The Graves Supercomplication

Sotheby’s announces plans to auction the most expensive watch in the world



For collectors, there are a number of factors when considering the value of a watch: brand, model, condition, rarity, & provenance. Provenance relates to the specific history of a watch, for example, whether it was worn by a certain individual (think Paul Newman & his personal Rolex Daytona). When it comes to provenance, it doesn’t get much more special than a Henry Graves Jr. watch.


Henry Graves Jr. was, along with James Packard, the foremost collector of fine watches of the 20th century, of which period the 1920s & 30s was his most active & well known. Born into a wealthy banking dynasty, his legacy is further explored through a book dedicated to his personality, his rivalry with James Packard and his taste for expensive watches (The Grand Complication by Stacey Perman). Graves was a well-respected member of New York society, but preferred to remain low profile. He had a reputation as a competitive sportsman as well as a bankroller of various Arctic expeditions by his youngest son, George Coe Graves II. However, Graves remains best known for his watch collection and is credited with helping to save Patek Philippe in it’s most difficult days by commissioning complicated timepieces. His timepieces had engraved the Graves family emblem “esse quam videri” – to be rather than to appear, a fitting description of this character. The major auction houses compete ferociously for the right to sell a Graves watch.


Last month, Sotheby’s announced that it has won the battle to auction the Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication, a unique piece commissioned by Graves in 1925, at its Geneva auction in November 2014. Sotheby’s first sold the timepiece in New York in December 1999. At the time, the initial estimate was $3mm-$5mm, but a bidding war ensued with the hammer finally coming down at a record breaking $11mm, easily setting a new record for a watch. This record remains till today, with the next most expensive being a Patek Philipee moonphase wristwatch sold by Christies in May 2010 for $5.7mm, nearly half the Graves Supercomplication.


Graves regularly commissioned new watches, but his desire & competitive spirit pushed him to request “the most complicated watch in the world”. Patek Philippe was undaunted by the challenge. They required 3 years of design and 5 years of effort to finally deliver the timepiece in 1933. In total, 430 screws, 110 wheels, 120 various movable parts, and 70 jewels combined to produce 24 complications; including chronograph, minute-repeater with Westminster chimes, perpetual calendar, power reserve, sunrise & sunset times for New York City, and a celestial chart showing the constellation of stars in the sky above his Ohio home. Weighing over 0.5kg, the watch remained the most complicated watch for over 50 years, eventually surpassed by the 33 complication of the Patek Caliber 89, itself only made possible through computer assisted machines.


Although the auction will only take place in November, the watch community remains excited to see what the result will bring.

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