RECORD! The Bulova Chronograph that Apollo 15 Commander Dave Scott Wore on the Moon Sold for $1.6 Million at RR Auction in 2015

The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission, shown in full.

During the summer, when auction schedules slow down, The Hot Bid showcases world auction records.

What you see: The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission. RR Auction sold it in October 2015 for $1.6 million against an estimate of $750,000. It set a then-record for an Apollo item, a record for an item owned and directly consigned by an astronaut, a record for a timepiece used on the lunar surface, a record for any Bulova watch, and a RR Auction house record for the most expensive lot that it has handled.

The expert: Bobby Livingston, executive vice president at RR Auction.

The Apollo astronauts relied on government-issued Omega Speedmaster chronographs. How did Scott convince NASA to let him use the Bulova instead? He didn’t. Scott and the others are engineers, responsible for the lives of their crews. They brought backups. Bulova gave him the watch and a stopwatch, which we also sold. The company was U.S.-owned at the time. They tried very hard to get the chronograph contract from NASA. Bulova’s then-boss, Omar Bradley, had said, “How can we put boys on the moon wearing foreign-made watches?” During the second EVA [A NASA acronym that stands for “extravehicular activity,” which describes anything an astronaut does outside a spacecraft that has left the Earth], he noticed that the crystal on his Omega Speedmaster was gone. We don’t know why [it went missing] but the heat emanating from the sun may have heated to a temperature that had it pop off. Scott took the Omega off the strap and replaced it with the Bulova. It was a prototype watch. He brought it as a backup, with no promises to the Bulova company that he would use it.

The Bulova was a prototype? It was the prototype they made to pitch to NASA on the contract that Omega got. They developed it to go to the moon, but it was never put into production. Only Dave, the [spacecraft] commander, had a Bulova backup. I don’t think the others [his two crewmates] were approached by the Bulova company.

The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission, shown in full.

Could you talk for a bit about why the astronauts needed these watches, and how they relied on them? They all needed wristwatches. Dave basically used it to keep track of the elapsed time on the consumables used. We included a quote from Scott in the catalog: “Time is of the essence during human lunar expeditions–and exploration time on the surface is limited by the oxygen and water (for cooling) we can carry in our backpacks… knowledge of precise time remaining was essential.”

How long did Scott wear the Bulova on the lunar surface? The third EVA was four hours, 49 minutes, and 50 seconds. [Livingston relayed these numbers from memory, with complete fluency.] What was really cool about the watch was he drove the lunar rover while wearing it. He was the first to drive on the moon, and the watch stood up to that, obviously. It was very much exposed to lunar material. You can see the scratches on the bezel.

Closeup of the dial of the Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission. Moon dust is visible on the face of the wristwatch.

Was Scott wearing the watch when he repeated Galileo’s experiment on the lunar surface, dropping the hammer and the feather and proving they’d hit the ground at the same time? Yes, but he didn’t actually use the watch. Each arm was holding out an item, and he didn’t need the timer to see them hit the surface. They hit at the same time. It was apparent. [Laughs] But he wore the watch when he did it. The significance of this particular watch on his arm when he did it was profound to us.

Did the watch and the strap have lunar dust on it? It certainly had remnants of lunar material when I saw it, and obvious damage to the crystal from the lunar surface.

The Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission, shown in full, with the fuzzy side of the velcro strap visible.

The strap as well? Yes, it was apparent that lunar material was on it when I got it. There are shots of Dave wearing the watch during splashdown [the term for when a spacecraft makes its return landing in the ocean; the astronauts disembark into a dinghy], so it may have been in the ocean. [RR Auction created a dedicated catalog for Scott’s Bulova. You can see a period photo of a post-splashdown Scott, his watch clearly visible on his wrist, on pages 14-15.] There is a bit of rust on the watch. I saw lunar dust on it. It wasn’t covered. There wasn’t tons of it. But it certainly had it.

What did Scott do with the watch after the Apollo 15 mission? He put it into a baggie and kept it in storage for 40 years until he sent it to us.

Does the watch have inherent value? Would it be worth something even if it hadn’t gone to the moon on Scott’s wrist? It sounds like it might, given that it was a prototype designed to win a NASA contract. Even if it never went to the moon, it has collectible value. Interestingly, when I approached Bulova and said I had Dave’s Bulova, which he wore on the moon, they didn’t believe me.

How did you convince Bulova of your claim? Dave had retained documents from Bulova. I had source material that didn’t exist in their archives of Omar Bradley talking about the watch and getting the contract. Then they believed me. [Laughs]

You set an estimate of $750,000. How did you come up with that number? We based it on other artifacts that we had sold for Dave Scott. We sold his rotational hand controller for a similar price, $610,000, and we sold his cuff checklist for $364,000. We felt it was the most important thing that he had in his collection. We recognized that it was the only watch that’s been on the lunar surface that you could own. The government still retains all of the Omega watches. Anything that’s been on the lunar surface has immense value because it’s critical to the mission. This certainly was.

I imagine there was cross-competition for this between watch collectors and space memorabilia collectors. That was exactly what happened. As it got higher, we had dueling collectors of Apollo [material] and watches. They understood the significance of the item. Not only was it on the surface, it was a watch. It crossed over, certainly.

 Did you try it on? I did not. The lunar strap had to fit on the space suit, so it was quite long. I used gloves to handle it. I do own a Bulova chronograph replica because it is my favorite thing.

Closeup of part of the velcro strap on the Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

Do you wear the Bulova replica every day? Yeah! [laughs]

How did you convince Scott to consign the watch? We knew it existed. It was rumored in the collecting community that he wore it on the EVA. Once he became a client, it did take some effort for him to consign it, but he’s glad he did. It wasn’t the first thing out of storage. We built a relationship with him, and then he said, “I have this watch…”

Does the watch still work? From the time I got it to the time I sold it, it had a little life in it. Somehow, it showed us it still worked. [Between Scott taking the scouting photos of the watch and Livingston receiving the watch, the hands advanced, but it’s not clear when they briefly winked to life.] I wouldn’t wind it. Usually with a watch, you clean it. This watch, you don’t want to clean it. It’s just too important.

A closeup of the dial of the Bulova chronograph that astronaut David Scott wore on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

What was the auction like? We sold it live at our gallery in Boston. All of us worked really hard on the auction. It was a really intense moment, adrenalin pumping. When we exceeded our client’s expectations, it was unbelievable. If I recall correctly, there were five initial bidders. The lot took eight or nine minutes.

Was Scott there in the sale room? No, but he was listening through a computer. We got his reaction at the time. He was very generous and kind to everyone who worked on the auction. He made it about our staff and the auction. I think he understood the importance of getting the object in the hands of a collector who will take care of it. I think that’s what he cares about.

