This endangered species strap is shown for display purposes only and is not for sale. The watch will be supplied with a calf leather strap.
In the world of watches there is no provenance stronger or more desirable than that of Henry Graves Jr. arguably the most important and prolific watch collector of the 20th century. A provenance to perhaps Patek Philippe’s greatest ever client immediately tells even the casual observer that they are beholding a very special timepiece indeed, one of the best of the best.
Unknown until its emergence from the estate of Graves’s grandson, Reginald H. Fullerton, Jr. in 2012, the present watch, regarded by world-renowned scholars of Patek Philippe as the most important minute repeater wristwatch, is highly significant in several ways: firstly, unlike the majority of Henry Graves Jr.’s purchases from Patek Philippe, which were delivered to him at Tiffany & Co. in New York, the present watch was bought by him in person, at Patek Philippe’s headquarters in Geneva in 1928. Furthermore, this supremely elegant, almost understated minute repeating wristwatch, of large size for the period, was also Henry Graves Jr.’s very first Patek Philippe minute repeating wristwatch and the only one made for him in yellow gold. It was therefore of huge personal significance to him.
Added to this is the historical importance of the watch in its own right as one of the earliest recorded Patek Philippe minute repeater wristwatches, one of the rarefied group of less than twenty known pieces (some known only from archive photographs), the so-called “pre-referenced” minute repeaters. Among this group, only three watches have tonneau-shaped cases, two, the present watch, and a platinum version of 1929, were made for Henry Graves Jr. The third is known only from an archival photograph illustrated in: Armbanduhren, Kahlert, H., Mühe, R. and Brunner, G., p. 39.
Since its purchase from the “Watches from the Collection of the Late Reginald H. Fullerton, Jr. and his Grandfather Henry Graves Jr.” auction at Sotheby’s New York in June 2012, the watch has been the centrepiece of the same important European collection, safely locked away. It is preserved in the same exceptional overall condition as it was 7 years ago.
Consistent with the other Patek Philippe watches made for Henry Graves Jr. extra attention was placed on every last detail of the manufacture for each of their most important patrons’ watches. The quality of finish was above and beyond everything in the firm’s production, another level reserved for their foremost clients.
The movement features the highest grade of watchmaking of the early 20th century, signature elements of top quality Patek Philippe calibers are in full fruition, including the easily recognizable condition of the polished angles on each bridge and most notably the hand-made escapement with the compensated bimetallic balance.
The art of gong-making is raised to a new level with this watch made for the demanding ear of Mr. Graves. When one engages the repeating slide the result is a harmonious striking that can only be described as angelic. The sound that emanates from the watch today amplified by the gold dial and the gold case is exactly the same sound that Mr. Graves listen to for the first time when he picked up his new trophy almost a century ago.
The charismatic gold dial with hand-engraved numerals shows no signs of any restoration, the indelible enamel is consistently raised and perfectly preserved. The hands are the original hands fitted when the watch was sold in 1928, elegantly proportioned to perfectly align within the tonneau case.
The case, of unusually large size for the period, displays full proportions, the engraved coat-of-arms to the case back are still incredibly deep. The traces of oxidation to the band, a typical sign for watches which have not been used in a very long time, underline the fact that the present watch was a "sleeping beauty" for many years.
Outstanding provenance, historical importance and condition render this watch the unique opportunity to add a supreme masterpiece to any distinguished collection: a combination of exceptional quality and rarity and the contrast of invisible complexity and visible simplicity: ESSE QUAM VIDERI - TO BE RATHER THAN TO SEEM.
The Three Patek Philippe Minute Repeating Wristwatches of Henry Graves Jr.
In the spring of 1928, Henry Graves Jr. and his wife Florence set sail for Europe aboard, quite naturally, the greatest ocean-going liner of the time, the RMS Olympic. At this time, Henry Graves had at least three complicated pocket watches on order from Patek Philippe, he had also commissioned the now legendary super-complication watch three years before, for which the firm had, after three years work, now completed the final drawings.
Upon their eventual arrival in Geneva, Graves went along to Patek Philippe’s headquarters at 41, Rue du Rhône to check upon the progress of the pieces on order and to give final approval to the technical drawings for the super-complication, so that its construction could begin.
