Patek Philippe Service USA: The Henry Stern Watch Agency

Patek Philippe Service USA: The Henry Stern Watch Agency

by ei8htohms and ThomasM
© 8-7-2003

New York City is a study in contrasts. You can find Hakka style duck, a live band or a fresh pulled shot of espresso at 4 a.m. Bargain basement Persian rugs and fabulously expensive junk from the backyards of the Bible Belt can be found in the same block. And as if that weren’t enough, you can drop off your Patek Philippe to have it serviced or repaired at the official service center for Patek Philippe USA.

Located on the 9th floor of the prestigious 1 Rockefeller Center in midtown Manhattan, Patek Philippe maintains not only its corporate headquarters for North America, but also a well-staffed and thoroughly equipped service center at the Henry Stern Watch Agency Inc. While most of the watches they receive come by mail or courier either from authorized dealers, jewellers or an end consumer like you and I, it is not at all uncommon for someone to bring their watch in personally. We are talking about a Patek Philippe; can you blame them?

These cabinets are devoted entirely to straps.

To the left as you walk in, past the appropriately gorgeous entryway and reception desk, is a quiet, well decorated consultation room where the watch will be received, possibly even by David Jarrett, the head of Patek Philippe Service, and catalogued in their computer system. Any general questions you might have about the service or Patek Philippe could also be answered and, if you’d like, you could even purchase a new strap.

Understanding the needs and desires of the modern consumer, Patek Philippe maintains a very large selection of genuine Patek Philippe alligator straps on the premises. You want the exact same strap that came on your 5035 when you purchased it a couple of years ago? No problem. You just want a nice chestnut strap with a signed gold buckle for your fifty year old Calatrava? "Just a moment, sir."

If you’re watch needs more than just a change of attire, Patek Philippe is amply prepared to address those concerns as well. While it used to be commonplace for some customers to trust their fine timepiece to the well trained watchmaker at their local jeweller, more and more customers are sending their watches directly to Patek Philippe as the number of qualified watchmakers steadily decreases. In a changing climate concerning watch service, they have increased their staff of watchmakers on site several fold in the last few years.

The service facility at one point only employed six watchmakers and one jeweller (for polishing and case refinishing). Presently they employ 20 watchmakers and 3 full time polishers to keep up with the increased demand for their services. Of fourty-four employees in the Henry Stern Watch Agency USA, twenty-seven of them are in the service department. These numbers properly illustrate their commitment to top-notch service, something that has been a pillar of their outstanding reputation for decades.

When the watch arrives and is catalogued, its serial numbers are recorded and referenced against their extensive repair logs so that the history of the timepiece is immediately available to the watchmakers. At that time, a letter acknowledging receipt of the watch is generated and the watch is placed in a compartmentalized plastic tray along with any service information that should accompany the watch. These customized Patek Philippe watch trays have soft disposable inserts to protect the case and/or movement and a locking lid with a slot on the end for a coded label. This allows the pertinent information about the piece to be read at a glance when it is stacked among the other repairs and the protective tray minimizes the number of times the watch needs to be handled. For precious gold watches of the vintage variety, the less handling the better, no matter how carefully.

Incoming watches David Jarrett Watch tray

At this point, Laurent Junod, the head Master Watchmaker, conducts a careful analysis of the condition of the timepiece and the extent of the service or repairs needed. If you want to make Mr. Junod’s job a little easier, please include a note with your watch describing in detail any problems you might be having with it. It is simply amazing how many watches are received without a simple note, sometimes without even a return address.

In the interest of increase the quality of the service work as well as the quality of the products from the factory, a very stringent quality feedback program has been instituted whereby the cause of any untimely service and customer returns for any reason can be catalogued and cross-referenced. It is in this way that any faults in the service process or deficiencies in the manufacturing or distribution of the watches can be sought out and eliminated.