Were you surprised that it sold for $1.6 million? You know, our expectations were $750,000. It was thrilling for it to get to a $1 million bid and keep going [laughs loudly]. That was unbelievable. It was an achievement for us. We don’t sell fine art. We don’t have Banksy shredding his work on our walls. [laughs]

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It crosses so many lines. It’s history. It was important to the mission. It’s a great story. There’s incredible photographic provenance [evidence]. It comes right from him. It tells so many stories of the mission. It has an emotional resonance with me on so many levels. And it went to the moon! [laughs] And came back!

How to subscribe to The Hot Bid: Click the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Images are courtesy of RR Auction.

In case you missed it above, here’s the link to the digital version of the dedicated catalog that RR Auctions produced for the Bulova chronograph.

And in case you missed it above, here’s video of Dave Scott performing Galileo’s gravity experiment on the surface of the moon during the Apollo 15 mission.

And here’s a short video segment on the sale of the watch.

Livingston spoke to The Hot Bid previously about Dave Scott’s Apollo 17-flown Robbins medal and spoke in 2017 about a ring that Clyde Barrow made in prison to give to his girlfriend, Bonnie Parker.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

WHOA! Edgar Allan Poe’s Pocket Watch Sold for (Scroll Down to See)

Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, open to show that it has been engraved with his name.

Update: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch sold for $250,000–more than double its high estimate.

What you see: An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

The expert: Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York.

Could you talk a bit about what a gold pocket watch represented in 1840s America? According to the lot notes, Poe probably bought this watch when he was earning $800 per year, and he likely spent between $120 to $150 if he bought it new. What did a watch like this say about its owner? In Philadelphia at this time, you would have seen a good selection of European watches. This would have been a nice watch, a nice middle-class watch. It wouldn’t have been expensive, but it also wasn’t cheap. It was a quarter-repeater, which means it chimed every 15 minutes. The most expensive watch at the time was a minute repeater. It would retail for $120 to $150, but he could have bought it secondhand for $100 or less. He also could have received it as a gift at some point. What makes it so interesting is we have nailed down what we can, but there’s a little bit of intrigue. We don’t have all the exact details. We researched it and pinned down what we could. One really nice detail is it has signs of wear, as if it was worn considerably. I love that. I think of Poe wearing the watch during the time he had it.

Poe had the watch engraved with his name. Was that a common practice at the time? Engraving was very common. Engraving shops would have been readily available. It was partly done to [deter] theft. Having it engraved would have cost less than a dollar.

Is this pocket watch valuable without the Poe provenance? We worked closely with the watch department to catalog this. On its own, it would be in the low thousands, we were told. The value for us is really in the wonderful provenance.

Do we know how long Poe owned it? Poe had a brief window of prosperity in the early 1840s. It seems a likely time for him to have acquired this. He filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Adding that to what we learned from an 1880 newspaper article [titled The Gold Watch of Edgar A. Poe], which says J.W. Albright acquired it between 1841 and 1842, that creates a pretty narrow window.

Poe published The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843, which likens the thumping of the tell-tale heart to “much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”. Is there any chance this pocket watch was available to him while he wrote the story? He first submitted The Tell-Tale Heart to the Boston Miscellany in 1842. It’s not impossible there might have been overlap.

Front view of Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, showcasing its handsome dial.

Does it work? It does not work, but our watch expert says it can be repaired.

Does the watch expert advise repairing it? It depends on the person who buys it. It’s up to the buyer if they’d like to repair it.

What is the pocket watch like in person? Have you held it? I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $80,000 to $120,000? Coming up with an auction estimate is definitely more of an art than a science. One [result] we looked at was a 2016 sale of Albert Einstein’s pocket watch, which fetched £266,500 [roughly $337,000] at Christie’s London.

Why Einstein? Why is he a good analog in this context? Poe and he are both well-known people who are associated with time…? We considered a number of things. This was just one of them. In the most obvious sense, it was another pocket watch owned by a well-known individual.

How rarely do objects owned by Edgar Allan Poe come up at auction? Objects related to Poe are rare. The only other thing we’re aware of is an engagement ring that was also engraved, which came up in 2012. [It was part of a group of Poe material sold at Profiles in History in December of that year.] Also in the June 12 auction is a signed autograph letter from Poe. Ten autograph Poe letters have appeared over the last 20 years–they’re scarce.

What’s the world auction record for Poe? I suspect it’s a rare book… I believe it’s a first edition copy of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which sold at Christie’s New York in December 2009 for $662,500.

Looking at the lot notes, I see several private sales in the pocket watch’s past, but no auctions. Is this the first time it’s been consigned? Correct, yes. It’s changed hands over the years, but this is the first time it’s been to auction.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s not every day you get to hold Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch in your hands. Working with items such as this–six months ago, I didn’t know it existed–it’s one of the joys of working at auction. It’s a wonderful piece. We’re so excited to have it in the sale.

How to bid: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch is lot 209 in the Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana auction taking place at Christie’s New York on June 12, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

Edgar Allan Poe’s Pocket Watch Could Sell for $120,000

Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, open to show that it has been engraved with his name.

What you see: An 18-karat gold French quarter-repeating pocket watch that once belonged to Edgar Allan Poe. Christie’s estimates it at $80,000 to $120,000.

The expert: Heather Weintraub, associate specialist in books, manuscripts, and archives at Christie’s New York.

Could you talk a bit about what a gold pocket watch represented in 1840s America? According to the lot notes, Poe probably bought this watch when he was earning $800 per year, and he likely spent between $120 to $150 if he bought it new. What did a watch like this say about its owner? In Philadelphia at this time, you would have seen a good selection of European watches. This would have been a nice watch, a nice middle-class watch. It wouldn’t have been expensive, but it also wasn’t cheap. It was a quarter-repeater, which means it chimed every 15 minutes. The most expensive watch at the time was a minute repeater. It would retail for $120 to $150, but he could have bought it secondhand for $100 or less. He also could have received it as a gift at some point. What makes it so interesting is we have nailed down what we can, but there’s a little bit of intrigue. We don’t have all the exact details. We researched it and pinned down what we could. One really nice detail is it has signs of wear, as if it was worn considerably. I love that. I think of Poe wearing the watch during the time he had it.

Poe had the watch engraved with his name. Was that a common practice at the time? Engraving was very common. Engraving shops would have been readily available. It was partly done to [deter] theft. Having it engraved would have cost less than a dollar.

Is this pocket watch valuable without the Poe provenance? We worked closely with the watch department to catalog this. On its own, it would be in the low thousands, we were told. The value for us is really in the wonderful provenance.

