went from bad to worse when the entire population was ordered to stay at home. But in the biggest sign yet that the whole world has become utterly surreal, you can now buy a Patek Philippe watch online. Don’t adjust your screen: you did indeed read that correctly.
Since forever, Patek Philippe has never sold their watches online – for the same reason that Rolls Royce always stated the power outputs of their cars as being “adequate”. To put a number on power would be as vulgar as selling the world’s most aristocratic timepiece on the internet.
But times have changed: seemingly never quicker than in the last couple of weeks. And in a seismic shift, Patek is now allowing some favoured dealers to sell watches online (although interestingly, Patek won’t be selling watches themselves directly from their own website). So Antoni Patek and Julien Philippe will only be shifting slightly in their graves, rather than making a full rotation.
A statement from the company said: “During this extremely difficult time, an exceptional decision has been taken to allow authorised retailers to sell Patek Philippe watches online that they have in stock, while their showrooms are closed. This is only for a temporary period to help Patek Philippe authorised retailers that are closed due to the COVID-19 situation.”
So now you can add a Patek Philippe Grand Complication to your shopping bag on Watches of Switzerland for the cool sum of £66,850, for example, and then check out: keeping an anxious watch for the postman the following day. Laings will offer a similar service, along with London Jewelers and a few chosen others.
This, from a watchmaker that said back in 2016: “Selling online does not correspond to our philosophy of personal contacts and involvement with our clients when selling a watch. Seeing the watch in person is essential.” While this is billed as just a temporary measure and the entire range won’t be available (don't expect to find any steel Nautilus or Aquanaut watches online) you have to wonder if this is just the start of something much bigger. Much as we may all personally disagree, watch retailers aren’t deemed to be essential services, which means all physical shops selling watches have been shut for now. Baselworld in Switzerland – the most prominent watch show in the world – has been postponed, so the only communications outlet and point of sale that most watchmakers have is online.
The tone of their latest statement implies that Patek isn’t keen on the situation, but even they aren’t immune to market conditions. It’s sell online or sink: even for Patek. The workshop is closed and, for now, there’s no production.
So it seems likely that every Patek Philippe new watch launch will be shifted to next year (a bit like Baselworld) and chances are that the other major watchmakers will do the same. All Patek Philippe is officially saying at the moment is that their new launches won’t be going ahead in April as planned. But you don’t need to be Mystic Meg to see the writing on the wall for the whole of this year – and in these straightened times, it doesn’t make sense to burden retailers (who have been mostly closed and not making money) with the obligation to buy a load of new model watches.
Other watchmakers are going a step further, with Moser now launching their very own e-store, complete with the launch of three brand new, typically minimalist, Vantablack watches (based on existing models). Vantablack, for those who don’t know, is the blackest form of black, absorbing 99.965% of light to ensure that looking at these watches is a bit like staring into the bottom of a well: strangely captivating.
Obviously, their e-commerce platform wasn’t a project created overnight, but it couldn’t have come at a better time. You can visit it at www.h-moser.com and going to ‘shop now’. What’s going to be fascinating is seeing how the current situation affects things going forwards. Any crisis is often a catalyst for change, and it could be that Patek Philippe, along with the others, focus more permanently on online sales.
Ultimately, that will depend on how the current forced experiment goes. If it’s a success, then we can assume that online sales of even the most prestigious brands are here to stay. What do you think? Would you ever consider buying a very expensive watch online? We’d love to hear your opinions about this latest ground-breaking move from Patek Philippe.
Banner image credit: Monochrome Watches