The Treasured Friendship Between Cortina Watch and Patek Philippe
One should not mix business with pleasure, or so the adage goes. For Cortina Watch’s Jeremy Lim and Patek Philippe’s Thierry Stern, such rules do not apply. The two family‑owned companies share a relationship that started smack in the middle of the 1970s destabilising quartz crisis that threatened to eradicate the mechanical watch industry.
Nonetheless, Philippe Stern and Anthony Lim, company heads and respective fathers of Thierry and Jeremy, remained steadfast in their belief in the Swiss industry. Today, the fruits of their labour — and their unwavering faith — have been rewarded multifold, with the latest milestone being the opening of the newest and largest Patek Philippe boutique in Southeast Asia at Ion Orchard. It was inaugurated in April this year.
When we speak to Jeremy on the occasion of the inauguration of the boutique, he tells us that the relationship between both families spans 44 years, and the trials and tribulations faced during the quartz revolution only served to strengthen their professional and personal ties.
“The older generation went through this tough period and really stood together. It was test of time for all the watch-related people and this is what makes us stronger as an industry itself. We’ve gone through many ups and downs in terms of economic cycles. But I still believe that the quartz revolution put the watch industry on its knees and that’s when a lot of relationships were built then. That’s when my dad Anthony Lim and Mr Philippe Stern, then president of Patek Philippe, literally pulled through together.”
Indeed, one of the biggest testaments of this enduring relationship was during Anthony’s 80th birthday last year, that Philippe, himself now 77, attended in Singapore. Both Thierry and Jeremy were too young to register the nascent years of the partnership, but their fathers made the relevance of this crucial relationship abundantly clear when they both joined their respective family businesses.
Says Thierry, “When the relationship started in 1972, I was only two years old, so all I know and remember is what my father told me. I remember him telling me about the beginning of the relationship with Cortina which had to be established on shared values and a common business strategy by first agreeing about the market development zone, in the aim of building a balanced and qualitative market. Mr Anthony Lim shared the same values and business strategy as us, and his retail business has developed rapidly. There was trust between my father and Mr Anthony Lim.”
Today, the sons have picked up the baton and are running the show at both Cortina and Patek Philippe, all while maintaining and growing this mutually beneficial relationship. Cortina now runs five standalone Patek Philippe boutiques in Southeast Asia, including two boutiques in Singapore, and one in Taipei, Kuala Lumpur and Jakarta each.
For Jeremy, the key turning point in his personal association with the watchmaker happened in 2008, when he recommended to Anthony and the Sterns to set up a boutique at the soon-to-be-opened The Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands.
He says, “At that point, there was also the Ion Orchard project, so we said why don’t we have two boutiques in Singapore. We didn’t start in a very big way, because Marina Bay Sands started at 1,600sqft, and Ion at 800sqft. As things progressed and both were doing well, we had the opportunity to work with Patek Philippe in Taipei, Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and more.”
When they were given the opportunity to take over additional retail space at Ion Orchard, both brands were keen to expand the area. The store now spans 2,900sqft, almost four times bigger than the previous space, with private rooms and exclusive lounges that allow aficionados to enjoy the discovery of Patek Philippe’s mechanical artworks at their own leisurely pace.
Despite the expanded space, there is no intention of increasing the number of SKUs available. Instead, both Cortina and Patek Philippe are focused on delivering a holistic experience. For instance, VIP customers who wish to skip the mall entrance can access the boutique directly from the Ion Orchard driveway, where the facade greets the vehicular traffic. Elements that are typically found only in Patek Philippe-run salons accentuate the decor, emphasising the significance of this retail space. An example would be an artwork by Xavier Magaldi that graces the wall of the VIP area. The art piece, in different shades of cocoa, depicts the 10 values of Patek Philippe in different languages.
Patek Philippe’s commercial and marketing director Jerome Pernici says, “It’s not only about the space, but it’s also about feeling comfortable and having a cosy and warm atmosphere. The size is impressive and makes a statement, but when you look at the windows, you don’t see many watches — we are really focused on well-selected pieces. It’s our way to say yes, we are very exclusive.”
It is also a space to educate and thrill collectors: thematic exhibitions that will change every six months will reveal a different facet of the brand, and bring in exclusive pieces from the archives. Currently, connoisseurs can enjoy the sight of the special Singapore Dome Clock that Patek Philippe had crafted in commemoration of the nation’s 50th anniversary last year. Three pieces based on different themes were made, and broke all records at a private auction sale at the National Museum of Singapore. Cortina bought one of the clocks depicting the Singapore skyline by night for $750,000.
And what of the slowing financial markets and the bleak outlook for 2016? With characteristic bluntness, Jeremy replies that he is not worried. “We planned this boutique in 2013, when nobody could have predicted what would happen. Whether the economy currently is good or bad, it is a long-term business and we’ve gone through many events — the Asian financial crisis, SARS, the credit crunch in the US. And we are strong, or even stronger, than before. What we have seen at the Baselworld fair in March, Patek Philippe has a very strong line‑up and has again brought itself up to the next level. They are sensible products that are true to their tradition and values.”
In fact, he says that his highlight for 2016 is not a new timepiece, but a reinvented avatar of the retrograde perpetual calendar Ref 5496, with applied indices on the date counter. “It is not a new watch. What Patek has done is to maintain the price of the watch, and enhance its value. You can always have a new creation, but what makes a difference is to improve on the watch and that’s important to us. We never take anything for granted.”
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