Patek Philippe's Stern Says High Gold Prices Are `Big Threat'
“My major problem is, where is gold going?” Stern, who turns 40 tomorrow, said in an interview recorded by Bloomberg Television in London. “I have no idea. I see it every time going up, up, up. It’s a big threat.”
Gold futures have gained almost 30 percent in New York the past year and set a record $1,266.50 an ounce on June 21. About 80 percent of Patek Philippe watches are made of precious metals such as gold and platinum, Rene Weber, an analyst at Bank Vontobel, has estimated. Stern, who succeeded his father last year, didn’t give further details of the hedging strategy.
Swatch Group AG Chief Executive Nick Hayek Jr. said in March that gold prices posed difficulties for the world’s largest watchmaker, which uses 10 tons of the metal a year. Exports of gold watches from Switzerland rose 3.9 percent in May, a third of the rate of total shipments, the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry said.
Patek Philippe makes about 42,000 watches a year, ranging in price from about 10,000 Swiss francs ($9,500) to more than 1 million francs. It has cleared several thousand watches it held in inventory last year, and now can’t make some models fast enough, Stern said.
The Geneva-based company is the fourth-largest watchmaker, according to Luca Solca, an analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein. The company’s 2008 sales were estimated at 1.2 billion francs by Bank Vontobel’s Weber.
“Asia is booming today,” Stern said, adding that demand from Europe and the U.S. is also fueling sales growth.
Stern said he is cautious about China, which, together with Hong Kong, has surpassed the U.S. as the biggest market for Swiss watches.
“This is a new market and you should always be careful with new markets,” he said. “Many brands didn’t have the choice: they had a lot of stock they didn’t know where to sell it, they saw especially China as a new market.”
As a result, these companies will “lose control on the merchandise and they will lose control really on the market,” he said. “We’ll see it mainly coming maybe in 2011. That’s a big danger for those brands.”
Stern, who said he uses his Apple Inc. iPhone to tell the time if he’s not wearing a Patek Philippe, said he hopes the company will remain family-owned. His children are aged seven and nine.
“As a father I would be very thrilled and very happy,” if they eventually take over management of the company, “but if I have to choose between Patek Philippe and their happiness, guess which choice I will take,” Stern said.
The company’s roots date back to 1839, when two Polish immigrants, Antoine Norbert de Patek and Francois Czapek, formed Patek Czapek & Cie. The company was renamed Patek Philippe & Cie. when Adrien Philippe, a French watchmaker, joined in 1851 after Czapek’s departure. Charles and Jean Stern bought the watchmaker in 1932.
The record price of a watch sold in any auction was $11 million for a 1933 Patek Philippe pocket watch made for Henry Graves Jr. The American banker had asked Patek Philippe to make the most complicated watch in the world to win a contest he had with rival collector James Ward Packard. Sotheby’s sold the watch in a 1999 auction.
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