Do we know how long Poe owned it? Poe had a brief window of prosperity in the early 1840s. It seems a likely time for him to have acquired this. He filed for bankruptcy in 1842. Adding that to what we learned from an 1880 newspaper article [titled The Gold Watch of Edgar A. Poe], which says J.W. Albright acquired it between 1841 and 1842, that creates a pretty narrow window.

Poe published The Tell-Tale Heart in 1843, which likens the thumping of the tell-tale heart to “much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton”. Is there any chance this pocket watch was available to him while he wrote the story? He first submitted The Tell-Tale Heart to the Boston Miscellany in 1842. It’s not impossible there might have been overlap.

Front view of Edgar Allan Poe's 18-karat gold pocket watch, showcasing its handsome dial.

Does it work? It does not work, but our watch expert says it can be repaired.

Does the watch expert advise repairing it? It depends on the person who buys it. It’s up to the buyer if they’d like to repair it.

What is the pocket watch like in person? Have you held it? I have held it. It has a nice weight to it. It’s wonderful to be able to hold something from the 1840s that Poe may have held. It’s one of the reasons to love this job.

How did you arrive at the estimate of $80,000 to $120,000? Coming up with an auction estimate is definitely more of an art than a science. One [result] we looked at was a 2016 sale of Albert Einstein’s pocket watch, which fetched £266,500 [roughly $337,000] at Christie’s London.

Why Einstein? Why is he a good analog in this context? Poe and he are both well-known people who are associated with time…? We considered a number of things. This was just one of them. In the most obvious sense, it was another pocket watch owned by a well-known individual.

How rarely do objects owned by Edgar Allan Poe come up at auction? Objects related to Poe are rare. The only other thing we’re aware of is an engagement ring that was also engraved, which came up in 2012. [It was part of a group of Poe material sold at Profiles in History in December of that year.] Also in the June 12 auction is a signed autograph letter from Poe. Ten autograph Poe letters have appeared over the last 20 years–they’re scarce.

What’s the world auction record for Poe? I suspect it’s a rare book… I believe it’s a first edition copy of his first book, Tamerlane and Other Poems, which sold at Christie’s New York in December 2009 for $662,500.

Looking at the lot notes, I see several private sales in the pocket watch’s past, but no auctions. Is this the first time it’s been consigned? Correct, yes. It’s changed hands over the years, but this is the first time it’s been to auction.

Why will this piece stick in your memory? It’s not every day you get to hold Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch in your hands. Working with items such as this–six months ago, I didn’t know it existed–it’s one of the joys of working at auction. It’s a wonderful piece. We’re so excited to have it in the sale.

How to bid: Edgar Allan Poe’s pocket watch is lot 209 in the Fine Printed Books & Manuscripts Including Americana auction taking place at Christie’s New York on June 12, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Christie’s is on Twitter and Instagram. 

Image is courtesy of Christie’s.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

SOLD! A George Nelson Ball Wall Clock Commanded (Scroll Down to See)

George Nelson's ball wall clock is a mid-century design icon. It resembles a sun with rays streaming from it. Each of the twelve "rays" ends with a ball that represents an hour. This particular version featured balls that had different colors: black, green, yellow, white, and orange.

Update: The George Nelson ball wall clock sold for $704.

What you see: A George Nelson ball wall clock, designed for the Howard Miller company and dating to 1949. Rago Arts and Auctions estimates it at $250 to $450.

The expert: Michael Ingham, Rago’s COO and director of its Unreserved department.

The Howard Miller company produced the ball wall Clock from 1948 to 1969. Do we know how many it made? There are no records that I know of. They made them for 21 years. That shows you how much people liked them. They were very popular and remain so today.

So the clock was a hit from day one? From the day it arrived on the market. 1948 was right at the beginning of the atomic age. The Trinity test was July of 1945, and by August 1946, we dropped Little Boy at Hiroshima. Americans were feeling pretty powerful at that point.

Why was it such a hit right away? It was the end of the war and the beginning of a great boom in America. It was considered radically modern–it was the first clock not to have numbers on the face. That was a big departure. And it looked perfect on a kitchen wall.

Howard Miller offered the clock in six different versions. How popular is the multi-color example coming up for sale at Rago? I call it polychrome. They were, in my opinion, the most popular model, and the one we’ve seen the most of.  The runner up is the black ball version, which looks a bit sleeker. The polychrome version is the epitome of the design, and it’s what people look for. [Vitra creates reproductions of all six versions of the clock.]

George Nelson didn’t personally design everything that bears his name. Did he design this clock, or did someone else in his studio do it? Nelson was not the designer of this. Nelson felt it was important, as a branding thing, that he get the credit in the public arena. He would name the designers in technical journals. That’s how Nelson chose to run his firm. It was not a secret that others made the designs, it just wasn’t out for public consumption. Irving Harper designed this. He was a famous guy in his own right.

Officially, the name of this timepieces is “Clock 4755.” A quick glance makes clear why people call it “The Ball Clock,” but do we know when and how it got its popular name? The model number is the driest name possible. I don’t know how it got the name “The Ball Clock.” It was possibly a savvy marketer at Howard Miller. But in my 20 years here, no one has referred to it as anything but.

The original run of this clock was long, and while we don’t know exactly how many were made, we know there had to be a whole honking lot of them. What does it take for a mass-produced object to remain popular enough to command a three-figure auction estimate seventy years after it left the factory? Most of the 20th century design market was made for mass production, but good design is always good design. Fifty years ago, it was a good design, and now, it’s still a good design.

The ball clock is definitely of its era, and yet it manages not to look old. How does it pull off that neat little trick? It definitely references a specific period in history, and I think people like that. Speaking as an older guy, I can remember them hanging on the walls of parents’ houses as a kid. It’s a very clean, modern design. It is radically modern in its way. It’s so clean, you can project what you want onto it. And it’s small. It’s not a big commitment. It’s not like buying a giant sofa. It’s like buying a throw pillow, in the design world.

What condition is it in? And do collectors tend to be fussy about these clocks, given that there’s so many from the original run still out there? People can be very fussy. This one is not in the greatest of condition. The hands are a little bit loose. The enamel on the body of the clock got stained and chipped over time. The enameling on the balls is pretty good, and these are good colors. This particular one is electric, and is meant to plug into a wall.

What condition issues do you tend to see with the Ball wall clocks? The hands often are a bit bent because [the metal] is very thin and very soft. The balls can often be repainted. Most auction houses don’t sell them guaranteed to function. I’ve never plugged it in, so I don’t know if it functions.

How often do original-run George Nelson Ball wall clocks come up at auction? We’ve handled at least one for every year I’ve worked here. Probably closer to 25.

