Preimium Guild

What makes Henry Graves Supercomplication the ‘Holy Grail’ of watch collectors?

There must be some good reason why someone would pay a whopping $24million for a timepiece. But this here is no ordinary pocket watch. Which explains why at the Sotheby’s Geneva Autumn 2014 Important Watches auction held on the 11th November, a world record was set in auction sales of most expensive timepieces, Patek Philippe’s Henry Graves Supercomplication timepiece, going under the hammer. For over an intense 15 minutes, five bidders vied to possess this masterpiece of craftsmanship. The name of the highest bidder has not been disclosed by Sotheby’s. Interestingly, the previous record in the same category was set in 1999, when Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani of the Qatari royal family placed the winning bid for $11million to possess this very Henry Graves Supercomplication in Sotheby’s auction.

The story about this watch goes back to 1925, when the New York based banker Henry Graves commissioned the Swiss luxury watch maker Patek Philippe to produce the most complicated watch in the world. Graves had entered into a friendly horology competition with the American automobile manufacturer James Ward Packard to see who could acquire the most complicated timepiece. Graves commissioned Patek Philippe to make such a watch in 1925, and it took the horologist all of eight years to deliver it in 1933. James Packard’s timepiece was a masterpiece in itself with 10 complications, and featured a sky chart centred above his home in Ohio, with 500 golden stars. But Henry Graves timepiece was way ahead with 24 complications.

Before we list out the virtues of Henry Graves’ spectacular pocket watch – a ‘complication’ in horology is about any feature that is beyond the simple movements displaying just hours and minutes. The early ultra-complicated watches were works of art, often produced in limited edition versions or just a single piece.

Henry Graves Supercomplication timepiece sported 24 complications. It was a work of precision, totally hand crafted in the era before computers. This extraordinary timepiece is a gold open face minute repeating chronograph clock watch with chimes that emulate the bells of Westminster; a record of the phases and age of the moon; sunrise and sunset indications; a perpetual calendar that makes automatic adjustments for month and year; and a celestial map of the New York night sky, which shows accurately the spacing and density of the stars. This night sky map is of the sky from about Henry Graves Fifth Avenue Apartment in Manhattan New York, and rotates in the same place.

All of the 900 individual parts were put together manually, and the pocket watch is yet in full working order. The timepiece was last wound in 1969. Another feature on this Supercomplication is a sidereal time dial, usually used by astronomers, which tracks the Earth’s rate of rotation in relation to fixed stars. A sidereal day lasts for 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds. For nearly 56 years, Henry Graves Superocmplication ruled as the undisputed king with the title of ‘World’s most complicated’ watch.

This watch remained in the Museum of Time near Chicago, Illionoise for many years until 1999, when it was sold to Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani of the Qatari royal family for $11million. Until its auction earlier this week, it was in the Patek Philippe Museum in Geneva, Switzerland.

Post the auction in Geneva, Daryn Schnipper, Chairman of Sotheby’s Watch Division and Tim Bourne, the auctioneer and Sotheby’s Worldwide Head of Watches commented, “It is more than a watch. It is a masterpiece which transcends the boundaries of horology and has earned its place among the world’s greatest works of art. The fascination it has attracted over the past few months, as Patek Philippe celebrates its 175th anniversary, is a fitting tribute to the genius of the Swiss manufacturer.”

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