GENEVA (Reuters) - A gold pocket watch made by Patek Philippe for a New York banker in the 1930s fetched 23.2 million Swiss francs ($24 million) at auction on Tuesday, smashing the record for a timepiece it previously set 15 years ago, Sotheby's said.
Henry Graves commissioned the famed Swiss watchmaker to produce the world's most complicated watch and surpass one made for James Packard, the American automobile manufacturer.
The pre-sale estimate, set by the auction house, was 15 million Swiss francs. The seller and buyer chose to remain anonymous st the auction at a Geneva lakeside hotel, where bidding continued for 15 suspenseful minutes.
Among the watch's features are a double face, perpetual calendar, phases of the moon, a chronograph that can time two simultaneous events, Westminster chimes, and indications for the time of sunset and sunrise and the night sky over New York's Central Park as seen from Graves' home on Fifth Avenue.
The watch, which was last wound in 1969 and is still ticking, retained the title of most complicated watch for 56 years and was only surpassed by technicians working with the aid of computer technology, Sotheby's said in a statement.
"The Henry Graves Supercomplication re-established its supreme status as the most valuable timepiece in auction history, selling for CHF 23,237,000 ($23,983,140), thereby beating the record of $11 million it established in 1999," said the statement issued after the evening sale.
With 24 horological functions, the watch was delivered to Graves in January 1933 after three years of research and five years of production.
Tim Bourne, Sotheby's Worldwide Head of Watches, conducted the auction and the sales room erupted into applause as he brought down the hammer after the winning bid from one of five would-be buyers.
"This evening's stellar result confirms the 'rock star' status of The Henry Graves Supercomplication," he said. "It is a masterpiece which transcends the boundaries of horology and has earned its place among the world’s greatest works of art."
Patek Philippe, founded 175 years ago and one of Switzerland's last family-owned watch brands, pledged last month to defy a wave of consolidation to stay independent for "at least another 25 years".
Reporting by Stephanie Nebehay; editing by Mark Heinrich