The unimaginable tales behind 5 of the world’s most costly watches



Written by Alex Doak, CNN

A bit of over 30 years in the past, Geneva’s Antiquorum pioneered the fashionable watch public sale with its “Artwork of Patek Philippe” sale. Earlier than then, the notion that positive watches had been collectable was reasonably eccentric — it took the rise of low cost digital quartz fashions all through the Seventies and ’80s to tell apart historically crafted timepieces as extra than simply keepers of time.
This landmark public sale, held in 1989, additionally helped cement Patek Philippe’s place as haute horlogerie’s de facto funding of selection. It is a popularity that persists to this present day, due to the model’s enduring formulation of heritage, innovation and cultish aura. Final November, the Patek Philippe titanium Grandmaster Chime fetched $31 million at Christie’s — smashing each file going.

However Patek Philippe is, not at all, watch collectors’ solely selection. A variety of different manufacturers, from Breguet to Rolex, command feverish bidding wars at public sale and lengthy ready lists for brand spanking new fashions. Whereas astronomical value tags usually come right down to rarity and preciousness, a terrific story definitely helps. Listed below are 5 fascinating examples.

Marie Antoinette’s lacking watch

Тhe Breguet No. 160 grand complication, more commonly known as the Marie-Antoinette or the Queen

Тhe Breguet No. 160 grand complication, extra generally often called the Marie-Antoinette or the Queen Credit score: Michael Vainshtein from Wikimedia Commons

Breguet no.160 Marie-Antoinette, 1827 — valued at $30 million in 2013.

What kind of watch may Parisian horologist Abraham-Louis Breguet make if he had been alive in the present day? In truth, the “godfather of contemporary watchmaking” — who’s credited with industrializing positive watchmaking and numerous technological improvements — most likely would not be making watches in any respect. As a grasp of sensible, progressive and delightful problem-solving, he would extra seemingly be making a killing in Silicon Valley.

In reality, his one hundred and sixtieth watch, the fabled Marie-Antoinette is a watershed masterpiece of supercomputing.

The story of this timepiece is a legend of two halves, with a killer origin story, plus a latter-day heist scandal. It began with a starry-eyed guard at Marie Antoinette’s Versailles court docket who, in 1783, commissioned Breguet to take advantage of sophisticated and treasured look ahead to his more and more unpopular queen.

Breguet duly obliged, kitting the clear pocket watch with a lot of his personal innovations (together with automated winding) and loads of others’ in addition to (corresponding to celestial time, state of winding and a perpetual calendar) all in treasured metallic. There was one drawback, nevertheless: The watch’s 823 parts took one of the best a part of 30 years to provide, which means that it was not accomplished till lengthy after Marie Antoinette’s execution, and 4 years after Breguet’s personal passing (it was completed by his workshop, underneath his son’s supervision).

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Subsequently acquired by Sir David Salomons. After Salomon’s loss of life in 1925, the watch joined the British lawyer’s appreciable assortment of 18th- and Nineteenth-century pocket watches as a core show on the Museum For Islamic Artwork, in Jerusalem (based by his daughter within the Seventies). In a surprising twist years later, on April 17, 1983, over 100 of Sir David’s uncommon timepieces, together with the Marie-Antoinette, disappeared into skinny air in a single day.

The presumed theft remained a thriller for 23 years till Israeli police obtained two tip-offs from individuals claiming to have been proven gadgets from the gathering. Because it transpired, Naaman Diller, an Israeli cat burglar who gained notoriety within the Sixties, had single-handedly bypassed the museum’s safety system earlier than stashing the clocks and watches in safes all through the US, Europe and Israel.

Following Diller’s loss of life in 2004, his widow tried to promote the gadgets, although she caught and given 5 yr’s probation for receiving stolen items. Of the 106 timepieces, 39 — together with Marie Antoinette’s reward — had been restored and returned to the museum, the place they continue to be on show.

Essentially the most intricate watch of its day

The Henry Graves Supercomplication

The Henry Graves Supercomplication Credit score: Courtesy Sotheby’s

Patek Philippe Henry Graves Jr Supercomplication, 1932 — bought for $24 million at Sotheby’s in 2014.
The model new Patek Philippe Grandmaster Chime might have bought for $31 million final yr, however the watch whose file it broke is steeped with blue-blooded pedigree.

Made for eminent New York banker Henry Graves Jr, and that includes 24 “problems” (in different phrases, capabilities past telling the time), the co-called Supercomplication timepiece was thought-about essentially the most intricate watch ever made till Patek Philippe created the Calibre 89 for its one hundred and fiftieth anniversary in 1989.

However the truth stays, it is nonetheless essentially the most sophisticated watch created with out computer-assisted know-how — that includes a minute repeater with “Westminster” chimes, a stopwatch “chronograph” that may file two simultaneous occasions, a perpetual calendar, moon phases, indications for dawn and sundown, and a celestial chart of New York Metropolis’s night time sky, amongst a lot else. And it was all drawn, calculated, manufactured and assembled by hand.

