Friday, October 31, 2014

The Sky Above, the Auction Below: Henry Graves Jr.’s Supercomplication

Update:  On November 11th, The Henry Graves Jr. Patek Philippe Supercomplication sold for 23,237,000 Swiss Franc -- 20,600,000 + 2,627,000 for commission. That's over $24,000,000 in USD. 

I usually don’t devote a post to a pocket watch, but as Shakespeare says in the Hamlet Act I, “There are more things in heaven and earth, Horatio, than are dreamt of in your philosophy." Such is the astounding set of celestial and earthly complications — all 24 of them— incorporated in Patek Philippe’s “Supercomplication” made for Henry Graves, Jr. Mr. Graves commissioned the watch in 1925 and took delivery of it in January 1933. Sotheby’s will offer it during its Important Watches auction in Geneva on November 11th. 

Not until 1989, when Patek Philippe brought out the Calibre 89 with 33 complications to celebrate Patek's 150th  Anniversary, had a watch combined so many complications without any computer assisted design. Research for the Graves' Supercomplication components took five years and then another three years to assemble them. 

The time piece's genesis began as an informal competition between Graves, a banker who lived in New York City and James Ward Packard, of Packard automobile fame, who lived in Warren, Ohio. Although the two men never met, they were both patrons of Patek Philippe and became inextricably linked through the Supercomplication.  Their full story is told by Stacy Perman in her book, A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World’s Most Legendary Watch (Atria Books, 2013).

Overall, the Supercomplication’s’ most distinctive feature is its “double dial.”  On one side, is a large aperture with a celestial sky chart containing the Milky Way beautifully rendered over Manhattan’s Central Park.  Lacing the Milky Way's ribbon, the stars are correctly spaced, defined by individual magnitude and placed in their relationship to each other. The same dial face also displays sunrise and sunset times and the exact “equation of time” for Graves’ Manhattan residence at East 64th Street and 5th Avenue. Among the complications incorporated on the reverse dial are mean (i.e.regular time); apertures displaying the abbreviated name for the month and week day; a perpetual calendar adjusting for leap years; a moon phase representation at 12 o’clock; and a constant second’s display at 6:00 o’clock.

You can see Sotheby’s full Important Watches Catalogue including an extensive section devoted to the Supercomplication beginning on page 260. All 24 complications are listed on the Catalogue's page 276.

Also, these two videos elaborate on the watch’s history and complications.

The last time the Supercomplication came up at auction was in 1999, again by Sotheby’s. It went for a then record setting $11 million. This time, the pre-auction estimates for it are between $15-$20 million. Horologists worldwide will be watching for Auction Lot 345, the Graves Supercomplication history to continue in just a few weeks.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Two Exquisite Repeaters: Foreign and Domestic

Recently, through a blog posting by the Gevril Group showcasing the Ferrangamo Buckle 2014 Christmas Edition Watch Collection, I discovered the French term, guilloche, an ornamental turning process popular with woodworkers and metal engravers over the centuries. At the heart of the guilloche design process is the creation of repeating, intricate geometric intertwining of lines on an object. This is done through an engine turning process which can cut a myriad of geometric patterns in a rotating metal surface using a stationary cutting tool called a "rose engine." A similar type of engraving can be done with a straight-line engine when vertical or horizontal patterns are desired.

Most watch aficionados associate the term “repeater” with a complication using sound not sight. A watch repeater allows the wearer to tell time by sounding the last hour and quarters and minutes at will.  No need to look at the dial—your ear tells you the time. However, in this blog, I’m highlighting two companies, one foreign and one domestic that are using guilloche to add distinctive finishing background beauty to their watch dial and component designs. 

First, Salvatore Ferrangamo.  Ferragamo, with headquarters in Florence, Italy has been known for decades as a worldwide fashion taste maker.  Perhaps best known for its founder’s reputation as a master shoe designer for early Hollywood stars and such innovative shoe designs as the cork wedge, the invisible sandal and the caged heel, the company also now occupies a significant fashion niche in the affordable luxury watch market. 

Ferrangamo introduced its first timepiece in 2007 and now has 14 distinctive collections.  The one collection that I particularly like is the Buckle Watch Collection which debuted at Baselworld earlier this year. It predominantly incorporates guilloche as its visual Pièce de résistance and is a tantalizing complement to its asymmetrical dial and case shape of Ferragamo’s distinctive, trademarked  Gancino hook.

For the holidays, the 2014 Christmas Collection with its guilloche design reminds me of contemporary fir tree tepee-silhouettes growing upright and side-by-side in a futuristic forest ready to be harvested and ultimately trimmed in a family’s living room.   The dial bursts with vibrant, Christmas ornament color. Four genuine diamond indices sparkle at 12-3-6- and 9 o’clock.  It comes with fuchsia or red vegetable tanned calfskin wrapping straps – or if you prefer, Ferrangamo’s classic beige leather. The Gervil Group  is the US and Caribbean agent for Ferrangamo time pieces.