It was during this significant visit to Geneva that Henry Graves Jr. purchased his first serious wristwatch – the present watch – a minute repeating tonneau-shaped watch in 18K yellow gold with the family crest and motto “Esse Quam Videri” (to be, rather than to seem) engraved on the back.
It is an exciting thought that this very watch was the starting point of Henry Graves’ Patek Philippe wristwatch collection, which eventually grew to 13 exceptional watches including three minute repeating wristwatches:
Movement no. 97’589, case no. 605’789 - the present watch
Movement calibre 12’’’, sold 16 June 1928
The only one made for Graves in yellow gold and with different early movement calibre in inventory since 1895
Movement no. 198’212, case no. 607’063 – platinum tonneau case
Movement calibre 11’’’, sold 2 March1929
Patek Philippe Museum Collection, Geneva (Inv. P-650)
Movement no. 198’095, case no. 606’433 - platinum cushion-shaped case
Movement calibre 11’’’, sold at Christie’s Geneva, 12 May 2014, lot 101
Important Private Collection
In common with two other known Patek Philippe minute repeaters of very early date: movement no. 112’057 made in 1901, cased 1924, and no. 174’709, made in 1917, cased in 1926 (both in the Patek Philippe Museum, Geneva), the present watch was constructed using a movement made earlier and held in stock.
Movement serial number 97’589, made in 1895 and in stock until mounted in 1927. 12 ligne rhodiumed brass with Côtes de Genève decoration, 31 jewels, wolf’s tooth winding, straight line lever escapement, cut bi-metallic balance with 8 adjustments, blued steel Breguet balance spring, index regulator, minute repeating with two polished steel hammers on two coiled gongs, engraved marked with maker’s signature and serial number, serial number also on the dial plate.
The ébauche was supplied by the celebrated Victorin Piguet (1850-1937), born near Le Sentier, Switzerland, descendant of two generations of watchmakers and the leading maker of complicated movement at the time. His firm “V. Piguet et Frères” was founded in Geneva in 1880 and moved to the Vallée de Joux in 1883.
The company supplied most of the ébauches for Patek Philippe’s complicated movements, including single button and split seconds chronographs, tourbillons, and, most importantly, for Henry Graves’ “Super Complication” which remained the world’s most complicated watch until the launch of the Calibre 89 in 1989.
Made by Stern Frères, solid gold base plate, matte finish, champlevé black enamel numerals, outer minute track and subsidiary seconds, blued steel “poire” hands. Signed in English “Patek Philippe & Co., Geneva, Switzerland”.
The enamelled numerals, outer railway minute scale, signature and subsidiary seconds dial were first engraved by hand by an engraver artist. The enameller would then fill the engravings and “bake” the dial at around 900 degrees.
The reverse of the dial is hand-scratched with the movement number “97’589”. The ring surrounding it was added to increase the volume for the repeating mechanism.
The celebrated Stern Frères turned the dial production into a real art. The present example is a paradigm of simplicity and elegance.
Hand-made, blued steel. The minute hand is curved to allow the correct positioning over the hour hand.
Serial 605’759, made in 1927. Together with its platinum “sibling” also made for Henry Graves Jr., now at the Patek Philippe Museum, it is the largest of the early minute repeating wristwatches.
Three-piece 18K yellow gold with snap on back and snap on bezel; the lugs are soldered to the main body of the case. Inside case back with the maker’s signature, punched by Patek Philippe, Switzerland designation always at the same position and punched at the same time as the signature, Swiss “Helvetia” hallmark, 18K/0.750 for the gold title punched by the casemaker, case number generally punched by the casemaker following Patek Philippe’s instructions.
The outside case back engraved with Henry Graves’s coat-of-arms and motto “Esse Quam Videri”, yellow gold repeater trigger device and “umbrella” shape winding crown.
Two Swiss gold hallmarks on the main body, the head of Helvetia and the “G” for Geneva underneath, one placed on the side of the lower right hand lug, the other on the main body beneath the dial.
