Transcending mere business interests, the partnership between Patek Philippe and Cortina Watch is built on a foundation of friendship between two intertwined families.
You never actually own a Patek Philippe. You merely look after it for the next generation. It’s been said millions of times, but it’s definitely worth repeating: Patek Philippe has the most fitting slogan. And it doesn’t just stop at the idea of sons proudly wearing the watches of their fathers. See, Patek Philippe is “the last independent, family-owned Genevan manufacture,” with the Stern family at the helm of the company since 1932.
So, perhaps it should come as no surprise that family and generational ties are also intertwined in Patek Philippe’s partners … which brings us to the story of the enduring, intergenerational friendship between Patek Philippe and Cortina Watch.
Prelude to a Partnership
Our story begins a long time ago in Geneva, Switzerland, with the arrival of the brothers Charles and Jean Stern to establish Fabrique de Cadrans Stern Fréres, a dial factory which would work closely with Patek Philippe. Eventually, in 1932, the Stern brothers bought the watch brand. Then in 1935, Charles was named Chairman of Patek Philippe and his son, Henri Stern, started assisting him. As part of his duties, Henri travelled extensively to help the brand’s expansion.
As the story goes, at one point, Henri encountered a humble watch salesman named Anthony Lim. It was, one could say, a fated meeting and the beginning of an incredible friendship. “It was 63 years ago since I first met with Mr. Henri Stern and Mr. Philippe Stern,” Anthony Lim, founder of Cortina Watch, recalls today. “Two families, three generations of friendship, it is a bond that we truly cherish.” This friendship was put to the test and ultimately came out stronger, as the Quartz Crisis broke out.
Cortina Watch was established in 1972, at the height of what can only be described as the most disruptive period for the global watch industry. At the time, many brands ended up folding or bowed down to the inevitable and switched to quartz watches. Patek Philippe famously refused to budge and instead strengthened its commitment to mechanical calibers in the tradition of Swiss watchmaking.
On the tiny island of Singapore, Anthony Lim was walking in the same direction, as he continued to build and strengthen bonds with brands that still championed mechanical timepieces. It didn’t take long for the paths of the two families to converge again and in 1978, Cortina Watch became the very first official dealer for Patek Philippe in the region through its first boutique along Colombo Court. While the watch industry at large still struggled to find its footing, the close relationship between Anthony Lim and Philippe Stern—son of Henri Stern; and here we can see the intergenerational bonds coming into play—allowed both companies and both families to not only endure, but grow.
The same resolve also helped Cortina Watch weather the economic turmoil of the 1980s. While the retail business as a whole faced the challenge of increased overheads, Raymond Lim, the oldest son of Anthony Lim, pioneered the shop-in-shop concept in Singapore’s up-and-coming shopping malls including Paragon, Raffles City and Millenia Walk. The success of these ventures was what then opened the way for the establishment of Patek Philippe’s standalone boutiques in “the little red dot.”
“The strong foundation between the families allows us to have unreserved communications,” Raymond Lim, currently Deputy CEO of Cortina Watch, remarked, “and also give us the ability to set longer term strategies together that would transcend through generations.”
“While the watch industry at large still struggled to find its footing, the close relationship between Anthony Lim and Philippe Stern allowed both companies and both families to not only endure, but grow”
Into the 21st Century
The first decade of the 21st century saw the world reeling from a global financial crisis—the worst to have ever happened since the Great Depression of the 1930s. This time, it was Thiery Stern and Jeremy Lim who were put to the test. This would be their Quartz Crisis. Like their fathers before them, however, they had a foundation of trust and faith that has been laid out since decades ago. So, when Jeremy Lim floated the idea of opening a Patek Philippe boutique at the Shoppes at Marina Bay Sands in 2008, it became yet another success story.
Perhaps it shouldn’t come as a surprise to learn that both Patek Philippe and Cortina Watch, along with the bond between the two, flourished even during those trying times.
As the years went on, Cortina Watch continued to expand Patek Philippe’s foothold in Southeast Asia. More boutiques were opened, including overseas in Hong Kong, Taipei, Jakarta and Kuala Lumpur. A crowning moment of this expansion came in 2016, when Cortina Watch expanded its ION Orchard boutique to almost four times its original size, making it the largest in Southeast Asia.
“We wanted to create an experiential space which allow our customers to discover the exceptional craftsmanship and heritage of Patek Philippe,” said Jeremy Lim, who is now the Chief Operating Officer of Cortina Watch. “We approached ION Orchard with our vision and when the space was available, it was an easy decision to take it on.” Perhaps the best way to describe Patek Philippe’s ION Orchard boutique is that it is Singapore’s answer to the brand’s famed Geneva salon.
From Family to Family
It goes without saying Patek Philippe and Cortina Watch share many values—both as brands and as families. This and their enduring friendship has been a major driving force in their shared struggle while achieving success after success, generation after generation.
Another particularly heartwarming episode in the saga of these two families came in 1997, when Philippe Stern proposed the idea for a special watch to celebrate Cortina Watch’s 25th anniversary. The idea was brought to life as the Patek Philippe Cortina Jubilee 5057R 18K Rose Gold Limited Edition Automatic, a limited-edition watch of 100 pieces, each featuring an intricate enamel dial and an off-center moonphase display. As with any other timepiece by the storied Genevan watchmaker, the merits of the watch could fill an entire article. But more than anything, it was a tribute, acknowledging one of Singapore’s most prominent watch retailers.
And beneath all of that was the friendship and recognition between two gentlemen whose fortunes are intertwined in a close bond across generations. In fact, back in 2015, Philippe Stern himself attended Anthony Lim’s 80th birthday celebrations, carrying with him, as a gift, a white gold Calatrava Ref. 5227. Engraved on the caseback was a simple yet heartfelt message: Happy 80th Birthday, Philippe et Thierry Stern.
Today, in 2019, Singapore celebrates the bicentennial of its founding and also plays host to Patek Philippe’s Watch Art Grand Exhibition. The success of the event—the largest of the brand’s Grand Exhibitions to date—and the continued triumphs of both Patek Philippe and Cortina Watch is testament to a legacy that is always looked after for the next generation.
“Beneath all of that was the friendship and recognition between two gentlemen whose fortunes are intertwined in a close bond across generations”
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