In 2017 when an unnamed collector laid down $ 17.8 million at auction for a Rolex Cosmograph Daytona that once belonged to Paul Newman it was a record for the most expensive wristwatch ever. However how about the most expensive watch ever? That honor goes to a pocket watch – the completely unique Patek Philippe Supercomplication. The final price, bid at auction by an anonymous entity in 2014, was over $24,000,000 in US Dollars.
So, what was it about this Patek Philippe Supercomplication that encouraged a bidding war among the world’s most elite timepiece collectors? To really understand it you must go back almost a century ago to the roaring 1920’s.
In the mid 1920’s, a New York-based banker, Mr. Henry Graves Jr. commissioned Patek Philippe to produce “the world’s most complicated timepiece” – no matter the cost. According to the book “A Grand Complication: The Race To Build The World’s Most Legendary Watch” by Stacy Perman, Graves was engaged in a gentleman’s competition with fellow American, automobile manufacturer James Ward Packard, to keep outdoing each other as they got Patek Philippe to produce ever more complex watches. They were both determined to show the other “what a real watch was”.
In 1927 Packard commissioned a complicated watch but, not to be outdone, Graves surpassed his rival to become the owner of the most complicated watch ever made. It was called Patek Philippe Henry Graves Supercomplication. Designed and built by Patek Philippe, it was an ultra-complicated (24 functions) pocket watch. The Supercomplication watch was delivered to Mr. Graves in 1933. Patek Philippe might have bested its own work if James Ward Packard had his way. Unfortunately, Packard died a few years earlier, before the Supercomplication watch was even handed over to Mr. Graves.
The Supercomplication took three years to design, another five to manufacture. The most advanced techniques in horological engineering produced a truly one-of-a-kind timepiece; only one watch was ever built. Complications included a perpetual calendar with phases and age of the moon, indication of sunrise and sunset, and a celestial chart depicting the stars in the nighttime sky over New York City. Graves died in 1953. His heirs sold the watch in 1968 to The Time Museum in Rockford, Illinois. It was later sold at Sotheby’s for a record breaking $11,002,500 to an anonymous bidder in New York City on December 2, 1999
Henry Graves Jr. paid Patek Philippe $15,000 for the Supercomplication in 1925. Adjusting for inflation that is roughly $215,000 in 2018 dollar values. The price of a mere entry-level Ferrari today. It would not be uncommon for a watch of such complication as the Supercomplication to retail new for over $1,000,000 today.
Patek Philippe tends to command an impressive auction reputation because its most significant vintage watches are prized by collectors. However they are not the only timepieces to command high auction prices. Audemars Piquet, Rolex, Piaget, Girard-Perregaux, Vacheron Constantin, Breitling, Breguet. and Lange & Sohne all produce certain limited-edition or very limited-production timepieces. However none achieve the stratospheric price of Mr Graves 1933 Supercomplication.
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