Paul Newman’s Rolex

Rolex Cosmograph “Paul Newman” Daytona, 1968 — bought for $17.8 million at Phillips in 2017.

This Sixties chronograph stopwatch is not made out of treasured metallic, simply plain outdated metal. Nor does it home any masterful problems — its stopwatch operate relies on the identical mechanics present in tens of 1000’s of watches from the interval — and its caseback is crudely, ungrammatically engraved: “Drive Fastidiously Me.”

However that is no strange watch. It was Paul Newman’s very personal Cosmograph Daytona. The final word instance of essentially the most collectable Rolex, it was gifted to the Hollywood star by his spouse Joanne Woodward in 1968, when his ardour for motorsport actually kicked in (therefore the engraving).

The blue-eyed star was often photographed sporting the watch, which is distinguished by its “unique” dial coloration and “mushroom” push buttons — an unpopular model of the Daytona through the Sixties and ’70s, which means that examples are uncommon, and good-condition ones with field and papers are even rarer.

Regardless of its relative simplicity, the watch was the spotlight of an already high-profile sale in New York again in 2017, out-performing numerous works of haute horlogerie from the world’s biggest producers, and effortlessly smashing the world file beforehand held by a $11.1 million Patek Philippe that had bought in the identical room the yr earlier than.

This explicit instance was prone to fetch tens of millions, due to its eponymous provenance, however its improbable situation assured it. It was consigned by James Cox, who, whereas relationship Newman’s daughter Nell, was gifted the watch by the star.

“Apparently Pop forgot to wind his wristwatch that morning,” Nell Newman recounted in a signed letter accompanying Cox’s consignment. “James responded that he did not know the time and did not personal a watch. Pop handed James his Rolex and stated, ‘In the event you can keep in mind to wind this every day, it tells fairly good time.'”

If solely he knew what a present it might develop into.

A timepiece to take into area

The George Daniels Space Traveller I watch

The George Daniels House Traveller I watch Credit score: Courtesy Sotheby’s

George Daniels House Traveller I, 1982 — bought for $4.6 million at Sotheby’s in 2019.

It would solely occupy sixteenth place within the record of most costly watches ever bought at public sale, however this classically turned magnificence remains to be revered for the virtuoso solo watchmaking that went into it.

When it comes to watchmaker George Daniels’ legacy, it is the coaxial regulating mechanism inside each mechanical Omega that lives on. However his bloody-minded “Daniels Technique,” which noticed him hand-crafting each single part from uncooked metallic with none automation — not to mention extra employees at his distant workshop on the Isle of Man — was arguably his most spectacular feat.

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Requiring mastery of over 30 crafts, honed by Daniels by way of years of restoring vintage Breguets, the tactic restricted his profession output to simply 35 watches, which he made for a handful of rich patrons. But these 35 watches have led many horologists to treat him because the world’s biggest residing watchmaker. His most well-known creation, the House Traveller pocket watch, was named in honor of NASA’s Apollo program and was “the form of watch you would wish in your package deal tour to Mars,” as Daniels famously stated, on account of its celestial time indications.

After seeing Daniels converse on the Manchester Faculty of Horology within the Nineteen Nineties, teenager Roger Smith picked up a second-hand lathe and a duplicate of Daniels’ e-book, “Watchmaking,” earlier than turning into the legendary watchmaker’s one-time apprentice. Now, a Roger W. Smith wristwatch — additionally crafted on the Isle of Man, utilizing his late instructor’s bequeathed vintage instruments — is the closest you will get to a brand new George Daniels, and for significantly much less (from round $125,000 upwards, if you may get on the ready record).

A personal jet-ready wristwatch

The Richard Mille RM62-01 Airbus Corporate Jets

The Richard Mille RM62-01 Airbus Company Jets Credit score: Courtesy Richard Mille

Richard Mille RM 62-01 Airbus Company Jets — valued at $1.3m in 2019.

Other than the spectacular Patek Philippe Sky Moon Tourbillon, valued at $1.75 million, that is the priciest watch you should purchase brand-new and off-the-shelf proper now.

However that is top-flight, fashionable horology at its most uncompromising. Famend for stripped-back, F1-style aesthetics, efficiency in excessive situations and cutting-edge supplies, Richard Mille has shaken up the dainty, barely dusty world of conventional Swiss watchmaking.

The branding of his newest creation is aligned with Airbus Company Jets, therefore the porthole-shaped carbon-titanium composite case. However the innovation does not cease there. It boasts a “vibrate” setting (a characteristic that shall be acquainted to followers of early-2000s cellphones and pagers) due to a tiny off-kilter weight in stable gold that spins on the alarm’s allotted time at a blurry 5,400 revs per minute, alerting your wrist of the set time discreetly.

It additionally has a whirring “tourbillon” cage that defies gravity’s impact on the fragile stability spring. It is made from super-light, super-tough carbon and titanium — and, for when your private Airbus touches down, a second time zone characteristic retains observe of the time again dwelling.

If boardroom bragging rights will also be thought-about a characteristic, then depend that in, too.



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