Graves Supercomplication watch sold at auction for record-breaking 20 million Swiss francs

Timepiece, commissioned by American financier Henry Graves Jr. in 1920s, was bought by an anonymous bidder

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The Independent Tech

The most complicated handmade watch ever created has been sold at auction for a record-breaking 20.6 million Swiss francs (£13.4m).

The Graves Supercomplication was delivered in 1933 to millionaire eccentric banker Henry Graves Jr., who commissioned the 18-karat gold timepiece that incorporates 24 complications (functions outside timekeeping), that was hailed as the most complicated watch of its era.

In a Sotheby’s auction yesterday the collectors piece went to an anonymous bidder after a curious set of events saw it wind up on the bidding pillow.

The scion of a wealthy American banking family Graves commissioned the watch as part of a horological duel with his rival James Ward Packard – the luxury car pioneer – to possess the most complicated timepiece ever created.

Graves, who was obsessively competitive as well as secretive, won the competition after eight years of waiting for the Supercomplication.

The piece is capable of measuring more than just the time, recording sunrise and sunset, contains a perpetual calendar – and chimes the same tune as Big Ben.

 

The star attraction – literally – of the piece is that it’s face displays a celestial chart that perfectly plots the night sky above the financier’s former apartment overlooking Central Park off Fifth Avenue in New York.

After its completion, Graves apparently had serious second thoughts about the watch during the waves of misery of the Depression.

An story claims Graves was rowing with his daughter on Saranoc Lake in the Adirondacks when overcome with anxiety, claiming possessing such a luxury brought “nothing but trouble”, he threatened to jettison the watch into the waters.

His daughter, Gwendolen, talked him down and later presented the piece to her son Reginald ‘Pete’ Fullerston Jr..

The watch then stayed in the family – despite many suitors, most notably the Stern family (owners of Patek Philippe) – until Gwendolen’s death in 1969.

Only days after her death, Fullerston sold the watch to Seth Atwood, an Illinois industrialist who had long coveted the piece, for $200,000 – in cash. The watch then sat in Atwood’s Time Museum in Rockford until the museum’s closure thirty years later in 1999.

It was then, to the huge surprise of many dealers and collectors, Atwood sold the watch off in auction to Mohammed Al-Thani of Qatar for $11 million, in a sale that revived interest in the exclusive world of luxury watches.

However, after it was discovered that Al-Thani allegedly owed around $42 million to Sotherby’s the watch was placed back on the market until the Sheikh’s unexpected death aged 48 in London.

At that point wrangling ensued over which auction house could claim rights to the sale of the Supercomplication, with Sotherby’s eventually settling the dispute – and selling the unique timepiece yesterday for a staring price. 

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