Details
MANUFACTURED IN: 1856
CASE MATERIAL: 18K gold
CASE SIZE: 48 mm. diam.
DIAL: White enamel
MOVEMENT: Manual, keyless
FUNCTIONS: Time, à tact
CALIBER: 18'''
WITH: Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming production of the present watch with enamel dial, small seconds hand, guilloché front and case back covers, à tact function on caseback in 1856 and its subsequent sale on 24 June 1857, Russian 14K gold oblong-link chain with maker’s mark “AB” (in Cyrillic) thought to be for Anna Bilibina of Kaluga (Russia)

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Provenance
According to the engraving on the interior of the back cover: Prince Nikolaj Nikolaevich zu Sayn und Wittgenstein, 1862-1934, an officer of the Russian Imperial Army.
Special notice
This lot is subject to standard Swiss VAT rules and 7.7% VAT will be charged on the ‘hammer’ and the ‘buyer’s premium’
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Lot Essay

The present watch is a great rarity, of noble provenance and originally sold by Germany’s foremost retailer of the mid-19th century.

Although Patek Philippe states that “à tact” watches, with or without repeating, were produced (by Patek Philippe) from about 1845” and that “they were presented to the public as early as the London Universal Exhibition of 1851”, to the best of our knowledge only one other example is known publicly. That watch, no. 51’267, made in 1875, almost twenty years later than the present watch, is in the collection of the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva (Inv. P-60) and was never sold. See: Patek Philippe Watches, Volume 1, Patek Philippe Museum, 2013, p. 70.

The montre à tact or tactful watch was invented by Abraham Louis Breguet in the 1790s during an epoch when it was regarded as unseemly to read the time in public. The "à tact" system helped to tell the time in polite society without taking the watch out of your pocket and possibly offending your host or hostess. Another advantage of the à tact watch is that the time can be read in the dark without the expense of a repeating mechanism. It is also referred to as the watch for the blind as the exposed pointer and markers on the band allow the wearer to determine the time by touch alone.

The cover of the present "à tact" watch is engraved ‘Count N.N. Wittgenstein’ in Cyrillic to the inside. Visible attempts were made to remove it as it was illegal to display aristocratic titles in the former Soviet Union (1922-1991).

Nikolaj Nikolaevich zu Sayn-Wittgenstein (1862-1934) was a member of the Imperial Russian Court, descendant of the German dynasty Sayn-Wittgenstein. Concluding from his German roots and the year of sale of the watch it could have been a birthday present for him, or a heritage from his father Nikolaus zu Sayn-Wittgenstein-Ludwigsburg (1812-1864), lieutenant colonel in the Russian Imperial army.

His grandfather, Louis Adolph Peter, 1st Prince of Sayn-Wittgenstein-Ludwigsburg-Berleburg (1769-1843), was a Field Marshal in the Imperial Russian Army during the Napoleonic wars, also known as “The Savior of St. Petersburg”. In 1834 King Frederick William III of Prussia granted him the title of Fürst (Prince) zu Sayn-Wittgenstein.

The 14K gold chain is hallmarked with the manufacturer’s stamp ‘AB’ for Bilibina, manufacturer of jewellery and watches, located in Kaluga, south of Moscow.

A further noteworthy fact is that the present watch travelled to Jordan where it was used as a prop in the 2016 Russian feature film ‘The Monk and the Demon’ by Nicholas Dostale. The watch became “the golden pocket Breguet” which belonged to the demon called Legion.

Christian Friedrich Tiede (1794-1877) was one of Germany’s best known watchmakers and retailers, he supplied public institutions and the great German aristocratic families with clocks and watches. Tiede moved to Berlin in 1825 and built his first pocket chronometer, in 1828, Alexander von Humboldt purchased a chronometer from him for the Berlin Observatory. In 1838 he was appointed Royal Astronomer and Court Clockmaker. Christian Friedrich Tiede died on October 12, 1877 in Berlin. Over his lifetime he had made about 350 marine chronometers and very fine pendulum clocks. His astronomical pendulum clocks were used worldwide. The workshop was continued by his eldest son Bernhard Theodor Friedrich Tiede.

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