A one-of-a-kind watch among its peers: the Henry Graves supercomplication
Due to be auctioned by Sotheby’s during the fall season, the Henry Graves supercomplication by Patek Philippe comes as a late addition to an exclusive list of highly complicated timepieces, the “Graves” being considered as the most important watch in the world.
Son of Henry Graves (1838-1906)who was a prominent broker, Member of the New York Stock Exchange since 1867 as well as a prominent citizen of Orange, Henry Graves Jr (1868–1953) was himself active in banking and railroads. He commissioned this watch while friendly competing with James Ward Packard, who was equally a fervent collector of Patek Philippe. His request was merely to receive the timepiece that would include the most complications. In order to manage this successfully, Patek Philippe carefully chose among its most talented watchmakers the lucky few that would be having the opportunity to bring their know-how to the watch.
Additionally, the company entrusted the best watchmakers from the Vallée de Joux who had developed their skills in producing the finest complications as well as the thinnest mechanism.
They contributed to the manufacturing of most of the highly complicated watches starting right in 1878 with the completion of an exquisite pocket watch by Ami Lecoultre and Louis Elysée Piguet, today carefully kept in La Chaux-de-Fonds.
Manufactured three decades later, the Graves remained for a long time considered the most complicated watch in the world. Indeed, compared to the Leroy 01 (Musée du Temps in Besançon, France), it encompasses less complications but still an outstanding total of 22 purely dedicated to time measurement. 25 complications were included in the Leroy 01 but only 20 were dedicated to time measurement.
We can imagine that it took some time before the actual work of producing the watch started. Reading through letters written by the grandson of Victorin Piguet for the attention of Patek Philippe, we realize that the manufacturing of the watch went smoothly with no major rebuilt of entire mechanisms. This is probably due to the careful preliminary definition of the technical specifications including astronomical, mathematics and technical calculations that was carried out. According to memories, the main difficulty related to the time setting. The challenge was to set sidereal time, solar time and alarm clock hands through the same crown.
At the same time, Vacheron & Constantin had also decided to build its own highly complicated pocket watch and commissioned watchmakers from the Vallée de Joux for complicated mechanisms. The watch later found the royal place it deserved as it was presented to His Majesty King Farouk of Egypt.
Composed of an impressive 110 wheels, 50 bridges, 430 screws, 90 springs, 120 parts of mechanism, no less than 70 jewels, two dials and 19 hands, the gold case of the “Graves” itself weighs 415 grams.
At that point I would love to start exploring these 22 complications in details. However, I will focus on only one for the time being.
The alarm clock is present only through a single gold “feuille” hand from the centre. Made of an amazing quality emblematic of a long established tradition in Geneva, the clear chime wakes you up with 3 hammers striking onto gongs while many alarm clock watches would tend to strike directly against the case which is not without consequences on the quality of the sound. By opposition, “the Union” (dated 1899 and kept in a private collection in London) features an alarm clock on a subdial that can be set to the minute and strikes onto two gongs.
“The Union” that benefits of the majestic deadbeat seconds was surpassed by “the Graves” in terms of complications. It includes several complications not available on “the Union” such as sidereal time.
It is interesting to note that another most exclusive watch especially made for Mr Packard bearing no. 198’014 and delivered on 8. March 1927 also had an alarm clock combined to a minute repeater. Playing a tune of the opera Jocelyne de Godard, one of the finest miniature pinned barrel is hidden under the back cover.
The watch was sold at 8’300.- CHF compared to a record 60’000.- CHF for the Graves Supercomplication. Today again, the watch will probably set a new price reference for excellence confirming once again that the present timepiece is competing with no others.
Don’t miss out the Important Watches sale by Sotheby’s on 11 November..