How did you arrive at the estimate? It’s a pretty standard item for us. This particular model, in this particular condition, should go in the $250 to $300 range. A really, really pristine one would get $600 to $800. The dirty little secret of auctions is that estimates should be a little bit enticing, they should be a tad lower. If I can get you to raise your hand once, I can get you to raise your hand again.

What’s the auction record for a George Nelson Ball wall clock? The early 2000s were the hottest moment for these things. The record was $1,527 at at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) in June 2004.

When I think of George Nelson, I think of his marshmallow sofa, and this clock. Why has it come to symbolize his work? It was right at the beginning of his career. It was considered radically modern at the time, and it summed up a period of time [in America]. A lot of what Nelson did was square, with clean lines. And Nelson designs are clever. Not that they’re funny, but they make you smile. This clock has that same sort of feeling to it.

How to bid: The George Nelson Ball Wall clock is lot 1530 in the Rago Unreserved auction at Rago on February 24, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Rago Auctions is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

Special thanks to Shannon Loughrey at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) for digging into auction records that aren’t online to confirm the record sale price for the ball clock.

Would you like to hire Sheila Gibson Stoodley for writing or editing work? Click the word “Menu” at the upper right for contact details.

A 1949 George Nelson Ball Wall Clock, an Atomic Age Design Legend, Could Sell for $450 at Rago

George Nelson's ball wall clock is a mid-century design icon. It resembles a sun with rays streaming from it. Each of the twelve "rays" ends with a ball that represents an hour. This particular version featured balls that had different colors: black, green, yellow, white, and orange.

What you see: A George Nelson ball wall clock, designed for the Howard Miller company and dating to 1949. Rago Arts and Auctions estimates it at $250 to $450.

The expert: Michael Ingham, Rago’s COO and director of its Unreserved department.

The Howard Miller company produced the ball wall Clock from 1948 to 1969. Do we know how many it made? There are no records that I know of. They made them for 21 years. That shows you how much people liked them. They were very popular and remain so today.

So the clock was a hit from day one? From the day it arrived on the market. 1948 was right at the beginning of the atomic age. The Trinity test was July of 1945, and by August 1946, we dropped Little Boy at Hiroshima. Americans were feeling pretty powerful at that point.

Why was it such a hit right away? It was the end of the war and the beginning of a great boom in America. It was considered radically modern–it was the first clock not to have numbers on the face. That was a big departure. And it looked perfect on a kitchen wall.

Howard Miller offered the clock in six different versions. How popular is the multi-color example coming up for sale at Rago? I call it polychrome. They were, in my opinion, the most popular model, and the one we’ve seen the most of.  The runner up is the black ball version, which looks a bit sleeker. The polychrome version is the epitome of the design, and it’s what people look for. [Vitra creates reproductions of all six versions of the clock.]

George Nelson didn’t personally design everything that bears his name. Did he design this clock, or did someone else in his studio do it? Nelson was not the designer of this. Nelson felt it was important, as a branding thing, that he get the credit in the public arena. He would name the designers in technical journals. That’s how Nelson chose to run his firm. It was not a secret that others made the designs, it just wasn’t out for public consumption. Irving Harper designed this. He was a famous guy in his own right.

Officially, the name of this timepieces is “Clock 4755.” A quick glance makes clear why people call it “The Ball Clock,” but do we know when and how it got its popular name? The model number is the driest name possible. I don’t know how it got the name “The Ball Clock.” It was possibly a savvy marketer at Howard Miller. But in my 20 years here, no one has referred to it as anything but.

The original run of this clock was long, and while we don’t know exactly how many were made, we know there had to be a whole honking lot of them. What does it take for a mass-produced object to remain popular enough to command a three-figure auction estimate seventy years after it left the factory? Most of the 20th century design market was made for mass production, but good design is always good design. Fifty years ago, it was a good design, and now, it’s still a good design.

The ball clock is definitely of its era, and yet it manages not to look old. How does it pull off that neat little trick? It definitely references a specific period in history, and I think people like that. Speaking as an older guy, I can remember them hanging on the walls of parents’ houses as a kid. It’s a very clean, modern design. It is radically modern in its way. It’s so clean, you can project what you want onto it. And it’s small. It’s not a big commitment. It’s not like buying a giant sofa. It’s like buying a throw pillow, in the design world.

What condition is it in? And do collectors tend to be fussy about these clocks, given that there’s so many from the original run still out there? People can be very fussy. This one is not in the greatest of condition. The hands are a little bit loose. The enamel on the body of the clock got stained and chipped over time. The enameling on the balls is pretty good, and these are good colors. This particular one is electric, and is meant to plug into a wall.

What condition issues do you tend to see with the Ball wall clocks? The hands often are a bit bent because [the metal] is very thin and very soft. The balls can often be repainted. Most auction houses don’t sell them guaranteed to function. I’ve never plugged it in, so I don’t know if it functions.

How often do original-run George Nelson Ball wall clocks come up at auction? We’ve handled at least one for every year I’ve worked here. Probably closer to 25.

How did you arrive at the estimate? It’s a pretty standard item for us. This particular model, in this particular condition, should go in the $250 to $300 range. A really, really pristine one would get $600 to $800. The dirty little secret of auctions is that estimates should be a little bit enticing, they should be a tad lower. If I can get you to raise your hand once, I can get you to raise your hand again.

What’s the auction record for a George Nelson Ball wall clock? The early 2000s were the hottest moment for these things. The record was $1,527 at at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) in June 2004.

When I think of George Nelson, I think of his marshmallow sofa, and this clock. Why has it come to symbolize his work? It was right at the beginning of his career. It was considered radically modern at the time, and it summed up a period of time [in America]. A lot of what Nelson did was square, with clean lines. And Nelson designs are clever. Not that they’re funny, but they make you smile. This clock has that same sort of feeling to it.

How to bid: The George Nelson Ball Wall clock is lot 1530 in the Rago Unreserved auction at Rago on February 24, 2019.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

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Image is courtesy of Rago Auctions.

Special thanks to Shannon Loughrey at Los Angeles Modern Auctions (LAMA) for digging into auction records that aren’t online to confirm the record sale price for the ball clock.

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NEW RECORD! A Sir Edwin Lutyens Clock, Designed for the Viceroy’s House in India, Sells for More Than $146,000

A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced "Letchens"] for the Viceroy's House, New Delhi, circa 1930.

Update: Phillips sold the mantel clock that Sir Edwin Lutyens designed for the Viceroy’s House circa 1930 for £112,500, or more than $146,000–a new auction record for Lutyens.

