The career of Sandrine Stern, design director at Patek Philippe, spans a period when the traditional Geneva manufacturer transformed itself into a viable, if not enviable, maker of women’s watches. Over the last five years she has overseen the development of a series of women’s complicated timepieces that have innovated in the genre while staying true to the company’s well-established design ethic. Robb Report recently sat down with Stern to discuss the brand’s latest designs for women.
How have women’s complicated watches evolved in the past few years?
We’ve done complicated watches for women for a long time now. If you look in 1998, we did an annual calendar for women two years after the men’s model. The case is basically the same, but it is a complicated watch, and is still very strong. The real novelty today is that now we have cases specifically for ladies. Before, we added diamonds and perhaps mother-of-pearl to a man’s watch and made it a ladies’ watch. The specific case is very important today.
What are the core elements in designing women’s watches?
When we start designing a piece, it is always without diamonds. We have to feel good about the shape of the watch. The inspiration for the shape comes from myself and my team, but also from feedback from the market. My husband [Patek Philippe CEO Thierry Stern] travels quite a lot and has occasion to discuss things with customers, who occasionally give him comments on the watches. I keep all this feedback and I work with it to a certain extent. Comments do not make a drawing! It is a matter of what we like and our experience, as well.
How do you determine whether to make your design more traditional or daring when creating high-end women’s watches?
You can’t always go back to the same design. Like ladies’ dresses—you cannot always work with the same style or the same length. For the chronograph, my thought was to have something more sporty. The cushion shape was appropriate for this case, because the round shape is always classical for these watches. We added special moving lugs to make the shape fit the wrist. Classical, on the other hand, seemed a better fit for the minute repeater, which is why we chose it. It’s also discreet, which is also a very important quality for a watch like this from Patek. The case is an officer shape, which is perfect for its looks and also for sound.
How important is color in women’s watches?
We always use colors from the earth [palette], which we know can be worn for a long time. We’ll never use a red or a yellow. We do like to offer colors besides white or black for ladies, because sometimes it’s more feminine to have colors on the dial, but they will always be classical. Even with these dial colors, it is still possible to play around with the strap.
What was your initiation into women’s watches?
The first project for me was the Twenty-4, because when I started in the design department in 1998, it was the year after we launched the watch in steel. It was very important and new for the company because it was a watch intended for ladies, not just a man’s watch redesigned for ladies. Before the Twenty-4, we had the Gondolo for ladies, but especially with a white dial, it was much more of a classical watch. It was smaller and the bracelet was not the same at all. We needed something that was much more modern and much more suited to active ladies.
If you look at the case of Twenty-4 you can see we have many of the details of the [Gondolo] case we had before. Naturally, we changed the bracelet. We changed details to the dial, like the special indexes for 12 and 6. This was the first time that Patek introduced a brown dial, as well as three dial colors for a single model.