They say some of the best friendships are forged in the fires of adversity. This especially holds true for Cortina Watch and Patek Philippe, whose bond has spanned over six decades, since 1956.
So what is the story behind this remarkable friendship between the Genevan luxury watch manufacturer and the leading luxury watch retailer?
The fates of both Cortina Watch and Patek Philippe are seemingly intertwined. It starts back in 1932 in Geneva when brothers Charles and Jean Stern invested in Patek Philippe during the Great Depression. Henri Stern, the son of Charles, would assist his father by travelling across the world to extend the brand.
Stern’s travels eventually brought him to cross paths with Cortina Watch founder Anthony Lim who met Henri and later Philippe Stern in 1956 when Lim was just a humble watch salesman. Despite the cultural differences, theirs was a friendship that would transcend perfunctory boundaries.
This bond was further strengthened in the crucible of one of the watch industry’s most devastating eras – 1969’s Quartz Crisis. It was during this disruptive period when Cortina Watch was first established in 1972, that the two family-owned companies came together to figure how to navigate the crisis that was disrupting the entire Swiss watch industry.
While some brands pivoted to quartz watches, Stern kept his course and deepened his investment in the production of mechanical calibres, which resulted in the production of exquisite mechanical calibres like the Calibre 89.
Sharing the same vision, Lim doubled down on heritage Swiss watchmakers and strengthened his company’s partnership with brands that placed emphasis on mechanical calibres.
It was these close bonds of familial friendship that led Cortina Watch to become the first Official Dealer for Patek Philippe in 1978, opening its first boutique in Colombo Court.
While other brands explored alternative strategies to mixed results, Lim and Stern’s close relationship allowed both companies to thrive. In the halcyon years of the 1980s, Raymond Lim, the eldest son of Anthony Lim pioneered the shop-in-shop concept in Singapore’s new malls such as Paragon, Raffles City and Millenia Walk.
The success of these boutiques laid the groundwork for stand-alone Patek Philippe boutiques in Singapore including its flagship branch in ION Orchard, the largest of its kind in Southeast Asia. With private rooms and VIP lounges, the boutique also boasts a rotating showcase of mechanical curios.
Singapore also played host to Asia’s largest-ever Patek Philippe Watch Art Grand Exhibition in Marina Bay Sands from September to October in 2019.
Beyond Singapore, Cortina has expanded Patek Philippe’s foothold across Asia by opening boutiques in Hong Kong, Taipei, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur.
Needless to say, the two companies have only grown closer, growing from strength to strength and weathering storm after storm.
In 2015, Philippe Stern himself made a special trip to Singapore to celebrate Mr Anthony Lim’s 80th Birthday, presenting a white gold Calatrava Ref. 5227 featuring providential engraving on the case back: “Happy 80th Birthday, Philippe et Thierry Stern”.
This is a legacy that goes beyond brass and steel. It transcends business relationships and grounded in the beating hearts of kinship, from one generation to the next.