Welcome to Watches of the Week, quarantine edition. With celebrities staying home, we’re calling in friends and experts to share their favorite pieces from pop culture’s past and present.
Today, Patek Philippe collectors wait years to score a single handmade piece, and rappers shout the brand out as often as they do their latest check or Virgil-Abloh-designed anything—sometimes combining the two with atomic levels of braggadocio. But John Reardon, a former employee of the brand and the founder of Collectability, a platform that sells Patek watches, remembers a time when that wasn’t the case at all. Take, for instance, the time Tony Soprano gave his cousin a Patek as a thank-you gift on a 2002 episode of the Sopranos. “Where today it seems like every other rap song says ‘Patek,’ that did not exist in the 2000s,” Reardon says. “No one even knew what Patek was in recent history. That was shocking, to have the number one TV show acknowledge Patek Philippe. I think the 10 of us [Patek fanboys] were really excited back then.” But, as Reardon says, everything is different now—so let’s look back on some of the brand’s best pop culture moments with a more appreciative eye.
Tony Soprano’s Patek Philippe 5037
“In one of the greatest watch related scenes I have seen on the small screen, Tony Soprano gave a Patek Philippe Ref. 5037/1G to his cousin in an episode of The Sopranos,” says Reardon. “The white gold-and-diamond, annual calendar, bracelet watch fit perfectly into the scene.” It was the perfect watch for Tony, Reardon remembers being flabbergasted by the choice at the time.
“I remember thinking: Of all the watches to publicize globally, it has to be a diamond-set annual calendar,” Reardon says. “At Patek, we only got a couple of those into the country per year.” But, if anyone would gravitate toward this oddball watch, it would have been someone like Tony. “Men wearing bling at that time was such a rarity,” Reardon says. “But selling to a mob boss in New Jersey seems quite appropriate.”
Reardon adds that this wasn’t a product placement—something that Patek was and is allergic to—but “rather an expression of the late James Gandolfini’s passion for watches and in particular Patek Philippe,” he says.
Brad Pitt’s Patek Philippe Ellipse 3605 in white gold
This is another unusual pairing of watch and celebrity. The Ellipse, which was once a stalwart for Patek, has mostly fallen out of favor among collectors. “If you go back 30 years, the Ellipse represented over 70 or 80% of Patek’s sales,” says Reardon. “It was everything. And it was the first reference that had a family built around it— keychains, lighters, cufflinks, money clips. You could literally dress Ellipse toe to head.” (Seriously: the Patek Philippe Ellipse-shaped cufflinks are spectacular.) That’s…no longer the case. “Currently, it represents less than 1% of their annual sales.”
That less-than-one-percent packs a good amount of star power, though, because Pitt wore it for the entirety of By The Sea. “I was pleasantly surprised to see a vintage Patek Philippe Ellipse on his wrist,” says Reardon. “This is one of the largest Ellipse watches ever made by Patek, and was made from 1971 until the early 1980s.”
And while the Ellipse represents just a tiny fraction of Patek’s sales today, Reardon sees a cult fandom developing around the edges of the oval-shaped watch. “When everyone else is wearing a Nautilus, you need to choose to do something very different,” he says. “Literally the opposite of Nautilus in my mind is Ellipse and that’s why I’m a big fan of it. In the late 1970s, the oddball was the Nautilus. Now, we live in a world where everybody and their second cousin owns a Nautilus.”
Michael Douglas’s vintage 1930s Patek Philippe with Tiffany-stamped dial
Douglas wears this watch in David Fincher’s truly bizarre The Game: Douglas’s character gets sucked into a real-life “game” that slowly dismantles his real-life life. Reardon doesn’t exactly have fond memories of the film, which is fine: “the real star of the movie is the rectangular late 1930s Patek Philippe rectangular watch sold by Tiffany & Co,” he says.