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Laings’ & Patek Philippe

By, Sergio Burns

There is something magical about the quiet, gentle, almost inaudible tick of a smoothly working watch. Tiny, often minuscule pieces of metal working in perfect synchronisation, gears, cogs, slivers of intricately designed parts keeping accurate time. The craft of watchmaking taken to the nth degree.

At family run jewellers, Laings – founded in 1840 and now with branches in Glasgow, Edinburgh, Southampton and Cardiff – watch brands are carefully chosen to fit with customer focused criteria. One brand with a stylish range of hand finished watches to suit all tastes is the Swiss made Patek Philippe. 

Leading the way when it comes to luxury watchmaking, the horology giant now has its own dedicated space in Laings Glasgow Flagship store. The specified area is decorated with the Patek Philippe brand colours, fully immersing the customer into their world and creating an indulgent atmosphere. Here clients can relax and enjoy the surroundings, while finding out about these exquisite watches before they make their choice.

“Patek Philippe are the best,” Stuart McDowell, Patek Philippe Brand Manager at Laings told Ayrshire Magazine when we met at the Glasgow store. “For me… Patek…have brand values and they don’t deviate from these. They are not a brand that changes with fashion, they do not chase the next big thing, they do it properly. There are no cutting corners there is no sudden increase in production because there is massive demand. They are more intent on keeping quality control at a specific level. This is what they do and they are not going to flick a switch and make their watchmakers work 24/7 just to get the watches out.”

With around 20 years experience of the jewellery business, Stuart, who is from Dundonald, just east of Belfast, Northern Ireland, originally studied software engineering at university.

“No,” He laughs, when I ask him if he found his degree subject useful in his present career. “No, not at all. I think more Lego building came in useful. As a kid I always wanted to see how things worked, I used to take things apart dismantle them and put them back together so there is another fascination there of how things work.”

The Patek Philippe brand was founded by Polish watchmaker Antoni Patek and his partner, French watchmaker Adrien Philippe. The company now make and sell some of the most expensive watches in the world, and are the last independent family run Genevan watchmaker. They make beautifully crafted, hand finished timepieces at the luxury end of the watchmaking market.

Costing around £1 million, the double faced Sky Moon Tourbillon, for example, has been described as a piece of modern art. 

Similarly, on October 13, 2014, to commemorate their 175th anniversary, Patek Philippe unveiled their two-dial – divided between time and calendar – Grandmaster Chime. A carefully constructed timepiece with an amazing 1,366 individual parts and no fewer than 20 complications including leap year cycle, moon phases and instantaneous perpetual calendar. 

Being in a position to sell such intricately sculpted timepieces is not a straightforward matter of simply reading up on the product.

“New employees can’t just arrive in the shop and start selling Patek Philippe.” Stuart told me. “Even if you have been selling Rolex or any other brand previously, and have a general watch knowledge you are not allowed to just come in and sell Patek Philippe. With Patek Philippe you have to go through their quite stringent training processes and be signed off by them to sell the product and to show the product.”

As Stuart McDowell went on to explain, retailers are obliged to put their salesmen through a four stage education, which starts with the employee having a one to one with a Patek Philippe trainer.

“Stage two is a computer based training,” He revealed. “This…takes over 24 hours of training which doesn’t sound like a lot, but it is whenever you are doing an hour, one and half hours a day, very intensive and very deep. They go into everything from the history of the brand through to the manufacture and even through to how it should be presented and how you should present the brand. Then, you have training at their UK base for stage three, which lasts a few days.

“If you are lucky enough to be invited onto stage four training, which is in Geneva, and it is for a full week, you get to see behind the scenes, and see things like dial manufacture. After stage four they do bolt on sections, so for instance you can step up onto chronograph training. You can see it is quite an intense process. You don’t do this all over one year, you tend to take a minimum of a year to do each and that is if you are just really lucky enough to be invited back to do the stage four.”

As intricate as the watch, the process of buying a Patek Philippe can also be quite involved.

“I think this is.. over talked… in a way,” Stuart told me quietly. “Yes you do have to apply for certain models, there are only a handful that fall into that territory, one of them being The Grandmaster Chime, which is a £1.8 million watch. Patek Philippe will only make single digit numbers of these per year, and they want to make sure they go to the right people. The way Patek Philippe operate, they like to have those who are loyal to the brand, people who have other watches within the brand, and then they will assess your application. If somebody is going to this level they normally don’t just walk in through the shop and go : ‘You know what? Can I have one of these?’ It is somebody who has already been on a journey with both ourselves and Patek Philippe.

He paused, glanced to the right as people enthusiastically chatted with one of Laings sales people.

“What Patek Philippe would ask for is more details on the client,” He continued. “What they do for a living and what they have in their collection. So, whenever it gets to an application process, quite often the customer has already been through the journey with both ourselves and with Patek Philippe.” 

Laings are always training new staff to deal with the Patek Philippe watch brand, and though Stuart McDowell is mainly based at the Argyll Arcade branch in Glasgow, he does travel to the other stores when required.

“This is to facilitate staff training and to assist with each of the stores VIP clients,” Stuart revealed. “Each of our stores invest heavily in training and we are proud to have at least one specialist in each brand/service that we offer within each location.”

Patek Philippe? It is all about reliability, accuracy, quality, style, design, and a sense of superbly crafted uniqueness – just ask Laings’ Stuart McDowell.

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