The Patek Philippe Gondolo has a back story that is as complex and fascinating as the timepiece itself. The Gondolo Collection was launched in 1993 and is a modern interpretation of the Art Deco style. The Gondolo’s heritage stretches back to the 1920s and 1930s when Patek Philippe created the “Chronometro Gondolo” watches that were made for famous Brazilian retailer, Gondolo & Labouriau.
However, beyond simply making watches for the watch retailer, the Gondolo was responsible for the creation of one of Brazil’s most exclusive members club. Between 12 November 1872 – when Patek Philippe sold its first watch to the Rio de Janiero retailer, Gondolo & Labouriau, and 1927, when the relationship ceased, around one-third of all Patek Philippe’s timepieces were sold through Gondolo & Labouriau. The watches weren’t simply sold to anyone, rather they found good homes on the wrists of the ultimate watch collecting club, the Gondolo Gang.
Membership of the Gondolo Gang in 1920s Brazil was a clear indication that you had ‘made it’. The Gondolo Gang wore Patek Philippe straw hats, enjoyed opulent outings and were driven by the desire to own some of the finest watches ever made.
Patek Philippe quickly caught on to the gang’s obsession and devised a selling strategy, the ‘Plano do Club Patek Philippe System’, that allowed them to purchase a watch across a 79-week period. Every member of the 180-person club would agree to the purchase of a CHF 790 watch, making a 10-Franc payment every week until the watch was paid off in full.
But it got better. Gondolo held a weekly lottery draw – one across every week of the 79 weeks – where the lucky weekly winner was released from their payment responsibilities. This meant that the first winner got a free watch and the week two’s winner would only pay 10 Francs. Only 101 of the Gondolo Gang members would actually pay full price for their watch.
The hundreds of Chronometro Gondolo watches were similar in design as Gondolo & Labouriau requested four basic requirements that would set them apart from Patek Philippe’s other timepieces. Chronometro Gondolo featured:
- Gilded brass plates and an S-shaped fourth wheel, patented by Patek Philippe in 1893 and now considered one of the company’s hallmark designs.
- A Swiss moustache lever escapement with bi-metallic compensation
- 9k rose gold on the fourth, intermediate and minute wheels of each watch
- A square socket in each of the mainspring barrels
Gondolo & Labouriau imported its last Patek Philippe in 1927 and has long since gone out of business. However, the legacy still burns bright with Chronometro Gondolos generating a huge buzz of interest at auction. For those of you who can’t wait for one to come up at auction, turn your attention to the Gondolo Collection for fine Swiss timepieces inspired by an unusual Brazilian back story.