Given the exceptional desirability and rarity of complicated watches by Patek Philippe it’s reasonable for collectors and connoisseurs to think there are few if any surprises left in the field, but that belief was overturned by the presentation by Christie’s, for its June 11th auction, of a timepiece that had until the auction never before been seen in public, and which precedes what had been thought to be the earliest date for a Patek Philippe Grand Complication by a dozen years.
The term “grand complication” is often used today to describe any very complicated watch, though traditionalists prefer to reserve the term for a watch that has a chiming complication (a minute repeater, at minimum) a split-seconds chronograph (traditionally considered a very demanding and difficult complication to manufacture) and an astronomical complication (traditionally, a perpetual calendar, which is often considered an astronomical complication because of the relationship of the Leap Year cycle of the Gregorian calendar to the period of the Earth’s orbit, which defines a year.)
The watch in question is the Stephen S. Palmer Patek Philippe Grand Complication. The watch was made for industrialist Stephen S. Palmer, President of the New Jersey Zinc Company, and Director, with Cornelius Vanderbilt, of the Lackawanna Steel Company; he was also a Trustee of Princeton University from 1908 to 1913. Completed in 1898, the watch was originally sold to Mr. Palmer in October of 1900 for 6,500 Swiss francs; the purchase was made during a trip to Geneva during which he also purchased two other complicated watches from the firm.
The condition and provenance of the watch are both impeccable; according to Christie’s, the watch appears to have been kept in a vault in Mr. Palmer’s Princeton home and scarcely if ever used; it was accompanied at the auction by the original invoice and presentation box. The watch, no. 97912, is a minute repeater, perpetual calendar, split-seconds chronograph, with grand and petite sonnerie, showing the age and phase of the moon, and is cased in a massive 18k pink gold case.
The high estimate for the watch was $1.5 milliion; it was sold June 11th for a staggering $2.251,750 –a world auction record for a Patek Philippe Grand Complication. The watch, which was accompanied by an offiicial extract from the archives of Patek Philippe, was purchased according to Christie’s by a private American collector, and its sale price represents a new world’s record for a Patek Philippe Grand Complication.
Description of the movement from Christie’s:
Cal. 19”’, nickel-finished two-train jewelled lever movement wound by turning the crown to either side, bi-metallic compensation balance, minute repeating and grande/petite sonnerie striking on two polished steel hammers onto two gongs, activated by a slide in the band at 5 o’clock, pink gold cuvette, white enamel dial, Roman numerals, blued steel hands, four subsidiary dials for constant seconds combined with date, day, month and 30 minute register combined with phases and ages of the moon, heavy pink gold polished case, monogram SSP to the back, chronograph button in the crown, split-second mechanism operated by a button in the band at 11 o’clock along with the slide to lock the chronograph, slides for Strike/Silent function between 8 and 9 o’clock and Grande/Petite Sonnerie between 3 and 4 o’clock, case, cuvette, dial, and movement signed
NB –though this is a record for a classic Grand Complication (repeater/sonnerie, perpetual calendar, and rattrapante chronograph) the all-time record for a complicated Patek watch remains the Graves Supercomplication, a 74mm clockwatch with astronomical complications, auctioned by Sotheby’s for $11million, in 1999.