With Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirmin production of the present watch with cushion-shaped platinum case, silvered dial with raised Breguet numerals in platinum and coat-of-arms engraved to the case back in 1927 and its subsequent sale on 16 August 1928.
Manufactured in 1927 for Henry Graves Jr., and unknown to the market until just few years ago, this wristwatch is arguably the most important pure minute repeating wristwatch made by Patek Philippe. In the 1920s, wristwatches were still in their youth, having made their appearance some 20 years before. Consequently, manufacturers were resistant to make complicated wristwatches. Very often, wristwatches were the result of modified pocket watches or of movements being recased. Wristwatches fitted with minute repeaters are the most coveted and difficult complications in watchmaking and from this period can be considered holy grails of horology.
It is no surprise that such an exclusive and elusive watch was made for one of Patek Philippe's most important clients ever: Henry Graves Jr. Born into an affluent banking family, he soon developed a passion for complicated timepieces and became an endeared Patek Philippe's client. Mr. Graves is famous for his unusual competition with Mr. James Ward Packard - whom ironically he never met in his entire life over who would own the most complicated timepiece. Beyond allegedly saving Patek Philippe's from bankruptcy during the years of the great depression, this antagonism is what brought to the world pieces such as the Henry Graves Supercomplication, finished in 1933 after 8 years of studies and development, and which remained the most complicated timepiece in the world until 1989, when Patek introduced the Calibre 89. There is no need to further underline the importance of the Graves provenance for a Patek Philippe creation, and obviously the few timepieces that escaped his collection are now highly prized crown jewels in the world's most important collections and museums.
In order to fully appreciate the rarity of the present timepiece, it is worth noting that among the more than 30 Patek Philippe watches made for Graves, only four of them were fitted with minute repeating mechanisms: Two fitted with tonneau-shaped cases, both on permanent exhibition at the Patek Philippe Museum. Of the remaining two, one was fitted with a tortue/tonneau-shaped gold case, sold at Sotheby's New York in 2012. It is now one of the most cherished possessions of an important private collector. The other one is the present lot. Consequently, this is most likely the last opportunity - possibly for decades to come, to acquire a Graves minute repeating wristwatch, and the only known with a cushion-shaped platinum case.
It's necessary to point out that the present watch does not come only with a simple Extract from the Archives. It is accompanied by a copy of Patek Philippe's workbook, confirming not only the specifications of the watch (coussin-tortue case, one can even read the supplier: Wenger - with Breguet numerals), but most notably the first owner: Mr. Graves purchased this timepiece for CHF6,012.45, an enormous price at the time. A term of comparison can be given by the price of the Packard supercomplicated pocket watch the most complicated watch in the world at the time made in 1916: which retailed for around CHF15,000. The reason behind this rather enormous amount is fitting a minute repeating complication in a 24 mm. movement, an extraordinary feat of engineering: the other Graves repeater cased in a cushion-shape case, has a movement that measures 27 mm. across. In an era when miniaturization was pursued as the ultimate form of horologic art, the present watch certainly classifies as one of the highest achievements of the firm at the time.
Henry Graves had very specific demands every time he ordered a watch at Patek Philippe. The engraving on the back was made by the firm, as confirmed by the Extract from the Archives that in fact states "engraving on the back case" as a remark. It represents the Graves family crest above the family motto: esse quam videri - to be rather than to appear; a most fitting decoration for the masterpiece of elegance and understatement that is the present timepiece. Another less obvious detail that betrays the elected destination of this watch can be found on the dial. Instead of the usual French signature of the time Patek Philippe & Co., Genève, the present dial reads the very rare English variation "Patek Philippe & Co., Geneva Switzerland". Whether the firm made this modification after a direct request of the client, on their own accord to please him, or even, well conscious of the social circles Mr. Graves would visit wearing his new possession, as an early mean of marketing for the American market is disputable. What is not disputable is how it is a sign of the incredibly high regard the firm held this client in.
There are few things that can match the historic importance of this timepiece. One however is its aesthetic appeal. The cushion-shaped case with its generous bezel proportion grants this watch a presence on the wrist that well exceeds that of other timepieces of similar size. Everything in this watch is an ode to understated elegance. In a time and place when excess was the norm, the roaring 20s in the U.S.A. Graves went instead for an incredibly advanced timepiece which however would not scream its importance to the world; it would be a treasure understood only by a very select few.