The Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch was once known as the world’s most complicated timepiece; featuring 920 components assembled entirely by hand, it has 24 functions, is 1.5 inches thick and reportedly weighs more than one pound. In short, despite more dynamic pocket watches now in existence, the Supercomplication remains an extraordinary creation in terms of craftsmanship and fine detailing.
And until recently, the watch also held the distinction of being Sotheby’s most expensive timepiece ever sold at auction -- for $11 million in 1999. This fact changed dramatically in November, when Sotheby’s (Geneva) sold the Supercomplication for a staggering 23.2 Swiss francs (£16 million), clearly demolishing the old record by an impressive 100 percent.
A Remarkable History
In 1933, Henry Graves Jr., a New York banker, paid $15,000 for the custom made watch. Apparently, he was competing against another wealthy collector (boys will be boys) who had reportedly owned several Patek Phillippe complicated watches by 1925 (the same year the Supercomplication was commissioned). The watch remained in the Graves family until 1960.
Ironically, the 1999 auction under-estimated the Supercomplication at a maximum value of $5 million and did so again in November’s auction by estimating its value at $15 million. During the earlier auction, the Patek Phillippe Museum (in Geneva) ended up with 16 of the 39 watches previously owned by Graves.
The watch had originally been offered to the auction house in 2012, along with other valuables, by the late Sheikh Saud Bin Mohammed Bin Ali Al-Thani, a member of the Qatar royal family. However, Patek Phillippe saw it fitting to put the watch on auction this year (coincidentally, just two days after the Sheikh’s death) in order to commemorate Patek Phillippe’s 175th anniversary.
Aurel Bacs, an auctioneer and consultant formally employed at Christie’s watch department, gave the winning bid following an intense back and forth (imagine the final set at Wimbledon) with Lebanese jeweler (and collector) Claude Sfeir.
This unprecedented development is excellent news for all luxury goods and fine jewelry dealers (and Patek Phillippe, of course) as it proves that collectors not only appreciate the intricate beauty, functionality and quality behind original high-end pieces, but now also consider them long-term investments for a secure future. And since, at long last, these well-crafted pieces have entered the same realm as fine art or historic artifacts, I am certain that this is only the beginning for luxury investment purchases of this magnitude. Happy Bidding!