Early Minute Repeaters 1925 - 1939
In the 1920s, with the advent of wristwatches, most prominent clients asked for extraordinary watches such as repeaters, calendars or chronographs. Among all those, the repeating complication was the most difficult to achieve and of course the most expensive. With already close to two hundred authorized dealers around the world and knowing the importance and the means of Patek Philippe clients, one can easily imagine how exclusive it was to get one of those technical marvels. It is even truer when you understand that approximately a dozen minute repeating wristwatches were manufactured from the mid-1920s to the end of the 1930’s. These watches are called “pre-references” by collectors.
THE EARLY MINUTE REPEATING WRISTWATCHES LIST
MVT CASE DESCRIPTION LOCATION
97’589 607’589 tonneau. “Graves”. 1929. 18K The Present Watch
112’057 602’629 cushion. “Teetor”. 1924. Platinum / 18K (Patek Philippe Museum)
138’147 603’361 cushion. “Boston tycoon”. 1926. Platinum / 18K (Private collection)
138’225 605’145 cushion. “HB from Bill” inscription 1928. (Private Collection)
138’227 255’094 round. “Packard”. 1931 conversion. 18K (Unknown)
157’135 290’644 cushion with lugs, officier style. 1927. 18K (Unknown)
174’709 604’591 rectangular. “Dr. Hirsh”. 1927. 18K (Patek Philippe Museum)
174’191 unknown octagonal. 1926 archive picture only (Sotheby’s NY 1969)
198’094 606’432 cushion. “Middleton”. 1932. 18K (Patek Philippe Museum)
198’095 606’433 cushion. “Graves”. 1929. Platinum (Antiquorum, 2014)
198’136 JHP? cushion. 1927. formerly tortue, later recased (Sotheby’s NY 1998)
198’212 607’063 tonneau. “Graves”. 1929. Platinum (Patek Philippe Museum)
198’213 607’064 cushion. “Bradley”. 1931. 18K (Private collection)
198’306 unknown tonneau. c1928. Archival picture only published in Patek Philippe literature
198’378 609’358 cushion. American. 1930-1937. 18K (Asian Collection)
198’493 repeater clockwatch mechanism delivered in 1936 (round case) and not seen since
198’497 repeater clockwatch mechanism delivered in 1936 (round case) and not seen since
The Minute Repeater
Immediately after foundation of Patek Philippe in 1839 the first quarter repeating pocket watches were produced, the earliest minute repeater dates from 1845. It was and still is today one of the firm’s specialities.
Repeating watches strike the hours, quarters and minutes on demand. This fascinating function is one of the most difficult complications to execute and among the greatest horological challenges.
We are grateful to Eric Tortella for his assistance and study in researching this watch.
Henry Graves, Jr. (1868-1953)
By Stacy Perman
(Stacy Perman is an award-winning journalist and the author of three books, including A Grand Complication: The Race To Build The World's Most Legendary Watch, Atria Books/Simon & Schuster, 2013)
"Graves was the second born son after his brother Edward Hale – in all likelihood; it was the last time Graves came in second for anything"
For Henry Graves, Jr., collecting was not merely about connoisseurship; it was his true passion. During his lifetime, this mysterious Manhattan financier acquired many objects of art by following a single, simple philosophy: “if it’s not the best don’t bother.”
When it came to acquiring timepieces, Graves has come to occupy a singular place in horological history. He was a man with the utmost discerning eye, and a desire to own the finest and most complicated timepieces culminating in the chef-d’ oeuvre of his collection: the Graves Supercomplication. Manufactured by Patek Philippe, this double-dial pocket watch delivered to him in 1933, took five years to design and another three just to manufacture. Made of 18-karat gold and incorporating 24 complications, it smashed all known records when it sold at auction in 1999 for $11 million – a record that remained unbroken for 15 years until 2104, when the Supercomplication once again went on the block and hammered down for an astonishing $24 million.
Horology’s answer to the Mona Lisa, the Supercomplication became a symbol of an era and Graves is considered one of the greatest if not the greatest watch collectors of the 20th century. His commissions define modern watch collecting and forged the reputations of watchmakers such as Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin as both micro-mechanical craftsmen and magicians of complications.
