When pocket watches were first invented in the 16th century they were products strictly for the wealthy and privileged. The first truly mobile means of telling time initial watches were worn around the neck, and they could be off by more than an hour. It wasn't until spiral springs (the height of technology in the year 1675) were invented that accurate pocket watches could even be made. Once this technology was discovered watches became (slightly) less expensive as well as much more accurate. Not only that, but having a timepiece meant you were a man of means; someone for whom time was a valuable commodity. It even led to an entire etiquette system regarding how to wear one's watch, chain and fobs. It was the pocket watch as a fashion statement that gave birth to one of the most complex pocket watches ever designed; the Supercomplication.
The History of The Supercomplication
In the 1920s there was a competition going on in New York City between a banker and a car manufacturer as to who was top dog in the pocket watch world. James Packard, of the Packard car company, was in competition with banker Henry Graves Jr. over who could own the most complicated watch at the time. The ultimate status symbol, both men offered huge sums of money for watches that could be designed with complications, a term that refers to any feature of a timepiece aside from the hands that tell the seconds, minutes, and hours. Henry Graves took the lead when he sought help from pocket watch powerhouse Patek Philippe, located in Geneva, Switzerland.
Patek Philippe took a commission from Graves that was 5 years in the making; 2 years for planning and designing the watch, and another 3 to actually have it assembled in all its glory. This one-of-a-kind accessory made up of over 900 separate parts and pieces was named the Supercomplication, and it was completed in the year 1933. It came with all the bells and whistles, both literally and metaphorically. Some of the complications that this watch boasted included; a minute repeater that played the chimes of London's Big Ben, an automatic correction for leap years, the exact time of sunrise and sunset in New York City and an astronomical sky map of the firmament above Graves's New York house. All of this was wrapped in an 18 karat gold case with enameled and silvered gold dials.
What Happened to The Supercomplication?
This pocket timepiece is the most complicated in history to ever have been designed without the aid of a computer, and it took until 1989 for a watch to surpass the sheer number of extra functions presented by the Supercomplication. That timepiece was another project of Patek Philippe, who decided to outdo themselves for their 150th anniversary by building a watch with 30 complications. The Supercomplication held another record for many years though; the most expensive watch ever sold.
The Supercomplication was sold in 1999 at Southeby's for a record setting $11 million, which was over three times the previous record ever paid for a pocket time keeper. In fact it took the sale of a pocket watch practically made out of diamonds, the 201 karat Chopard watch which sold for $25 million, to take the Supercomplication out of the top spot. Today it exists in the private collection of the anonymous buyer, who would understandably not want to brag about owning such a coveted piece of watch making art and history.