Hands On: Patek Philippe “Extra Special” Chronometer of Henry Graves Jr.

Observatory tested and provenance proven.

A patrician banker who gained posthumous fame in the 21st century for his watch collection, Henry Graves Jr. (1868–1953) is most famous for having owned the Graves Supercomplication, once the most complicated watch in the world, and also the most expensive watch ever when it sold at auction ten years ago.

His reputation means the watches he once owned – there were not all that many of them but all were high quality – carry cachet. One such example is coming up for sale at Phillips New York auction. It’s a Patek Philippe “Extra Special” pocket watch that is top-quality chronometer, classical in style and functional, and bearing the all-important Graves family crest on the hinged back.

Now a horological symbol

Not rivals but great collectors

Graves’ modern-day fame as a watch collector was due in part to the ostensible rivalry between him and James Ward Packard (1863-1928), the engineer who founded the eponymous automobile company and an equally accomplished collector of great watches.

Though both were active during the same decades, more or less, the famous competition between the two was a story made up in the 1990s to market the Supercomplication. Graves outlived Packard by 25 years, and the latter was quite ill when Graves was at his collecting peak. Graves bought the “Extra Special” pocket watch here in 1925, the year Ward fell ill with cancer before dying just three years later.

An example of Packard’s impeccable taste: he commissioned this Patek Philippe astronomical complication pocket watch in 1925 and received it in 1927. Image – Patek Philippe

What is certain is Graves’ ambitious and consistent taste in watches. He evidently appreciated mechanical perfection, in complications and chronometers, and even timepieces that counted as avant-garde back then, namely wristwatches.

Unsurprisingly, he was a keen patron of the best watchmakers in Switzerland at the time, particularly Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.

Not just special

This Patek Philippe chronometer captures Graves’ collecting philosophy well. It is a simple, practical timepiece indicating hours, minutes, seconds, and power reserve on a clean, symmetrical white enamel dial.

The 50 mm open-face case in yellow gold is also classical and seemingly ordinary, save for the coat-of-arms engraved on the back. Also found on most of Graves’ other watches, the crest bears the latin phrase Esse Quam Videri, which translates as “to be rather than to seem”.

Although the watch is functionally and aesthetically straightforward, it is executed perfectly. In fact, it is extra special, literally.

Patek Philippe made several grades of chronometer movements in the early 20th century, including “Extra”, “Special”, and the top grade, “Extra Special”.

Being of the finest quality, this movement is adjusted to eight positions, fully jewelled, and boasts a temperature compensation Guillaume balance along with a micrometer-adjustment swan’s neck regulator. Moreover the balance pivot sits in a diamond endstone instead of an ordinary ruby.

It’s a simple movement, but executed perfectly. The quality is attested to by the double Poinçon de Genève on the movement, as well as the rating certificate issued by the Geneva Observatory in 1920.

The archive extract that accompanies the watch notes the observatory certification. Image – Phillips

The watch first appeared at auction in December 2010 where it was also featured on the catalog’s cover, offered by the then owner who acquired the watch from the estate of Marilyn Prescott Graves (1932-1998), the granddaughter of Henry Graves Jr. She was the daughter of Duncan Preston Graves (1900-1977) and his sole heir.

This watch came to the current owner via a 2010 Christie’s auction where it was sold by an individual who had acquired it from the estate of estate of Marilyn Prescott Graves (1932-1998), the granddaughter of Henry Graves Jr.

Estimated at US$100,000-200,000, the Henry Graves Jr. chronometer is lot 28 in The New York Watch Auction: X that takes place on June 8 and 9. The catalogue and online bidding are available on Phillips.com.


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