Once an estimate has been generated and sent to the customer, the watch, in its tray, is put back into the vault with all the pieces being repaired while it waits for further instructions from the customer. Whether the watch needs special attention from Geneva (as some older, rare or highly complicated pieces do), is OK’d for service or repair but not polishing (as many collectors insist nowadays) or is OK’d for a full case refinishing and a dial change, nothing is done without the full approval and at the request of the owner.

When approval has been received, the movement, dial and hands are removed from the case and the mechanism (quartz or mechanical) is assigned to a watchmaker. The case is given to the jewellers in the polishing room (if polishing/refinishing is requested). With a vast array of specialized polishing and refinishing equipment at their disposal and a tremendous amount of combined experience, the jewellers at Patek Philippe USA, lead by Victor Brio who has been with Patek for some 10 years, are capable of bringing the case of your watch back to very nearly its original, pristine condition.

Victor Brio, lead case refinisher.

In addition to polishing buffs, chamois, rouges and brushes or every imaginable consistency, size and shape, they have at their disposable sandblasting equipment and perlaging cylinders to refinish the inside of case backs, vacuum and water pressure testing equipment to test the water resistance of the case and of course ultrasonic and steam cleaning equipment to remove any trace of abrasives and polishing compounds that the refinishing process might leave behind. It is a little known fact that the amount of time and work spent properly refinishing a case often exceeds the amount of time spent servicing the watch, so it’s comforting to know that the highly skilled case refinishers at Patek Philippe take great pride in their work.

Patek Philippe case refinisher doing his magic. Some of the specialized tools used for case restorations.

Of course, the mechanism is also treated with a level of care and respect that is commensurate with the quality of Patek Philippe’s products. Even the most skilled watchmaker from elsewhere will likely have to work his or her way up from the bottom at Patek Philippe and the frequent and extensive training is a never ending process. Whether studying with trainers visiting from Geneva or studying with trainers in Geneva (where three to four watchmakers are sent for training every year for up to four weeks at a time), the watchmaking education at Patek Philippe is ongoing. It is not only critical that their watchmakers have the knowledge and the skills to properly service their mechanical and quartz calibers, but also that they are always aspiring to the lofty standards set by the manufacture.

Some of the dedicated watchmakers who might repair your Patek Philippe. Spare parts cabinets. Watchmakers hard at work.

After the movement has been serviced or repaired and the case has passed through intensive quality control checks on its own, the watchmaker carefully remarries the two and further bench testing and final quality control can take place. It is only then that the tag of Patek Philippe International Customer Service is affixed to the watch, assuring the customer that their beloved timepiece has "received the finest attention whilst in our care."

The scrupulous quality control station.

Watchmaking was traditionally a solitary endeavour - one lone watchmaker toiling away with the myriad parts, polishing, finishing, assembling, adjusting.

As the watchmaking industry industrialized, developments in organizational theory and practice were seldom implemented - watchmakers still often worked alone, even if together in a workshop. Even today, in most watchmaking companies, design, production, and after sales service are often balkanized, separate departments that seldom share valuable information and insight.

It is very encouraging to note that the after sales service department of Patek Philippe, and in particular, the Henry Stern Agency in New York City,David Jarrett and Laurent Junod. are implementing sound organizational design and practices, in addition to watchmaking standards of the highest order.

From the process flow, with feedback loops for both process and quality control, it is clear that thought is given to organizational efficiencies. The concept of Continuous Improvement, so important in the raising of quality standards in many other industries, is recognized and implemented by the Henry Stern Agency and Patek Philippe SA. Data collected by the after sales service field office in New York is forwarded and analyzed by the appropriate departments back in Geneva, and statistical analyses are applied to find significant areas for improvement or to discover weaknesses in production or design.

All of this bodes well for future production and service quality overall, resulting in increased customer satisfaction. Knowing that your Patek Philippe is being cared for by men as passionate about first quality service as David Jarrett and Laurent Junod is a great comfort in this increasingly uncertain world. Even in the hustle and bustle of midtown Manhattan there are men that care deeply about doing things the right way the first time and every time and more than a few of them are employed by Patek Philippe.

_john and Thomas

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Copyright May 2003 - John Davis, Thomas Mao and - all rights reserved