Superstar! The Holy Grail of Watches Scores $24 Million, New World Record

They don’t call it super for nothing.

The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication, dubbed the “world’s most famous watch,” scored $24 million (23.2 million CHF) at Sotheby’s Nov. 11 Important Watch auction in Geneva, reaffirming its status as the world’s most valuable timepiece.

Five buyers competed for 15 minutes for the sale’s final attraction. The winner had not been announced at press time.

The Patek Philippe–designed watch’s final price smashed its estimate of $17 million, and more than doubled its 1999 hammer price of $11 million, which at the time set a record for a watch purchased at auction.

The Supercomplication has been called the holy grail of watches, in part because of its fabled and quite complicated history. It was created as the result of a 1925 “contest” between two watch collectors, New York City banking magnate Henry Graves Jr. and automaker James Ward Packard, to see who could create the most complicated watch.

Eight years later, at the height of the Depression, Patek Philippe delivered to Graves the final product, which claimed the title of the most complicated watch in the world for 56 years, when another Patek Philippe watch, fashioned in part by a computer, finally topped it with 33 complications. (The Supercomplication is still considered the most complicated watch ever built by hand.)

The 14k gold watch comprises 900 individual parts and boasts 24 complications (features other than time), including a perpetual calendar that extends to the year 2100, indications for the time of sunset and sunrise, a stopwatch for hours and minutes, an alarm, a map of the sky over Graves’ New York City apartment, and chimes that sound like Big Ben.

The timepiece “is a real triumph of physics and micro-engineering and mathematics,” Stacy Perman, author of a book on the subject, told JCK in July. “Every function, every feature, had to work independently and work together. The tiniest error impacts everything. It’s like extremely complicated three-dimensional chess.”

For many years, the timepiece resided at the Time Museum in Rockford, Ill. When the museum shut, Sotheby’s sold the watch in 1999, although a 2010 Bloomberg article says that a member of the Qatar royal family returned it to Sotheby’s to cover his debts. (Sotheby’s declined comment.) This new auction was scheduled to coincide with Patek Philippe’s 175th anniversary.

The head of Sotheby’s watch division tells the story of the watch and how Sotheby’s attained it in the video below:

This sale was not the only Patek watch auction this week to make a splash.

On Nov. 9, the Christie’s Geneva auction of 100 wrist and pocket Patek Philippes netted $19.7 million.

The top lot of the sale was the Patek Philippe Reference 2499 First Series, a perpetual calendar chronograph in pink gold, which sold for $2.7 million.

Courtesy Christie’s

Patek Philippe Reference 2499 First Series 

“This sale has exceeded our expectations in every way,” said John Reardon, international head of the Christie’s watch department. “With 69 lots sold above estimate, this sale sets a new benchmark for thematic sales and shows the amazing strength of the Patek Philippe market.”

Courtesy Christie’s

Thomas Perazzi, senior specialist of Christie’s watch department, selling the top lot of the evening.


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JCK News Director