Born in Orange, New Jersey to an influential banking family, Graves cut a quiet figure during the glittering fin de siècle America. He joined his father, Henry Graves, Sr. on Wall Street. One of the New York Stock Exchange’s governors, Graves Sr. had established the firm of Maxwell & Graves in 1865. The Graves’s wealth, made on railroads and finance, stood among the great tycoons and industrial barons of the day. Maxwell & Graves provided the starting capital for the Liberty National Bank and the Atlas Portland Cement Company. The largest concern of its kind, Atlas supplied cement for both the Empire State Building and the Panama Canal.
In 1896, Mr. Graves married Florence Isabelle Preston, the daughter of a wealthy commodities broker. It was a marriage of money and pedigree; Florence traced her family line back to the Emperor Charlemagne. The New York Times called their wedding, held at St. Thomas’s Church on Fifth Avenue, one of “social prominence.”
The couple lived rather largely, they maintained a mansion in Irvington-On-Hudson on a slice of land formerly part of Washington Irving’s estate. Mr. and Mrs. Graves and their four children also lived during the winter in Manhattan, first at 420 Park Avenue in what was called a millionaire’s rental, and later in a duplex at 834 Fifth Avenue
At the turn of the century, wealthy society families such as the Rockefellers and the Vanderbilt’s owned rustic camps in the Adirondacks, lavishly appointed Great Camps in the middle of the wilderness. In 1909 Graves purchased Eagle Island, the Great Camp built by architect William Coulter on Upper Saranac Lake. Originally built in 1903 for the former U.S. Vice President Levi P. Morton, a one-time Governor of New York, Graves exulted in the seclusion offered by his private island’s 32-forested acres. Arriving at the top of the season each July with their servants in tow, Mr. and Mrs. Graves entertained friends, threw lavish parties, hunted, played tennis, canoed, and enjoyed elaborate family picnics.
Graves was the second born son after his brother Edward Hale – in all likelihood; it was the last time Graves came in second for anything. He was a competitive to a fault. An avid sportsman, he raced speedboats and was an expert marksman; took up show riding and was an expert equestrian.
And when it came to collecting, Graves viewed this vocation much like a sport, he was out to win.
A notable collector of paintings and sculpture, Graves was one of the country’s foremost collectors of Chinese porcelains. He acquired a penchant for Old Master engravings and drawings as well as a keen interest in early American and naval battle prints. Graves also amassed an impressive collection of rare and historically important coins – of which he kept in a customized cabinet in his master bathroom.
While Graves was intent on procuring the finest pieces for his collections, he was equally zealous about keeping them private. Unlike many of his contemporaries who were public about their holdings, publishing catalogs, and bequeathing them to museums, few knew of the remarkable treasures that Graves possessed. Then on April 3, 1936 the American Art Association Anderson, Galleries, Inc. conducted a single-owner sale: Masterpieces of Engraving and Etching: The Collection of Henry Graves, Jr., where the public-at-large got its first indication of the scope of his assemblage. The sale’s highpoint was Albrecht Dürer’s “Adam and Eve” which fetched $10,000. It was an extraordinary sum particularly since the auction took place in the middle of the Great Depression.
It was however, Graves’s desire for complicated watches that he has perhaps become best known in modern times. Initially, his interest began like that of most men of his milieu, where the ownership of a fine gold pocket watch was a symbol of status and affluence. The Graves family had been longstanding patrons at Tiffany & Company, stretching back to the days when it was known as the “palace of jewels” at 15 Union Square West. Graves, his father, and two brothers all purchased timepieces from the jeweler. Indeed, it was Mr. Graves’s regular patronage of Tiffany that initially brought him to the Geneva firm of Patek Philippe.
Patek Philippe had earned a reputation in America for its high performance chronometers, regularly bringing home medals at the Geneva Observatory Timing Competitions, the World’s Fairs, and a savvy marketing campaign that promoted its award-winning showings. It was Patek Philippe’s Geneva Observatory prizewinners in particular that caught Graves’s eye. His taste for perfection and competition eventually fueled his desire for complicated watches. In the 1910s Graves began acquiring Patek Philippe pocket watches. By the 1920s, his interest evolved from simply securing the finest minute repeaters and chronometers to owning timepieces that contained as many complications as possible. Graves had exacting standards. He favored polished cases in platinum or eighteen-karat gold: many were engraved with the Graves family crest with its motto: Esse Quam Videri (To Be, Rather Than to Seem).
