Patek Philippe's new production building

PARIS — Patek Philippe has expanded its production facility in Switzerland, setting up the high-end watch label to accommodate growth over the next two to three decades —  offering a longer-term view on an industry hit hard by the coronavirus crisis.

The completion of the 600 million Swiss francs, or $631 million, project in Plan-les-Ouates, Switzerland, comes as Swiss watch exports continue to decline steeply, according to monthly statistics from the federation of the Swiss Watch Industry.

“The new building reasserts Patek Philippe’s Genevan roots and its confidence in the future of watchmaking artistry that perfectly melds tradition and innovation,” said the prestigious watchmaker.

All operations will be regrouped in new facility, which stretches over 10 floors —four of which are underground — and has space for rare handcraft workshops as well as employee training.

Thierry Stern, president of the company since 2009, launched the five-year construction project with the idea of bringing workshops from Perly into the Plan-les-Ouates site, where his father, Philippe Stern, had regrouped activities scattered over a dozen sites in 1996 — a move also intended to help secure the label’s independence in the long term. The idea was not to increase watch production volumes of around 62,000 pieces a year, but to “secure efficient and rational production resources,” said the independent and family-owned brand. 

Responding to demand, the company has increased its emphasis on complications, like the weekly calendar or travel time two-zone display, which has resulted in a growing number of components per watch, it said. Nearly half of the label’s watches now carry complications. The label said its clients are increasingly interested in elaborate and rare handcrafted pieces. 

In addition to floors of manufacturing workshops, the site includes an auditorium with 299 seats, a penthouse restaurant for 880 guests and four VIP lounges; basement floors include parking paces for over 600 cars. 

To mark the building’s completion, the brand is issuing a 6007 Calatrava watch in steel, which will be limited to 1,000 pieces.

The completion of the new building comes at a challenging time for the Swiss watch industry, with watch exports down 67.9 percent in May, according to the Federation of the Swiss Watch Industry. Exports have dropped 35 percent over the last five months. The monthly statistics are seen as an indication of the health of the broader luxury industry even if they tend to fluctuate from month to month. The May figures showed a sharp decline in exports to China, down 54.6 percent, indicating that a recovery in that market is “not yet a given,” said the federation. 

All categories of watches declined between 66 and 74 percent over the month, whereas higher-priced timepieces had fared much better than their cheaper counterparts in recent months. The rise of the Apple Watch already weakened the Swiss watch industry before the business was challenged by unrest in Hong Kong, an important market, and now the coronavirus crisis.