NYRM2008
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PlentyThe Patek Philippe
International Magazine

Circulation: 140,000, printed in seven languages
Date of Birth: 1996
Frequency: Biannual
Price: Not for sale
Natural habitat: Under a pile of rose gold repeaters and platinum chronographs

By Matt Miller

The Patek Philippe International Magazine, published by the 169-year-old Swiss maker of fine watches, operates on a different level. There are no airbrushed models on the cover inviting us in, nor any catchy teasers fighting for our attention. Instead, the magazine, richly oversized and printed on heavy paper, greets the readers of its most recent issue with a pair of vaguely modernist shapes that turn out, upon close inspection, to be simple, old-fashioned umbrellas printed on a Japanese curtain. It is an appropriate welcome to a magazine filled with surprises.

Perhaps no aspect of The Patek Philippe International Magazine is as surprising as its unconventional method of distribution. The publication, which comes out twice a year, is not available in stores, nor is it available for a paid subscription. Rather, it is sent to owners of Patek Philippe watches with the warm regards and compliments of the company. Through its registration process, Patek Philippe knows precisely who is wearing each of its timepieces, whether it was bought from an authorized dealer or passed along from father to son, and dispatches the magazine to its clients as a token of friendship, the journalistic equivalent of admittance to an exclusive community that spans 127 countries.

Everything else about the magazine reflects the same sensibility. It carries no advertisements other than the firm’s own, and features articles that can keep collectors of fine watches sated as they patiently wait on a long list to pay approximately $930,000 for a limited edition Sky Moon Tourbillion.

There are other brands that publish their own luxury magazines for the reading pleasure of their customers, from American Express’ Departures to The Four Seasons Hotel Magazine and the in-house publication of Bergdorf Goodman. Yet The Patek Philippe International Magazine manages to keep a safe distance from its competitors in this arena. It is no vanity project educating readers in new and inventive ways to spend vast sums of money on exclusive watches; of the 14 articles in the Fall 2007 edition, only four revolve around the company’s products.

The others focus on such things as a man who scales historic cathedrals to inspect their colossal spires with the attentive eye of a jeweler, Man Ray’s 1946 chess set in anodized red-and-gold aluminum and a nineteenth-century German biologist who created bizarre, Technicolor portraits of fantastic undersea creatures in order to illustrate his view that nature expresses itself through its most beautiful and symmetrical forms.

Beyond its success as a branding tool, The Patek Philippe International Magazine manages to succeed as a publication that, true to its parentage, is a refined and worthwhile product in its own right. With an interior of spare white pages only partially filled with words—unused empty space being, in a magazine, the ultimate visual expression of luxury—the magazine reads easily and remains refreshingly free of the excess verbiage and graphic elements that clutter so many of the magazines readily available to all. The Patek reader, it is assumed, requires the necessary breadth for contemplation, which the magazine provides in spades.
The same emphasis on contemplation extends to the choice of contributors. The Patek Philippe International Magazine’s original pieces are written by authors diverse in both outlook and expertise, from the dandy Nick Foulkes, a frequent contributor to Country Life, to the scholarly Kazuko Koizumi, the head of Tokyo’s Museum of Daily Life in the Showa Period, each expounding on his or her field of specialized study.

Like all publications, the magazine is not without its flaws. A tone of self-reverential mythologizing does sometimes creep into the writing, especially when Patek Philippe watches are themselves being discussed, but this is the exception rather than the rule.
Quibbles aside, however, The Patek Philippe International Magazine’s strongest assets are its visuals. Set against the magazine’s wide-open backdrop are vivid photographs of objects and tableaus ranging from Qing Dynasty hairpins decorated with lush plum blossoms made from coral, jade, amber and inlaid kingfisher feathers, to Robert Capa’s series of stark black-and-white photographs of Soviet peasants rebuilding their lives in the aftermath of World War II.

Some might believe such an eclectic approach to be the brainchild of a frivolous pursuit of goods. But in offering its readers the opportunity to spend awhile immersed in worlds gone by and sensibilities equally ancient, the magazine, like the company itself, proves, perhaps, that time is the ultimate luxury.

 



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Copyright 2008
Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism
George T. Delacorte Center for Magazine Journalism | 2950 Broadway, NY, NY 10027
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