What you see: A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced “Letchens”] for the Viceroy’s House, New Delhi, circa 1930. Phillips estimates it at £80,000 to £120,000 ($105,200 to $157,800).

The expert: Marcus McDonald, senior design specialist at Phillips.

How often do pieces designed by Lutyens for the Viceroy’s House come to market? To my knowledge I’m not aware of any. I tried all the search engines.

And how rare is it to have a Lutyens piece that’s fresh to market and consigned by a member of the Lutyens family? It’s exceptionally rare. It hasn’t happened before to my knowledge. It has an impeccable provenance.

What does that suggest about how this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock will do at auction? We’re about to find out. The Viceroy’s House was by far his largest commission and possibly his most important commission. We have high hopes.

I understand the clock is not unique, and that Lutyens sometimes had copies made of designs of his that he especially liked. How many of these clocks exist, and where are they? Lady Willingdon’s clock [the wife of the first Viceroy to live in the home], I don’t know what happened to hers. She would have brought it back to the U.K. She had no descendants. Mary Lutyens, his daughter or granddaughter, still has hers. The third clock is the one we have, from the Lutyens family. Lutyens had it made for himself, and it’s by descent to the current owner. The three clocks are identical as far as I’m aware.

Did Lutyens design other clocks? I found another Lutyens clock in a Sotheby’s auction  in 1987, and he designed a children’s clock for a nursery. I spoke to a horologist [about this clock]. The design is all Lutyens. The movement is a typical movement for the time, adapted to fit the oval face. The expanding hands are bespoke.

The body of the clock is painted mahogany. I’ve never encountered painted mahogany before. Did he use it often? It’s slightly peculiar. Pearwood is traditional for clocks. But you can see quite clearly when you remove the finial from the clock that it’s mahogany. I guess it weathered better in India. It seems like a sensible solution.

Why does it have expanding hands? Was that done because of India’s humidity? No, it’s because of the clock’s oval face. The minute hand has to expand to be in line with the Roman numerals. The hands are blued steel, to make them rustproof.

How is this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock an example of his “wit and vitality”? He always had jokes hidden within his work. Here, the pansy at the top of the clock is a key [the winding key]. Pansy is a pun on penser, the French word for “to think.” The play on words–pansy as in flower and the French word “to think”– is meant to be a reminder to wind the clock. We have a separate key-winder for it. It’s perfectly fine [to use the original key] but it’s [using the key-winder is] easier than using the one on the top of the clock.

Is the pansy pun one of his better puns? It depends on the observer, I suppose. But I think it’s a fairly good one.

What other details mark this clock as a Lutyens design? The truncated bun feet on the base. You see them in his furniture.

What is the Sir Edwin Lutyens clock like in person? It has a presence, certainly. When I first saw it in the client’s house, I was immediately drawn to it on the mantle.

What does it sound like? I haven’t heard it chime. I’ve only heard it ticking. You can hear it as you’re approaching. The sound of the ticking is lively and quite loud.

What’s the auction record for a piece of Lutyens-designed furniture? The highest at auction I’m aware of is a table that Sotheby’s sold in March 2014 for £62,500 ($104,500).

Why will this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock stick in your memory? It’s just such a captivating object. The provenance, the original location, and the designer are three elements that make it such an amazing work.

How to bid: The Lutyens clock is lot 91 in the Important Design sale at Phillips London on October 18, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

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Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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A Sir Edwin Lutyens Clock Designed for the Viceroy’s House in India Could Sell for More Than $150,000

A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced "Letchens"] for the Viceroy's House, New Delhi, circa 1930.

What you see: A mantel clock designed by Sir Edwin Lutyens [pronounced “Letchens”] for the Viceroy’s House, New Delhi, circa 1930. Phillips estimates it at £80,000 to £120,000 ($105,200 to $157,800).

The expert: Marcus McDonald, senior design specialist at Phillips.

How often do pieces designed by Lutyens for the Viceroy’s House come to market? To my knowledge I’m not aware of any. I tried all the search engines.

And how rare is it to have a Lutyens piece that’s fresh to market and consigned by a member of the Lutyens family? It’s exceptionally rare. It hasn’t happened before to my knowledge. It has an impeccable provenance.

What does that suggest about how this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock will do at auction? We’re about to find out. The Viceroy’s House was by far his largest commission and possibly his most important commission. We have high hopes.

I understand the Sir Edwin Lutyens clock is not unique, and that Lutyens sometimes had copies made of designs of his that he especially liked. How many of these clocks exist, and where are they? Lady Willingdon’s clock [the wife of the first Viceroy to live in the home], I don’t know what happened to hers. She would have brought it back to the U.K. She had no descendants. Mary Lutyens, his daughter or granddaughter, still has hers. The third clock is the one we have, from the Lutyens family. Lutyens had it made for himself, and it’s by descent to the current owner. The three clocks are identical as far as I’m aware.

Did Lutyens design other clocks? I found another Lutyens clock in a Sotheby’s auction  in 1987, and he designed a children’s clock for a nursery. I spoke to a horologist [about this clock]. The design is all Lutyens. The movement is a typical movement for the time, adapted to fit the oval face. The expanding hands are bespoke.

The body of the Sir Edwin Lutyens clock is painted mahogany. I’ve never encountered painted mahogany before. Did he use it often? It’s slightly peculiar. Pearwood is traditional for clocks. But you can see quite clearly when you remove the finial from the clock that it’s mahogany. I guess it weathered better in India. It seems like a sensible solution.

Why does it have expanding hands? Was that done because of India’s humidity? No, it’s because of the clock’s oval face. The minute hand has to expand to be in line with the Roman numerals. The hands are blued steel, to make them rustproof.

How is this Sir Edwin Lutyens clock an example of his “wit and vitality”? He always had jokes hidden within his work. Here, the pansy at the top of the clock is a key [the winding key]. Pansy is a pun on penser, the French word for “to think.” The play on words–pansy as in flower and the French word “to think”– is meant to be a reminder to wind the clock. We have a separate key-winder for it. It’s perfectly fine [to use the original key] but it’s [using the key-winder is] easier than using the one on the top of the clock.

Is the pansy pun one of his better puns? It depends on the observer, I suppose. But I think it’s a fairly good one.

What other details mark this clock as a Lutyens design? The truncated bun feet on the base. You see them in his furniture.

What is the Sir Edwin Lutyens clock like in person? It has a presence, certainly. When I first saw it in the client’s house, I was immediately drawn to it on the mantle.

What does it sound like? I haven’t heard it chime. I’ve only heard it ticking. You can hear it as you’re approaching. The sound of the ticking is lively and quite loud.

