The world’s most expensive pocket watch recently went on sale at auction in Genève. The 80 year old time piece commissioned by New York Financier Henry Graves, one of the greatest watch collectors of the 20th century. Graves Pocket Watch was listed at a starting price of $15.6m. At the time it was made in 1930 this watch cost its maker today’s equivalent of a quarter of million dollars.
The 18 karat Gold time piece was Swiss watch makers Patek Philippe’s Mona Lisa of Horology; not only did it convey the time, it did so in two different time zones; it could measure Sunrise and Sunset throughout the year, alongside a perpetual calendar, displaying the phases of the Moon it would chime out the hours, the quarter and half hours in the same melody as London’s Big Ben. Its crowning glory however, is the celestial chart that accurately plotted the night’s sky above Henry Graves’s apartment on 5th Avenue NYC.
It was described by the auctioneers Sotherbys as the “Holy Grail” of watches. But why? Although it fetched far more than the asking price, it was still just a watch. Well, for the first 50 years of its life it was the most complicated watch in the world, later surpassed by technicians aided by computers and modern technology. In fact, it is still the most complicated handmade watch ever. Tin Bourne, Sotherby’s head of watches said after the auction that fetched up $24m “This evenings’ Stella results confirms the “Rock Star” status of the Henry Graves Supercomplication, a masterpiece which transcends the boundaries of horology and has earned its place among the world’s greatest works of art”
It told the time.
Any watch maker will tell you that a time piece should just keep time and all these deviations of functions are a “complication”. The Henry Graves watch had 24 of them – a huge distraction for an Horologist. The more complications in a watch, the more difficult it is to design, machine, assemble, and repair. A typical date-display chronograph may have up to 250 parts, while the Graves Watch has 920 components. Which explains why it took three years to design and assemble.
The Franck Muller Aeternitas Mega 4 is actually the world’s most complicated time piece, although not a pocket but a wristwatch. It has 36 complications, 25 of them visible, 1483 components and 1000-year calendar, but its design and manufacture was computer aided and relied on laser technology. When this watch is allowed to stop, the owner is unqualified to accurately to get it reset and started again with all the complications in concert.
In these days of Android and Apple watches that have instant and direct access to a huge amount of human knowledge, sidereal or otherwise, and that can inform us of our bodily conditions of heart rate, body mass, oxygen level, exercise spent or required the one function of the watch can be forgotten. Time passing.
It reminds me of us. People.
We too have complications. Our complications, just as with the time piece, detract from the main purpose. What that purpose is, I wouldn’t presume to say. But life is made much harder by the bothersome bits of baggage we carry round; be it jealousy or anger, racism or distrust of those who are different, a bloated sense of self-importance or a debilitating lack of esteem. There is an inexhaustible list of impediments that can complicate our passage through time. Those passing seconds, denoted by the soft click of the second hand as it glides round the face on the watch soon add up to a lifetime.
Here’s a poem by Edwin Brock
A Moment of Respect.
Two things I remember about my grandfather:
his threadbare trousers, and the way he adjusted
his half-hunter watch two minutes every day.
When I asked him why he needed to know the time so
exactly, he said a business man could lose a fortune
by being two minutes late for an appointment.
When he died he left two meerschaum pipes
and a golden sovereign on a chain. Somebody
threw the meerschaum pipes away, and
there was an argument about the sovereign.
On the day of his burial the church clock chimed
as he was lowered down into the clay, and all
the family advanced their watches by two minutes.