It says something that a watch made in 1932 keeps breaking world records, and the Henry Graves Supercomplication watch did just that today as it was knocked down by Sotheby’s Geneva for a record-breaking CHF 23.2 million (US$24 million). The Supercomplication, which also holds the Guinness record for the most complicated handmade pre-digital timepiece, was purchased by an anonymous buyer after 15 minutes of competition between five bidders.

The Supercomplication was made on commission for New York banker Henry Graves Jr.. According to Sotheby’s, Graves was inspired by his rivalry with automaker James Ward Packard over who could have the most complicated watch made. In 1925, the challenge was given to the Swiss watchmaking firm of Patek Philippe and after three years of research and five years of bench work, the completed gold open-face watch was delivered to Graves in 1933 under special shipping conditions to protect the timepiece mechanism while crossing the Atlantic.

One glance is enough to explain where the Supercomplication got its name, because it looks like it was made to the specifications of an unusually gifted eight-year old with an unlimited allowance. There are not one, but two faces – front and back – and inside the gold case are 920 parts, 430 screws, 110 wheels, 120 removable parts, 70 jewels, and even a little aperture that lets you peep inside the mechanism to make sure it’s still running.

The result of all this workmanship is a surprisingly large watch with 24 complications, including a perpetual calendar good until 2100, a moon dial, a sidereal time dial, power reserve indicator, sunrise and sunset times, a night sky map set for New York, and Westminster chimes to mark the passage of time in case you can’t find the hour and minute hands.

"The list of superlatives which can be attached to this icon of the 20th century is truly extraordinary," said a Sotheby's spokesman prior to the sale. "Indisputably the ‘Holy Grail’ of watches, the Henry Graves Supercomplication combines the Renaissance ideal of the unity of beauty and craftsmanship with the apogee of science. Our offering of this horological work of art in 1999 was unquestionably the highlight of our professional careers and set a world record which has held until today. We are extremely privileged to be offering it once again."

The 1999 sale referred to was when the Supercomplication set the previous record for most expensive watch ever when it sold at auction for US$11 million.

The video below tells the story of the watch.

Source: Sotheby's (pdf)

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