What’s the auction record for a piece of Lutyens-designed furniture? The highest at auction I’m aware of is a table that Sotheby’s sold in March 2014 for £62,500 ($104,500).

Why will this clock stick in your memory? It’s just such a captivating object. The provenance, the original location, and the designer are three elements that make it such an amazing work.

How to bid: The Lutyens clock is lot 91 in the Important Design sale at Phillips London on October 18, 2018.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram.

Image is courtesy of Phillips.

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RECORD! Paul Newman’s Own Paul Newman Rolex Daytona Sold for $17.7 Million–a Record for Any Wristwatch (Update Nov 2019)

A 1968 Rolex Daytona "Paul Newman," reference 6239 and owned by the late actor Paul Newman. Purchased for him by his wife, Joanne Woodward, she engraved the back of the case with the words, "DRIVE CAREFULLY ME." Estimated in excess of $1 million, Phillips sold it in New York in October 2017 for $17.7 million, a world auction record for any wristwatch.

Update: In November 2019, a unique steel Grandmaster Chime Patek Philippe wristwatch sold in Geneva, Switzerland for $31.1 million, dethroning Paul Newman’s Paul Newman. The Hot Bid will feature the record-breaker in an upcoming post.

What you see: A 1968 Rolex Daytona “Paul Newman,” reference 6239 and owned by the late actor Paul Newman. Purchased for him by his wife, Joanne Woodward, she engraved the back of the case with the words, “DRIVE CAREFULLY ME.” Estimated in excess of $1 million, Phillips sold it in New York in October 2017 for $17.7 million, a world auction record for any wristwatch.

The expert: Paul Boutros, head of watches for the Americas for Phillips.

How rare are these mid-century Rolex Daytonas with the “exotic” dial that was later nicknamed for Paul Newman? Not especially rare, in the grand scheme of things. The thing with this type of Daytona is they’re really sought-after. There’s far greater demand than supply. The regular Daytona appeared in 1963. The version with the exotic dial, aka the Paul Newman dial, appeared on the market in 1966.

For a long time this Paul Newman watch was considered “lost.” How did you find it? Did the consigner come to you, or did you sleuth it out? It came to us. The consigner, James Cox, had had it in his possession since 1984. [Newman spontaneously gave it to Cox, who was dating Newman’s daughter, Nell, at the time, after he idly mentioned that he did not own a watch.] In 2016, he decided it was time to sell it for a good cause, Nell Newman’s charity. He reached out to his attorney and asked how to sell it. The attorney said he didn’t know, but he had a client with a world-class watch collection, and would ask him. The attorney called the collector and asked, “What would you think if I had Paul Newman’s Paul Newman?” The man said “$100,000 to $150,000.” The attorney said, “No no no, the Paul Newman watch worn by Paul Newman.” The collector replied, “Whoa. You have to go to Phillips.”

Did John Cox know what he had? And did he know that the Paul Newman watch was thought to be missing? He didn’t know its importance initially. He wore it casually. Once he was in Japan, and someone came up to him and said, “Paul Newman! Paul Newman!” and he thought, “Wow, how did they know I have Paul Newman’s Daytona?” He didn’t know the watch was called a Paul Newman until he did some research. Then he understood it was an important watch. He placed it in a safe deposit box in the early 1990s. Maybe he didn’t know collectors were hunting for it.

The Paul Newman Daytona was the top lot in Phillips’s first New York auction of watches. Did you hold and schedule the Paul Newman expressly for this sale, or did it happen to come to you at the right time? We always knew we would launch watch sales in New York, but the time had to be right. We felt that a great way to launch New York, and the best thing for the Paul Newman, was to sell it in New York. It was a great alignment of the stars.

You estimated the Paul Newman Daytona in excess of $1 million. The previous record for any wristwatch was $11 million, set at Phillips Geneva in November 2016 by a 1943 Patek Philippe, ref. 1518. When you set the estimate for the Paul Newman, did you have any notion that it could break the record? No. We did not. We were as surprised as anyone. We took in the watch in 2016. Before that, the most expensive Rolex at auction sold for $2.4 million. While the Paul Newman was in our possession, a Rolex sold for $3.4 million and another sold for $5 million. We thought it had a chance of beating the $5 million record for a Rolex. We didn’t know it would beat the record for any wristwatch.

Phillips sold those two record Rolexes in the same May 2017 Geneva auction. But you didn’t change the $1 million-plus estimate on the Paul Newman. Why not? We were still unsure. And once we agree upon an estimate and a contract is in place, we don’t like to change it unless we have to. We kept the estimate conservative.

Have other Paul Newman-owned watches gone to auction? How did they do? There was a modern 1990s Daytona associated with him that sold at a charity auction in 1995. It was one of many watches in the auction. It probably sold for $30,000. That’s it. He donated it for charity.

How do auction records of charity sales affect how you prepare an estimate for a similar item? There’s a little art and science behind an estimate. We ask, “How much would we pay for this watch if it was presented to us?” Another thing we consider is the price of a standard Paul Newman. In 2016, it was $150,000. With a Paul Newman provenance, it’s maybe eight to ten times that.

What factors drove the Paul Newman watch to such a staggeringly high record price? It’s an iconic watch from an iconic brand. By itself, without the Paul Newman provenance, it was $180,000 to $200,000, maximum. Factor in the Paul Newman provenance, and it’s $17.7 million. That portion above the $200,000 is directly associated with the provenance.

To what extent, if at all, did the charity angle–the fact that the Nell Newman Foundation and the Newman’s Own Foundation would benefit from the sale–help push the Paul Newman watch to its record price? It’s impossible to quantify. But if there was no charity aspect, I don’t think it would have sold as high.

What condition was the Paul Newman watch in? It was all-original. It was worn and enjoyed but it never experienced a polishing. It had its original factory finish, and the engraving was perfectly preserved. Its originality really helped it fly.

Does it work? Oh yes. We only sell watches that work. If it hadn’t worked, we would have sent it to a watchmaker to make it work. It’s a minor cost.

Did you try on the Paul Newman Daytona? Of course, yeah. It was very emotional. Your first time seeing it, looking at it, handling it–it’s the moment many wait for for their collecting careers. It was a breathtaking moment for me.

How long did you wear it? Not too long. I took a couple of wrist shots for my Instagram account.

When you announced Phillips would sell the Paul Newman Daytona, did you have bidders signing up who you’d never worked with before? Yes, many people were new to us. For a typical top lot, we have maybe five qualified people interested in bidding. The Paul Newman was above average. We had 34 registered to bid on Paul Newman’s Paul Newman, and all of them were qualified. All 34 had to show their bank statements.