Ferrangamo Buckle 2014 Christmas Edition Watch Collection

Second, RGM Watches.  For the domestic bespoke among us or just bloggers like me fascinated by elegance and its technical back story, the RGM Watch Company, founded in 1992 by American watchmaker Roland G. Murphy is a
guilloche crafting powerhouse.  Located in the small borough of Mt. Joy, (Lancaster County), Pennsylvania --Amish country America -- the firm prides itself as a place where “modern manufacturing co-exists with antique, hand-operated machinery.”
This is true when it comes to its engine turning craftsmanship by which it finishes watch parts including cases, dials and movements. Additionally, it can integrate stunning guilloche patterns in its timepieces for individual customers.
The following images of its guilloche gallery are taken from its website and illustrate its amazing engine turning technical and creative design virtuosity.


 Also, RGM offers one of my favorite watch videos on the engine turning process.


Just a quick professional endorsement for Roland Murphy.  He’s been a member of  the National Association of Watch and Clock Collectors (NAWCC) since 1981, an association that I am also a member! Through a recent hosting and tour of his clients and press at the National Watch and Clock Museum in Columbia, PA he was able to help with a donation of over $2,000 to the museum.

Watch my blog for more postings on timely philanthropic contributions both large and small.  A posting series called, Giving Time is in the works.   

Thursday, October 16, 2014

Passing Time with Malevich

Since October 2013, Kazimir Malevich (1879-1935), one of the most significant 20th Century Russian avant-garde artists  has had  major successive exhibitions of his work at the Stedelijk Museum, Amsterdam; *; the Art and Exhibition Hall of the Federal Republic of Germany, Bonn; and the Tate Modern, London.** The Tate Modern exhibition closes on October 26, 2014.

However, Malevich  aficionados  can continue to wear a diverse group of reproductions representative of his many stylistic periods including Impressionism, Post-Impressionism, Primitivism, Cubism, Cubo-Futurism, Suprematism, and Neoclassicism.  Primarily offered through Zazzle, the online retailer, the following  mini-gallery also includes a contemporary artist’s digital derivative from a Malevitch  photograph and the Tate Modern's own Push Watch exclusive to its Malevich exhibition's Museum Shop's product rang    Whether you agree with such appropriated image commercialism or not, it's testimony to Malevich’s creative “fearlessness” as described by Robert Chandler is an excellent article in New York Review, October 9, 2014.   

Here are some favorite selections from my own Malevich gallery:  

 The Knife Grinder (Principle of Glittering), 1912-1913. The dial image is done in Malevich's Cubo-Futurist style and is one of a series of works depicting the everyday lives of peasants in animated, almost frenzied three-dimensional movements.

Attentive Worker, pencil on paper, 1913.  The dial image depicts one of the costume designs done by Malevich for  Aleksei Kruchenykh's Futurist opera Victory Over the Sun. Malevich also did the sets for the production.


An Englishman in Moscow, oil on canvas, 1914.  Cubist-influenced, the dial image  incorporates many different overlapping  objects, including a face (possibly Malevich or Futurist David Burlyuk), fish and bayonet, on many different scales. 


 Suprematism, oil on canvas, 1915. Malevich uses colored geometrical elements on a dynamic axis as the fundamental organizing element for the image. He chose the word Supermatism to describe his own paintings in a 1915 exhibit. It was the first movement to reduce painting to pure geometric abstraction.


Portrait of Artist's Wife N.A. Malevich, oil on canvas, 1933. Late in life, Malevich returned to a Neoclassical style and used it in this portrait as well as his own self-portrait (1933) depicted below .

My Dear Malevich is the creation of Houston documentary photographer Tom R. Chambers.   Called a Pixelscape, it was "found  within a photo of Malevich via magnification, filter treatment [halftone] and isolation of the pixel(s) in Photoshop."


The Tate Modern's Push Watch described as "Unisex, original and quirky....Simply 'push' and the time is shown in a blue LED. The design was specifically created for the Tate exhibition.  It comes in orange (pictured), black, red and blue.

* Kazimir Malevich and the Russian Avant-Garde:  Featuring Selections form the Khardzhiev and  Costakis Collections.  Catalog of the exhibition at the Stedelijk Museum by Sophie Tates, Karen Kelly, Bart Rutten, and Geurt Imanse. Amsterdam: Stedelijk, 2014.

** Malevich [Catalog of the Tate Exhibition] edited by Achim Borchardt-Hume. London: Tate Publishing, (March) 2015.