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.