Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg
Watches

A Rare Look Inside Patek Philippe's Geneva Headquarters

There are many reasons why Patek Philippe is considered one of the world's great watch brands, and mystique isn't an insignificant factor. We got a rare look inside Patek's main factory campus on the outskirts of Geneva, where specialists do everything from stamping out raw components to hand-polishing single gears before the watches make their way to customers' wrists. What we found is awesome. Photographs by Luke MacGregor for Bloomberg

  1. The Manufacture
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    The Manufacture

    A "manufacture" is a factory, in watch-speak, and Patek Philippe's main manufacture sits on the outskirts of Geneva in an area called Plan-les-Ouates. It's packed with watchmakers, and many of Patek's competitors are just across the road.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  2. Hard at Work
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    Hard at Work

    Because the work is so detail-oriented and getting artificial light into the little corners of a watch movement is so difficult, most watchmakers prefer to keep daylight working hours instead of the stereotypical 9 to 5.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  3. Superlative Movements
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    Superlative Movements

    This watch is the 7059R, the first split-seconds chronograph Patek Philippe made for women (there is a double row of diamonds set into the rose gold bezel on the front, too). The polished and beveled finishes on the movement components are all achieved through dozens of hours of handwork.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  4. Raw Components
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    Raw Components

    Every component has to start somewhere. For things like springs and gears, CNC (computerized numerical control) machines etch the raw forms out of thin plates of metal, while larger pieces like the case are stamped out of larger blocks with industrial presses. The waste is melted down and reused to make future components.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  5. A Lot of Little Pieces
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    A Lot of Little Pieces

    For any given movement, there are hundreds of components, and each needs to be precisely assembled in just the right order. Watchmakers have schematics of the different movements, and components hit their benches in carefully labeled trays so nothing gets misplaced.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  6. Focusing In
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    Focusing In

    The tolerances of a watch movement are often on the scale of microns. Teeth must align perfectly on gears, and springs need just the right amount of tension. As they work, watchmakers look through a loupe and use specialized tools for each task. A single watchmaker might have a dozen or more screwdrivers, each created for setting one specific screw.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  7. Hand-Finishing
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    Hand-Finishing

    One of Patek Philippe's signatures is the level of hand-finishing that each component receives. The internal and external edges of every bridge and plate are beveled, the tops are brushed and decorated, and nothing is allowed out of the factory without going through stringent quality controls.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  8. Keep It Clean
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    Keep It Clean

    One of the highest imperatives in a watch manufacture is keeping everything clean. Small particles can scratch components that have been painstakingly hand-polished, dust can gum up oiled gears, and static electricity can magnetize a movement's spring leading to inaccuracies. The level of environmental control isn't too far from what you might find in a semiconductor manufacturing clean room.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  9. The Older Stuff
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    The Older Stuff

    Part of buying a high-end watch is knowing that it's going to work for generations. But it doesn't work that long by chance. Brands such as Patek keep fairly large stocks of vintage components so they can keep earlier creations running, and sometimes they'll even re-create parts from vintage schematics when something isn't available.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  10. Grand Complications
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    Grand Complications

    The most impressive watches are called grand complications, and this 5207/700P combines a perpetual calendar, minute repeater, and tourbillon all in one package. The brown dial is new for this year and has a guilloché center for some additional interest.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  11. Linking Up
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    Linking Up

    It's not too often that you see Patek Philippe watches with matching metal bracelets, but Patek does make them in-house and each link has to be polished and beveled on every side before the bracelet can be put together.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  12. A Watch Laboratory
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    A Watch Laboratory

    The white rooms with dozens of watchmakers at benches is the romantic-looking part of a watch manufacture, but there's a more technical side, too. Various chemical treatments and machining processes mean other parts of the workshop look more like a lab.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  13. Expanding the Manufacture
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    Expanding the Manufacture

    While Patek Philippe has been based in Geneva since its founding in 1839, the current centralized factory building dates back to only 1996. Since then, the operations have grown and Patek has had to move certain processes to off-site locations. Last week, Patek broke ground on a major expansion to the manufacture, which will add thousands of square feet of space, allowing it to bring everything under one roof again.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg

  14. The Family
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    The Family

    Patek Philippe is still family-owned, and Philippe Stern (right) and his son Thierry (left) are the second and third generations, respectively, of their family to steward Patek Philippe. Philippe's father purchased the company in 1932, and Thierry took the reins from Philippe and became president in 2010. Here they are breaking ground on the new manufacture building.

    Photographer: Luke MacGregor/Bloomberg