Over the years, Graves developed a unique and special relationship with Patek Philippe. Although he personally traveled to Geneva on a few occasions, until around the late 1930s, Tiffany & Co. handled most of his commissions with Patek Philippe. During the 1940s, Graves dealt largely with the Henri Stern Watch Agency, Patek Philippe’s American headquarters in Rockefeller Center, where he had earned something of a favored patron status. Graves’s special relationship with Patek Philippe resulted in some of the most extraordinary pieces ever made. Two of his pocket watches, commissioned in the 1920s contained eleven and twelve complications respectively. Of the two known platinum Patek Philippe tourbillons in existence, it was Graves who owned them, each Observatory winners.
Even into his eighth decade Graves’s keen interest in timepieces continued. After World War II his focus turned largely to wristwatches. It was an interest that began during the 1920s. Before the signature timepiece came into fashion Graves had purchased two minute repeating tonneau-shaped pieces.
In 1953, at 86-years-old, Graves died in his Fifth Avenue apartment. To date, only a fraction of Graves’s watches have surfaced publicly or at auction.
« Across the Sea » - an adapted excerpt from « A Grand Complication – The Race to Build the World’s Most Legendary Watch », with the kind permission of Stacy Perman
In 1928, as spring turned to summer, Florence and Henry Graves, Jr., sailed to Europe aboard the RMS Olympic, the grandest ocean liner of the White Star Line. The sister-ship of the ill-fated Titanic was the largest vessel at sea. It was also the most glamorous. Henry had booked passage on the ocean liner simply because it was the best.
Arriving in Cherbourg, Henry and Florence boarded a first-class train and headed south for an extended European stay through the fall. The couple planned to spend much of their time in Paris based at the Hôtel de Crillon. They also cut a decadent swath across the most exclusive resorts along the French Riviera and the Swiss Alps, with aside trip to Geneva, where Henry had some personal business to attend to.
The crescent-shaped Lac Léman appeared sapphire blue against the snowy peaks of the Alps when Henry and Florence arrived in the dry June heat.
Henry made his way to the five-story building overlooking the lake housing Patek Philippe’s headquarters and manufacturing workshops. Entering the doors at 41, rue du Rhône, he would be ushered through the Salon Napoleon III, and, given his elevated status as one of the house’s most important clients, he was likely whisked upstairs to one of the private salons with its spectacular views of the lake. His visit coincided with the end of the three-year period during which Patek Philippe’s watchmakers had considered his watch’s intricate design and the bench had just turned to its actual production. As with his previous complex pieces, Henry approved drawings that led to the next steps, a prototype, and manufacture.
Henry had at least three complicated pocket watches in various stages of manufacture. While at the maison, however, he appears to have turned his attention from pocket watches to the increasingly popular wristwatch.
Patek Philippe had entered into one of its most vibrant periods, taking the lead in miniaturizing popular complications for the wristwatch. In 1922 the watchmaker introduced the first single-button split-second chronograph, followed three years later with yet another first: the perpetual calendar wristwatch. By 1927 Patek had begun producing the first wristwatch chronographs with and without split seconds.
In Geneva, Henry acquired some of the first of what would be a tremendous trove of wristwatches. On this trip they included two Tonneau-shaped minute repeaters, one cased in eighteen-carat gold and the other, which he took receipt of in August, in platinum, both engraved with the Graves family crest. The earliest minute repeaters of Henry’s collection, these timepieces were also some of the earliest Patek Philippe had manufactured.
On October 24, 1928, Henry and Florence boarded the RMS Olympic at Cherbourg for the return trip home. They had been away for nearly six months. Sailing through rough waters, the couple watched the Normandy Coast recede into the sunlight. As they crossed the Atlantic, the Woolworth Building was about to end its reign as the world’s tallest building, and Henry was about to begin his as the king of haute horlogerie.