You sold the watch in a traditional way–no online bids allowed. Why? We always accept online bids, except for this one. We wanted no potential sabotage of the lot. We accepted phone, absentee, and in-room bids. Online bids were turned off.

What was your role during the sale? I was on the phone with a potential bidder. Aurel [Aurel Bacs, the auctioneer, from the consulting firm Bachs & Russo] started the lot with a commission bid of $1 million, and then Tiffany [Tiffany To, a Phillips watches specialist from the Hong Kong office who was representing another phone bidder] interrupted to say “10 million!”

Have you ever seen anything like that happen before at an auction–the auctioneer barely finishes relaying the initial seven-digit bid, and it’s almost instantly trounced by an exponentially larger one? No. It was an incredible jump bid. It decapitated many bidders. My phone bidder, they said they were out. The person who bid $10 million was the underbidder in the end. [Phillips taped the whole thing, and you can see it on YouTube, from the opening promotional film to the final fall of the hammer.]

Was the record acknowledged at the time? I think Aurel knew at $10 million [that it was going to stomp the $11 million record]. He was shocked like the rest of the room, taken aback. [Bachs announces the opening $1 million bid around the 2:06 mark, and Tiffany jumps in soon after. When he realizes that she’s confirming a $10 million bid, he is indeed speechless for a few seconds.] He regained his composure. He knew, but I don’t recall him saying it was a new record [at that moment]. [Around the 10:00 mark, Aurel remarks, “I don’t need to say what this watch does in terms of records. It does everything.”]

How did you feel after the final gavel strike? It was… Wow. We were really shocked. Very happy, of course. Elated for Elinor Newman, for James Cox, and for collectors of watches. It was a great moment for the hobby, for someone to pay so much for an important timepiece. For me, it was the ultimate wristwatch. One thing to note is the fact that it took place in New York. Not Geneva, New York. It was great for the market.

How long do you think this record will stand? What else could challenge it? The watch was a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. It’s going to be tough to break, this record. I don’t think it will stand forever. I always hope something new will be unearthed that will give it a run for its money.

How to subscribe to The Hot BidClick the trio of dots at the upper right of this page. You can also follow The Hot Bid on Instagram and follow the author on Twitter.

Phillips is on Twitter and Instagram. Paul Boutros is on Twitter and  Instagram also.

Image is courtesy of Phillips.

Read Phillips’s own story about the Paul Newman watch, which includes period photos of Newman wearing it.

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SOLD! A Robert-Houdin Mystery Clock Fetches $36,000 at Potter & Potter

A mid-nineteenth century glass column mystery clock by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin.

Update: The Robert-Houdin mystery clock sold for $36,000.

What you see: A mid-nineteenth century glass column mystery clock by Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin. Potter & Potter Auctions estimates it at $40,000 to $50,000.

Who was Jean Eugène Robert-Houdin? He was a self-taught French magician as well as a horologist, or clockmaker. His father, Prosper Robert, made watches, and Robert-Houdin later married into a clock- and watchmaking family, adding his wife’s surname to his own. At some point between 1831 and 1844, Robert-Houdin invented the mystery clock, a device that baffles by keeping time without any visible gears or clockwork. He invented or refined many magic tricks that are still performed today, and his 1859 autobiography became a best-seller. Eric Weiss, a struggling young American immigrant, was so inspired by Robert-Houdin’s life story that he referenced the Frenchman in his stage name: Harry Houdini. Robert-Houdin died in 1871 at the age of 65.

The expert: Gabe Fajuri, president of Potter & Potter Auctions.

How rare are Robert-Houdin clocks at auction? They’re very hard to come by.

Is there a catalog raisonné of Robert-Houdin clocks, or an accepted count, or… There’s no great count. Even his own property got scattered to family members.

How many Robert-Houdin clocks have you handled? Two other mystery clocks, and one electromagnetic that wasn’t a mystery clock. It was one of the most expensive ones we’ve sold.

How do you know this clock is by Robert-Houdin and not his son, who made some mystery clocks after his father’s death? That’s a tough one, especially because they worked in conjunction to some degree. Two expert horologists took it apart [for Potter & Potter] and did a 12-page report on all the clocks in the David Baldwin collection. Other clocks in the auction, on examination, were pieced together with old parts or done in the style of Robert-Houdin. Their estimates would be five times higher if they were original, maybe more.

How often do you see a Robert-Houdin mystery clock with this magnifying glass-like shape, as opposed to the one in lot 30, which has a square dial sitting in a frame on a marble base? You see just one glass dial most often. This [lot 28] is a double mystery. The single mystery is the glass dial–how does it keep time? The double mystery is the glass dial plus the glass tube.

And Robert-Houdin invented the mystery clock? For a Paris exposition, yes. If he wasn’t a magician, he would have been a clockmaker. He invented a lot of things, and he was fascinated by electricity. He was one smart dude.

How does the Robert-Houdin mystery clock reflect his inventiveness? It’s interesting because it’s the confluence of two things in his life–clockmaking and magic. Here’s a beautiful clock that you’d be happy to put in your salon, but at the same time, you think, how does it work? It’s both beautiful and miraculous.

Does it work? I got it to chime, but I haven’t seen its hand move. Robert-Houdin mystery clocks are notorious for needing adjustments. You’ll need to have a clockmaker look at it.

This Robert-Houdin mystery clock has an estimate of $40,000 to $50,000. The square dial clock in lot 30 carries an estimate of $30,000 to $50,000. What accounts for the difference? It’s [the clock in lot 28] a much more uncommon form. One of the guys who did the examination for me thought it was quite unusual and original enough to be exciting to a clock collector.

Who fights more fiercely for Robert-Houdin mystery clocks–magicians, or clock collectors? I’ve had winners in both of those camps. It’s hard to predict.

What is this Robert-Houdin clock like in person? Does it make an impression? It certainly did when I walked into the [consigner’s] house to look at it the first time I saw the collection. He had 15 of them. You can instantly tell it’s something special.

How to bid: The Robert-Houdin mystery clock is lot 28 in the David Baldwin Magic Collection II auction at Potter & Potter on June 16, 2018.

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Follow Potter & Potter on Instagram and Twitter.

Image is courtesy of Potter & Potter.

Gabe Fajuri has appeared on The Hot Bid many times. He talked about a genuine 19th century gambler’s case that later sold for $6,765; a scarce 19th century poster of a tattooed man that fetched $8,610; a 1908 poster for the magician Chung Ling Soo that sold for $9,225; a Golden Girls letterman jacket that belonged to actress Rue McClanahan; and a 1912 Houdini poster that set the world record for any magic poster at auction.

