Holy trinity

Grail Watches: The Holy Trinity (Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin) – And what is a “Grail” anyway?

A few months ago, I listened to a Clubhouse chat moderated by Adrian Barker, UK watchband supplier and YouTube watch vlogger, on the topic of ‘The Holy Trinity’, which as any watch enthusiast knows. , refers to the Patek Triumvirate. Philippe (PP), Audemars Piguet (AP) and Vacheron Constantin (VC). It is widely believed that these brands earned this nickname due to their collective dominance as the oldest and most accomplished mass production watchmakers in the world.

During the discussion, in which participants explained their own understanding of the term and listed their personal preferences for the top three, I also heard references to “Grail” watches and even “Three Horsemen”. (presumably “from the Apocalypse”) and at one point began to wonder if I had stumbled upon a conclave of cardinals in the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel, summoned to choose the Pope’s next watch.

So what exactly do we mean – or do we think we mean – when we describe PP, AP and VC as the “Holy Trinity” of watchmaking? Or when we describe a timepiece as our “grail watch”?

These terms are, I suppose, used with some contempt for the original meaning of the terms. Sometimes it is suspected that the speaker or writer may have picked them up from Monty Python and the Holy Grail Where The Raiders of the Lost Ark. Perhaps we should look at the origin of the terms before seeing how they could apply to the marks concerned.

Yes, there is a Patek Philippe Nautilus inside!

Horsemen of the Apocalypse

Let’s start at the end, so to speak. The use of “the three horsemen” to describe PP, AP and VC seems to be apocryphal as I have not found any written example anywhere, but it is probably a reference to the last book of the Christian Bible, Revelation of John, in which, just before the end of the world, “three [and sometimes four] beings ride white, red, black and pale horses, having authority over a quarter of the earth, to kill with the sword, famine and pestilence. I’m not sure how this relates to the heyday of Swiss watchmaking, so I’ll leave this one to eschatologists (theologists concerned with the future of humanity and the so-called end of times).

“My grailway watch “

It’s a more interesting term, with a compelling story rooted between a possible fact and an absolute fantasy. The term “grail”, from the Celtic Gral or Greal, first appears in one of the legends of King Arthur in 1190 and variously describes a cup, dish or stone “with miraculous powers that bring happiness, eternal youth or sustenance in infinite abundance.

Over the centuries, the legend has mingled with that of the Holy Chalice, the cup that Jesus would have used during the Last Supper and in which Joseph of Arimathea collected the blood of Jesus during the crucifixion.

“The Lady with the Holy Grail” by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

This cup is said to have been taken to Rome by Saint Peter and used by the early church, sent to Spain to be kept during a period of persecution in AD 251, and kept hidden during the 900 years of Muslim occupation of Spain. . It is recorded as having been kept in the Cathedral of Valencia since the 15th century.

The Grail is closely associated with both Arthurian legends and the Christian reconquest of Muslim Spain. But it is also associated – without historical justification – with the Templars, who emerged during the Crusades in Jerusalem in the 12th century, becoming a powerful multinational financial organization until its dissolution and its members wiped out by Philip IV of France (who, perhaps) coincidentally, owed them a lot of money). For the Templars, the Grail was meant to be a symbol of secret knowledge rather than a tangible object.

Over the centuries, various European writers with dubious references have associated the Grail not only with the Templars, but also with the Cathars (a medieval Christian sect) and, ultimately, with German nationalist mythology, which at one point resulted in Reichsführer Heinrich Himmler sponsoring an unsuccessful search for the Grail (as suggested in Indiana Jones and the Last Crusade).

The Grail on a German postage stamp from 1933

The most recent form of Grail nonsense was brought to the fore in a TV documentary and book by two UK fraudsters who ‘proved’ that ‘San Grail’ was in fact ‘Real Blood’ or ‘Royal Blood’ and that the descendants of Jesus and Mary Magdalene were very much alive and living quietly in France, having been hidden over the centuries by the Cathars and their successors, the Priory of Sion, until they could reclaim the throne of France. This fable inspired the American author Dan Brown The Da Vinci Code.

‘Daughter of King Shovels Carrying the Sancgraal’ by Frederick Sandys (1861)

For watch collectors, the relevant characteristics of the Grail are those inspired by the legendary and mythical tales above, such as its transformative nature (as in “this item will enhance and enrich your existence if you cannot get your hands on it. “) and its inaccessibility (as in” you will never get your hands on it because it will always be out of reach “) either because of its cost or its rarity, or because if you did, a new” grail “watch would quickly supplant it in your fevered collector’s mind and it would simply become another piece in your collection, likely to be sold to finance the new acquisition.

These two concepts merit further examination. For the first, there are many examples in cinema and literature of the twentieth century (such as Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and Philip Pullman’s Dark materials trilogy, to name just two) of a clock or clock-like device that has the capacity to transform the course of people’s lives or even the history of the world. And this is the essence of the concept of “grail watch”: it is much more than a watch that you really want, it is the watch that you think can transform you by mystically or practically infusing your existence. with something that is currently lacking.

The second is the inherently inaccessible nature of the “Grail Watch”: the point is, you probably wouldn’t know what to do with yourself if you bought it. One of the main lessons of childhood is that longing for a particular toy or object for a long time will inevitably end in disappointment, if only because people change, even though the objects whom they aspire to do not (see “Watch Nirvana” below).

The Holy Trinity

Back to Patek Philippe, Audemars Piguet and Vacheron Constantin: so what is the Holy Trinity for those not obsessed with watches?

The Trinity is a central concept in Christian dogma and yet, surprisingly, the Christian Bible does not mention a “trinity” as such. It is a doctrinal term coined by the early church to explain that God is “one God, but three co-eternal and consubstantial persons: God the Father, God the Son (Jesus Christ) and God the Holy Spirit”.

The Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Jumbo Extra-Thin is most definitely someone’s “Grail” watch.

This term is potentially problematic for our many Muslim brothers and sisters in the watchmaking community, because shirk, the association of partners with God, is considered one of the most serious sins of Islam. Are they bothered as they wonder if they should wear the Royal Oak from Audemars Piguet or the Royal Oak Offshore today? Probably not.

What matters is that although PP, AP, and VC are theoretically described as constituting the Trinity in no particular order, I suspect that, just as with the Christian Trinity, there is a horological hierarchy, Patek Philippe being God, Audemars Piguet le Fils, more connected and more accessible, and Vacheron Constantin le Saint-Esprit less visible (that is to say invisible). This is confirmed by the photo below, with PP in the middle, AP “sitting to the right of the Father” and VC to the left of PP.

If you have a different interpretation, leave a comment below.

For watch collectors, the general consensus is that membership in the Trinity is based on the cumulative technical prowess of the three watchmakers and their uninterrupted existence (Vacheron Constantin being the oldest). Some commentators have attempted to introduce other watchmakers such as A. Lange & Söhne or FP Journe into the triumvirate, but none of these contenders can claim the required combination of historical background, technical excellence and production volumes.

Are any of these watches your Grail Watch?

In conclusion, I think it’s time to revamp the vocabulary of the watch collecting community to reflect its true global, multicultural and – let’s put it – multi-faith nature. So I respectfully suggest that we introduce the following, more inclusive concepts and terms:

Watch Nirvana: When you are finally released from the eternal cycle of watch upgrades (see “Grail Watch” above).

Mecca of watchmaking: the country formerly known as “Switzerland”.

Watch Karma: When you find yourself buying back a watch that you previously owned but sold. Again and again . . .

Muggles (not a religious term, but almost): people who don’t wear a watch.

Further suggestions are welcome in the comments below. And tell us about your Grail Watch!

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