12/13/2023
 5 minutes

The Crown Jewels of Watchmaking: Patek Philippe vs. Audemars Piguet

By Barbara Korp
Patek-Philippe-vs-Audemars-Piguet-2-1

Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet are among the biggest names in watchmaking – and have been for many decades now. Both have impressive traditions, remain family-owned businesses to this day, and are agile enough to face any challenges ahead. But what are the differences between the two brands? What are their strengths and weaknesses? Which performs better in terms of craftsmanship, technology, and design? Let the games begin: Here’s our Patek Philippe vs. Audemars Piguet matchup.

Quality and Craftsmanship

There is no doubt that both brands deliver when it comes to quality and craftsmanship. This is exactly what these brands are famous for. Things become abundantly clear when you take a closer look at the watches on offer and their various complications. It didn’t take either brand long after founding to release a pocket watch with complications, with intricate wristwatches soon to follow. As early as 1892, Audemars Piguet released the first wristwatch featuring a minute repeater. Patek, in turn, introduced the first watch with a perpetual calendar in 1925.

Both brands are also leaders when it comes to combining numerous complications in a single watch. Adding an extra complication doesn’t just double a watch’s complexity, it increases it exponentially. Both mechanisms need to be integrated into the movement in such a way as to not interrupt each other or take up too much space. Patek Philippe, in particular, has proven themselves exceptional in this area with several record-breaking feats.

Patek Philippe, ref. 4968G-010
Patek Philippe ref. 4968G-010

Take the Supercomplication from 1932, for example; this piece held the title of most complicated pocket watch in the world until 1989, at which point it was surpassed by another Patek creation with a total of 33 complications. Audemars Piguet didn’t put a leg in this race, preferring to focus on other innovations, including the development of a novel stop mechanism. The proof is in the technical details: Patek puts a lot of emphasis on tradition, while Audemars Piguet put innovation at the forefront.

For both brands, however, quality manufacturing is by no means limited to the calibers themselves. The watches as a whole are exemplary specimens of fine craftsmanship. From the leather straps to the cases, each component is made with the utmost care and a piece of jewelry in and of itself. The hand-drawn numerals on some Patek dials are a particularly romantic touch.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Lady Frosted Gold with Carolina Bucci
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Lady Frosted Gold with Carolina Bucci

In contrast, Audemars Piguet is known for joining forces with exceptional individuals, e.g., its collab with Carolina Bucci, goldsmith extraordinaire. The Royal Oak in Frosted Gold isn’t just unique, it’s a testament to the beauty that time-tested craft can afford modern timepieces.

Functionality and Technology

Both brands are driven by a pursuit of excellence. This means they’re always putting forward better and better watches, but it also impacts the way they’re worn. Are they water-resistant? Sure, but I’m not going to be the one to test it. Patek Philippe watches also require regular servicing to ensure they function properly; ideally, every two(!) years. Of course, servicing complex watches like these is no small task.

The more complications present, the more the watch has to be shielded against shocks or other outside influences. If you’re considering a purchase, think about whether you want a more robust watch for everyday wear, e.g., a Royal Oak, or something with unusual complications, such as a Patek World Time, which requires regular servicing by a professional.

Design and Style

Both collections contain dress watches and elegant sports watches to suit any occasion. Patek favors more elegant, subtle styling, while Audemars Piguet has a decidedly more sporty look. That said, Patek Philippe has plenty of sporty models, and Audemars Piguet, plenty of elegant watches. In fact, sometimes it’s best to look away from the brand’s forte to find timepieces that are much less common and, thus, all the more desirable.

Flagship Models: Royal Oak vs. Nautilus

The similarities and differences between the two brands is likewise apparent in how they treat their flagship models: the Royal Oak and Nautilus. Both watches have a similar origin story. The Royal Oak was designed for Audemars Piguet in 1972 by Gérald Genta. Its characteristic features include an octagonal bezel with eight hexagonal screws and a tapisserie dial pattern. Measuring 39 mm across and originally priced around the $3,000 mark, it was not only unusually large for its time, but also the most expensive steel watch to date.

Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph, ref. 25960BC.OO.1185BC.01
Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Chronograph ref. 25960BC.OO.1185BC.01

Patek Philippe answered in 1976, with the Nautilus, likewise developed by Genta. This watch had a diameter of 42 mm and cost even more than the Royal Oak! Its design differed slightly: While it shares an octagonal bezel, its sides are curved outward, and the dial features horizontal stripes. Bezel screws are nowhere to be found on this beauty.

Both models have enjoyed resounding success. However, when the value appreciation of and attention given to the classic three-hand stainless steel Nautilus became too great, Patek opted to discontinue the model in order to direct more interest toward the brand’s more complicated watches, which are more in keeping with the Patek tradition. In contrast, Audemars Piguet took the opposite approach: the Royal Oak line was expanded, placing it front and center of the brand’s portfolio. They’ve also kept up with the times with special editions like the famous “DJ version” featuring an equalizer dial motif.

Pricing and Value Retention

When it comes to Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet, pricing is secondary. Objectively speaking, there is no justification for paying such high prices for a three-hand stainless steel watch. After all, these are “simply” watches that tell the time! The same even goes for models with multiple complications from Patek Philippe – most of the same functions can be found cheaper from other manufacturers.

Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711/1A-010
Patek Philippe Nautilus ref. 5711/1A-010

But from an emotional point of view, there’s nothing better. When you buy one of these timepieces, you’re buying the highest quality available, more than 100 years of history, and top-level craftsmanship. Necessity? No. But this is exactly what appeals to fans of luxury watches. 

These timepieces, especially the classics, are not only highly valued, but they tend to increase in value over time, too. This means that watches from both brands can make great collector’s items and potential investments.

Patek Philippe vs. Audemars Piguet: Final Thoughts

Patek Philippe and Audemars Piguet timepieces have long been considered the pinnacle of watchmaking – and that is unlikely to change anytime soon. Both brands offer watches with incomparable technology and icon designs. While Patek Philippe revers tradition and family above all else, Audemars Piguet veers in a slightly more progressive and lifestyle-focused direction. Ultimately, you don’t have to figure out where you fit on this spectrum. It’s best to let one of these watches find its way to you. Once you have one, you can integrate it into your life in a unique way, adding your own life story and values to its history.


What do you think about this article?


About the Author

Barbara Korp

The moment I learned that watches were a lot more than just simple jewelry, I was hooked; I become enamored with the elegance of timekeeping. But there was one small hitch: most models were just too big for me to wear! That didn't discourage me, however. In fact, I developed quite a niche interest.

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