Iconic Ads: Patek Philippe – Begin Your Tradition

“A Patek watch is more than just a timepiece. It’s a family heirloom that passes along ideals from generation to generation.”

Before 1996 and for a decade, Patek had been working with Bozell. The advertising had reflected the quality of their watches & watchmaking. Now many brands copied them.

The company wanted a change from the celebrity-led, product-based advertising that was prevalent in luxury watch advertising at the time. They wanted to develop a compelling, distinctive, and contemporary message to better express its heritage and strengthen its relationship with its customers.

Jasmina Steele of Patek was running the pitch with many agencies that included London based Leagas Delaney.

Tim Delaney led the team. They conducted research globally with groups and one-to-one interviews, especially with people who would not talk in a group (read the rich).

The findings were interesting. When shown pictures of famous Patek Philippe owners, potential customers asked questions like “What about me?” Why do I have to look at other people’s stories and borrow the acclaim of others?”

It is not sufficient to present a great heritage or famous clients to appeal to this target group, as they were aware of Patek’s key values, such as expertise, permanence, and worth. The potential customers wanted to hear about themselves and their history.

After a group of interviews in San Francisco, Delaney boarded a flight back home to London. And it was on the same flight that Delaney had an inspired idea.

Potential customers did not want to be a part of someone else’s life. So they needed to be convinced that Patek Philippe could be personal. “Begin your own tradition,” he wrote in a flash of inspiration.

The Geneva-based Stern family (owners of Patek Philippe) were convinced of the idea. Leagas Delaney won the pitch.

The first print advertisements titled Generations were released in October 1996. There was a very interesting twist to these ads – watches were not highlighted. To differentiate themselves from other luxury watch companies, Leagas Delaney did not focus on the product, which was standard practice at that time. Instead, they focused on the emotion of the customer with these watches.

It was in 1997, that the famous line – “You never truly own a Patek Philippe, you merely look after it for the next generation” was added.

Another interesting aspect is not once was the word ‘luxury’ used with Patek Philippe. Sterns believed they were in the watch business, not the luxury business!

The Generations campaign would last till 2006 with some minor changes. Then advertisements included watches on the wrists of the persons (rather than subtitles or to the sides).

The women’s campaign spun off in 1999 with the launch of the Twenty4 and returned in 2014. Every year, there were fresh photographs, tales, and watches.

The first advertisement was shot by the famous photographer Peter Lindbergh. Since then, other famous photographers have created magic like Peggy Sirota, Peter Jeanloup Sieff, Mary Ellen Mark and Ellen von Unwerth etc.

All of the Generations advertising have one thing in common: they all show idealized relationships. You’re not supposed to look at them and think about the existing connections you have with your family; rather, you’re supposed to think about the relationships you want to have or wish you had in the past. The advertising is effective because they create a sense of aspiration or desire.

This emotional connection is still strong!


  1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/robertanaas/2016/12/09/patek-philippe-celebrates-20-years-of-its-iconic-advertising-campaign-you-never-actually-own-a-patek-philippe/?sh=64cdd3fe475b
  2. https://www.hodinkee.com/articles/untold-story-patek-philippe-generations-advertising-campaign
  3. https://www.europastar.com/news/1003671170-patek-philippe-celebrates-over-ten-years-of.html

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