In December 1999, Sotheby’s made watch-auction history. The auction house sold the so-called Henry Graves Supercomplication — a pocketwatch originally commissioned from Patek Philippe by noted watch collector Henry Graves, Jr., and which featured 24 complications — for an astounding $11,002,500, still the world record for any timepiece at auction. Last week, Sotheby’s announced that it will hold a single-owner sale on June 14, 2012 in New York that will include more rare watches from the collections of Graves and his grandson, Reginald “Pete” H. Fullerton, Jr., a noted collector and connoisseur in his own right.
The auction, called Watches from the Collection of the late Reginald H. Fullerton, Jr. and his Grandfather Henry Graves, Jr., will comprise a group of 13 pieces collected by Graves that have never before been published or appeared on the market, as well as a group of 42 wristwatches and an important Knibb Grande Sonnerie Long Case Clock, assembled by Fullerton himself. Highlights from the collections will travel to Sotheby’s Geneva from May 10-14 and to Hong Kong for the opening of Sotheby’s new gallery space from May 18-22, before returning for exhibition in Sotheby’s York Avenue galleries beginning June 9.
“We are humbled to have been entrusted with a very personal group of pieces from a family of watch-collecting royalty,” said Daryn Schnipper, Chairman of Sotheby’s Watches & Clocks department. “Our June auction will offer some of the best examples of the finest references constructed by Patek Philippe, assembled by two members of the most famous patron family in the watch community. The sale includes what is known to date of the last Graves watches to have descended through this family, each of which has gone un- recorded in literature and has remained unknown to the public, as well as the entirety of Mr. Fullerton’s impressive assemblage of iconic vintage and modern pieces.”
Henry Graves, Jr. (1868-1953) was born into a banking family who lived in Orange, New Jersey. Eventually he joined his father in the financial industry and moved to New York City, where they became one of the country’s most prominent families by the turn of the century. Of all his collecting interests, which included paperweights, coins, and Old Master prints, Graves was most passionate about watches, and over the course of four decades, beginning shortly before the start of World War I, he assembled one of the world’s most important privately held collections of Patek Philippe watches.
Graves left the majority of his watch collection to his daughter, who in turn passed the pieces to her son, Pete Fullerton (1933-2012). Fullerton eventually assembled a notable collection of his own, and was known for thorough record-keeping and personal daily maintenance of his pieces; he insisted that cases and dials not be touched during cleaning and servicing, and that almost all of his watches retain their original accompaniments.
Among the highlights of the June auction is the Henry Graves, Jr. Yellow Gold Tonneau Minute Repeating Wristwatch, Mvt 97589, Case 605789 (est. $600/800,000*). This watch is unique, as it is the only model made in yellow gold; the platinum model is currently housed in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva. It also bears the Graves family coat of arms, with the Latin motto Esse quam videri (“To be, rather than to seem”) engraved on the caseback. Another notable piece is an 18K Yellow Gold Split-Second Chronograph Wristwatch with Breguet Numerals, Ref. 1436 (est. $200/300,000). Click on the watch photos for larger images.
Bridging the generations between the two men is an 18K Yellow Gold Patek Philippe Trip Minute Repeating Open-Faced Watch, which Graves presented to his son-in-law (Fullerton’s father) on the occasion of his wedding (est. $40/60,000). This piece bears the Fullerton family crest.
Among the highlights of Fullerton’s timepiece collection are 11 perpetual-calendar watches made by Patek Philippe from the 1950s to the 1990s, including an 18K Yellow Gold Perpetual Calendar Center Seconds Wristwatch (Ref. 2497) that is distinguished by its unusual case design, dial and early number, indicating it could be the first example of this well-known reference (est. $200/300,000). Another is a rare 18K Yellow Gold Automatic Perpetual Calendar Wristwatch with Leap Year Indication (Ref. 3450), featuring a rare white enamel dial, which Fullerton purchased at Sotheby’s New York in 1990 (est. $200/300,000). Fullerton was also an avid collector of modern wristwatches, which will be highlighted in the sale by a group of seven complicated Breguet pieces, complete with their original boxes and papers. (All photos courtesy of Sotheby’s.)
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