Henry Graves had the honor of owning the world’s most complicated timepiece, a record later broken by another Patek Philippe creation, the Calibre 89.
Style Watches

The fight to become the world's most complicated watch

The high stakes competition that produced some of the most complicated watches of all time
Rheea Hermoso-Prudente | Dec 21 2018

The Calibre 89 was not the first grande complication Patek Philippe had built. 

In 1898, Patek Philippe produced the very first grand complication—the Stephen S. Palmer Grand Complication Clock Watch. It is an unknown (until about a year ago) timepiece that features a minute repeater, grand and petite sonnerie, perpetual calendar, split-seconds chronograph, and moon phases. No one had heard about it until it appeared for auction at Christie’s.

In contrast, almost all watch lovers know of the renowned rivalry between New York banker Henry Graves, Jr. and James Ward Packard, of the Packard automobile fame. Both avid watch collectors, they vied for the title of “owner of the world’s most complicated watch,” and they both commissioned Patek Philippe to create their timepieces for them. Packard commissioned Patek Philippe to create several timepieces in the years between 1905 and 1929, including one with a tachymeter scale and another with an alarm that played his mother’s favorite tune. But the most famous of all was the 1927 piece, called, unsurprisingly, The Packard.

Automobile magnate James Ward Packard had built quite a collection of Patek Philippe timepieces already when he commissioned the manufacture to come up with the world’s most complicated watch. His timepiece was later beat by another Patek Philippe creation commissioned by banker Henry Graves.

It was a double-faced astronomical pocket watch, with a rotating celestial map (the first ever that Patek made), showing the night sky over Warren, Ohio, where Packard lived. It also featured a minute repeater, perpetual calendar, moon phases and age of the moon, sunrise and sunset, and equation of time.

Not to be outdone, Graves also commissioned several timepieces from 1927 to 1933. It was the 1933 creation, known as The Graves Supercomplication, that has been the stuff of watch legend. The world’s most complicated watch for over 50 years, the Supercomplication also holds the still unbroken record for the world’s most expensive timepiece when it was auctioned off for more than USD 11 million. It came up for auction again in November 2014 where it sold for USD 24 million.

The watch boasts of 24 complications, including perpetual calendar, power reserve indicator, split-second chronograph with 60 minutes and 12 hours recorders, alarm on a gong, minute repeater, and grande and petite sonnerie. The Graves Supercomplication lost its title to another Patek Philippe creation, the Calibre 89. 


Photographs from John Griffith (Packard), and Sotheby’s (Graves).

This story first appeared in Vault Magazine Issue 17 2014.