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RECORD! The Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication Pocket Watch Sells for $24 Million (Update November 2019)

The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication pocket watch, commissioned by Graves from Patek Philippe. The Swiss company finished the timepiece in 1932 and delivered it in 1933. It is the most valuable timepiece of any kind sold at auction, and has been for almost two decades. It fetched a then-record $11 million at Sotheby's in 1999, and commanded $24 million at Sotheby's in 2014.

Update: In November 2019, a Patek Philippe steel Grandmaster Chime wristwatch sold for $31.1 million in Geneva, Switzerland, becoming the most valuable timepiece at auction. The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication remains the most valuable pocket watch sold at auction.

What you see: The Henry Graves Jr. Supercomplication pocket watch, commissioned by Graves from Patek Philippe. The Swiss company finished the timepiece in 1932 and delivered it in 1933. It is the most valuable timepiece of any kind sold at auction, and has been for almost two decades. It fetched a then-record $11 million at Sotheby’s in 1999, and commanded $24 million at Sotheby’s in 2014.

So American banker Henry Graves Jr., approaches Patek Philippe to create this timepiece in 1925. How serious a challenge is this project? Is it akin to the moon shot–America devoting itself to sending astronauts to the moon in the 1960s? “In the watch world, yes,” says Daryn Schnipper, chairman of Sotheby’s international watch division. “Patek Philippe would not do it again until 1989.”

Why did Patek Philippe wait until 1989 to do something like this again, with the Calibre 89? “Probably, they didn’t have a commission,” she says. “1989 was an anniversary year for Patek Philippe. They were talking about how to celebrate a very important anniversary [Patek Philippe’s 150th]. They decided to replicate the Graves, but then said, ‘Let’s not stop there, let’s surpass it.’ The people involved said it was not possible. They used computer assistance. One reason the Graves couldn’t be replicated was those who worked on it were dead by 1989.”

Didn’t the people who worked on the Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch leave behind technical drawings of the timepiece? “When they developed a one-off, it was in the watchmaker’s head,” she says, noting that a team of twelve was assembled for the Henry Graves Supercomplication project, and they worked on it for seven years. “I know it sounds crazy, but I didn’t see a drawing [for it] except what was done afterward.”

How does the Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch differ from the Calibre 89? “The Graves had 24 complications and was 74 mm (almost three inches) in diameter. It was never done before. When they did the Calibre 89, [which had 33 complications], it was significantly bigger. It almost didn’t seem like a watch,” she says. “The Graves is not crazy big like the Calibre 89, which weighs almost two and a half pounds. The Graves is one pound, three ounces. They [the Calibre 89 team] couldn’t come close at all. The Graves is a tour-de-force. I think it shows you really can’t replace people with machines.”

Did Henry Graves require Patek Philippe to include any specific complications? “He probably asked for the night-time sky,” she says. “The timepiece that Patek Philippe made for James Ward Packard [Graves’s rival in watch-commissioning] had the night-time sky over Cleveland. Graves wanted one with the sky over New York. At that time, you only saw it on three watches. The Graves timepiece shows the night sky with the Milky Way and various stars. It’s mesmerizing, and it’s done to the latitude and longitude of Henry Graves’s home near Central Park at 834 5th Avenue.”

What was the hardest complication for the Patek Philippe team to integrate? “Making sure they [the 24 complications] worked with each other. Just to sync everything together and make sure it works accurately,” she says, noting that the Graves timepiece is less than an inch and a half thick. “It’s organic. It works together as a system. It’s very complex. If it doesn’t all sync together and work accurately, it’s a failed idea.”

Why do watch-heads love the Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch? “Because it’s everything. It’s a technical tour-de-force,” she says. “It’s the fact that it’s the Supercomplication, the whole ball of wax, and the fact that it was entirely handmade–no use of any computer technology.”

The Henry Graves Supercomplication set a world auction record when it sold at Sotheby’s in 1999 for $11 million. When Sotheby’s sold it again in 2014, it set the record anew by fetching $24 million. You were present for both records. Could you talk about what they were like? “The first time, we didn’t know what to expect, because it had never sold at auction before,” she says, noting that Sotheby’s put an unusually high $3 million to $4 million estimate on the Henry Graves Supercomplication in 1999. “The second time, there was a lot more writing on it. ‘Will it break the record?’ ‘Will it find a buyer?’ I knew the consigner was sad to sell it but wanted to pass it along. There was a lot of emotion involved. It was a roller coaster, those few days. There was so much more emphasis on it. It was a big, big deal.”

How did you experience both auctions? “The first time, I was in a state of shock as it exceeded five million. It was very exciting, and I remember holding my breath until the hammer went down,” she says. “The second time, it was exciting because it was all in the room. It came down to two people. It was still exciting for me to watch, it was just a different environment.”

What is the Henry Graves Patek Philippe Supercomplication pocket watch like in person? “It feels good. It feels right. It feels high-quality. It’s a perfect kind of watch,” she says, and launches into a memory that compares aspects of the two auctions. “In 1999, we hand-carried it from Rockford, Illinois, to Sotheby’s in New York City. [We thought] If it sold for $3 million to $5 million, that’s a lot. Once it went for $11 million and beyond–we had estimated it [the second time] at $17 million to $20 million–we no longer hand-carried it. We had armed guards. We were still handling it, but yeah. As important as it was the first time, it was that much more important the second time. Its value was greater, and its fame was greater.”

How long do you think the record will stand? “I don’t know. So far, it’s been three years,” she says. “Aside from something like the Paul Newman wristwatch, which was about provenance, you know, records are meant to be broken. The fact that it held the record from 1999 to 2014 was something, but with that Paul Newman bringing $18 million, who knows? It’s kind of hard to speculate. Anything’s possible.”

Might one of the four Calibre 89 timepieces challenge it? “Not even close,” Schnipper says. “The Calibre 89 is very important, but it’s not the same. They made more, they had engineers, they had computer-assisted design–it’s just different.” [Editor’s note: The yellow-gold version of the Calibre 89 was consigned to Christie’s in 2016 for $11 million and went unsold. Sotheby’s offered it in May 2017 with an estimate of about $6.4 million to $9.9 million, and it went unsold again. Also, Vacheron Constantin has since claimed the ‘most complicated watch ever made’ title with the 2015 release of the Reference 57260. It measured almost four inches across, weighed just over two pounds, and boasted 57 complications.]

Why will the Henry Graves Supercomplication stick in your memory? “It was the most important watch known in private hands at that time [1933], and it’s still in private hands,” she says. “It’s like selling the Mona Lisa. How do you get your head around that? That’s kind of where it is for me.”

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You can watch Daryn Schnipper talk about the Henry Graves Supercomplication in this 2014 Sotheby’s video.

Image is courtesy of Sotheby’s.

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