Patek Philippe Breaks Own Auction Record at Sotheby's

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The prestigious auction at Sotheby’s in Geneva seems to have come rapidly since we last wrote about it in August when the news of the Patek Philippe Henry Graves SuperComplication going for auction once again was announced. 

It surprised no one to see this impressive watch break its own auction sale record from 1999 of £9.6million but no one could’ve predicted it selling for a cool £13.4million at the Sotheby’s Geneva auction - aptly named the ‘Important Watches’ collection. It becomes even more astonishing when you discover the original price for this one-off timepiece was a mere $15,000 (today’s value aprox. $250,000) compared to the $24million (£13.4million) it sold for yesterday. 

Regarded as the world’s most complicated watch ever assembled by hand, it took 8 years from the watch being commissioned in 1925 for it to be created. It becomes even more incredible when you think of the changing times during those 8 years that could’ve affected production; the Wall Street Crash, the Great Depression that followed and the Stern Brothers, Charles and Jean, purchasing Patek Philippe in 1929. Despite the changing world, The SuperComplication was delivered in 1933 and was even credited as keeping the watchmaker in business during these troubling times. 

The history surrounding its creation is fascinating to say the least. Henry Graves Jr, a New York banker and the original owner, wished to compete for the best timepiece against fellow watch collector James Ward Packard and therefore challenged Patek Philippe to create the SuperComplication. Sadly, the competition ended early when Packard passed away in 1928 and when Graves finally received the watch, he also brought unwanted attention to the timepiece and himself. It is rumoured he became concerned about safety for himself and his family’s lives and almost threw the timepiece in a lake; fortunately his granddaughter Gwendolen stopped him and the pocket watch remained in the family until 1969. 

Weighing at more than a pound, this pocket watch houses 24 incredible features such as a perpetual calendar, age and phases of the moon, chronograph, alarm and the Westminster chimes. A noteworthy feature is the sidereal time function – a system astronomers use to measure the length of time the Earth takes to make two consecutive transitions by a fixed star; a sidereal day is approximately 23 hours, 56 minutes and 4.1 seconds. 

The final touches include the correct spacing of the stars in the night sky from Henry Graves Jr’s flat in Fifth Avenue in New York where he lived – a remarkable feat considering the timepiece was assembled across the Atlantic in Switzerland. 

To further cement the sheer quality of such a complicated timepiece by such an esteemed watchmaker, the last time the pocket watch needed to be wound was in 1969. Since then, the timepiece has still been ticking and keeping accurate time. With this in mind, it is not surprising that Patek Philippe are so highly regarded as one of the best watch manufacturers not only in the watch industry but across the globe. 

Last auctioned by Sotheby’s New York in 1999, it sold for £9.6millon – smashing the estimated bidding price of £6.8millon. It was then pledged back to Sotheby’s in 2012 but was released this year to coincide with Patek Philippe’s 175th Anniversary. 

Bidding opened in Geneva yesterday at 9 million Swiss Francs (aprox £5.8million) and soon jumped to 13million (aprox. £8.5million). The final two bidders were Claude Sfeir, a collector and jeweller, and Aurel Bacs, an auctioneer and consultant – with the bidding increasing 100,00 Swiss Francs (aprox. £65,000) at each turn. Finally, it was Sfeir that was ultimately outbid by Bacs for a record 20.6 million Swiss Francs (£13.4million). 

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