It almost makes you wonder what took Graff so long to set up a watchmaking division. Its exquisite stones are tailormade to adorn dials, decorate bezels and twinkle next to tourbillons. However, it seems as though Laurence Graff, the brand’s eponymous founder was simply waiting until he could dedicate the same levels of skill and expertise to his watches that he has applied to his precious-stone business since its inception 1960.
Graff’s prowess in the jewellery industry is well known, as is his prodigious talent for stone spotting. Apprenticed at 15 to a jeweller by the name of Schindler, Graff was on his own by the age of 22 when Schindler went bankrupt.
By 24, he had two stores to his name and a reputation for knowing his way around an uncut rock. And an auction room. In 1987 he acquired the Windsor Yellows – a pair of clips of fancy yellow pear-shaped diamonds of 51.01 and 40.22 carats respectively and previously owned by Wallis Simpson; 1989 saw him pocket the Paragon, a seven-sided diamond weighing in at a substantial 137.82 carats, and in 2006 he successfully purchased the Lesotho Promise, a whopping 603-carat rough stone.
In 2008, he took a break from playing with rocks to set up his fine watch department, presided over by Michel Pitteloud, a man with experience in the watch world and a CV that included CEO-ships at the likes of Bulgari and Harry Winston.
A year later, it unveiled the Graff SuperStar, a jaw-dropping fully set showstopper with 59 carats of diamonds on it; the pun-tastic ChronoGraff (you would though, wouldn’t you?) a sporty number available without diamonds, and the MasterGraff featuring a tourbillon.
Unsurprisingly the inspiration for each of the four families (Technical, Sport, Dress and Bejewelled) was the diamond, with its facets providing the now-distinctive lines of the bezel that occurs in many of the more technical designs. There’s also now a Bespoke line, which allows customers to design their own timepiece from scratch.
Precious stones continue to be the focus for Graff’s watches; Laurence Graff intended his watches to be jewellery first and foremost, even those that aren’t set meaning that how the watches fit to the wrist is as important as how perfectly they are set.
Movements are made by MHC from Geneva or the Les-Brenets based Technotime, though, in 2010 Graff announced its first in-house calibre, and all designs are done in the workshop in London, which is where the experiments into what can be done with a watch really happen, such as the Snowfall it unveiled in 2016. The 278 diamonds were impressive enough but what was more incredible was how the master jeweller created full-pave strap that moves as if made of silk not stone. To achieve this, a hand-painted drawing was scanned by a computer programme in order that the structure be properly analysed to see how it could work three-dimensionally. The 300-joint lattice design was then 3D printed and, by creating this model, the team at Graff was able to accurately piece together the myriad joints and collets, so that, when it came to build the finished timepiece, first in London then Geneva, there was no need for margins of error.
It is this ambition and innovative way of fusing the finest elements of watchmaking and high-jewellery techniques that makes Graff such a rare gem in today’s horological landscape.
For the perfect distillation of everything Graff is in watch form it has to be the Floral Automatic. It is beautifully set, the tourbillon is discretely hidden behind a skeleton flower and the enamel cascade of blooms down the left-hand side of the dial add a touch of elegant whimsy to the whole design.
Classic Butterfly, £14,000