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A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World's Most Legendary Watchby Stacy Perman
Synopses & Reviews
Two wealthy, powerful men engage in a decades-long contest to create and possess the most remarkable watch in history.
James Ward Packard of Warren, Ohio, was an entrepreneur and a talented engineer of infinite curiosity, a self-made man who earned millions from his inventions, including the design and manufacture of America's first luxury car — the elegant and storied Packard. Henry Graves, Jr., was the very essence of blue-blooded refinement in the early 1900s: son of a Wall Street financier, a central figure in New York high society, and a connoisseur of beautiful things — especially fine watches.
Then, as now, expensive watches were the ultimate sign of luxury and wealth, but in the early twentieth century the limitless ambition, wealth, and creativity of these two men pushed the boundaries of mathematics, astronomy, craftsmanship, technology, and physics to create ever more ingenious timepieces.
In any watch, features beyond the display of hours, minutes, and seconds are known as “complications.” Packard and Graves spurred acclaimed Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe to create the Mona Lisa of timepieces — a fabled watch that incorporated twenty-four complications and took nearly eight years to design and build. For the period, it was the most complicated watch ever created. For years it disappeared, but then it surfaced at a Sotheby's auction in 1999, touching off a heated bidding war, shattering all known records when it fetched $11 million from an anonymous bidder.
New York Times bestselling author Stacy Perman takes us from the clubby world of New York high society into the ateliers of the greatest Swiss watchmakers, and into the high-octane, often secretive subculture of modern-day watch collecting. With meticulous research, vivid historical details, and a wealth of dynamic personalities, A Grand Complication is the fascinating story of the thrilling duel between two of the most intriguing men of the early twentieth century. Above all, it is a sweeping chronicle of innovation, the desire for beauty, and the lengths people will go to possess it.
"Buying, not building, is the focus of this breathless saga of watch collecting. Journalist Perman (In-N-Out Burger) profiles two rabid collectors of the early 20th century, auto magnate James Ward Packard and investor Henry Graves Jr., who both commissioned ever-fancier timepieces from Swiss watchmaker Patek Philippe. (The endpoint, the Graves Supercomplication, featured 24 functions — 'complications' — including a perpetual calendar, quarter-hourly chimes and a revolving star chart.) Perman's portrait of the subculture of aggressive acquisitiveness gussies up her protagonists' intrinsically sedate collecting pastime as a 'duel,' toasts the 'bravura' of their finicky tastes, and regales readers with auction-room melodramas complete with onlookers gasping at last-minute bids. The connoisseurship is a peg for her lavish celebration of the lifestyles of rich and fabulous collectors and their society weddings and ritzy surroundings: 'The two men repaired to one of the public salons among seventeenth- and eighteenth-century tapestries, arranging themselves on the gilt and brocade furniture, not far from where Queen Marie Antoinette had taken piano lessons.' Lost amid the luxe is Perman's discussion of the watches themselves, which is too cursory to do justice to their ingenious mechanisms. Her lively account of watches as high-end consumer fetishes doesn't quite show what makes them tick. Photos. Agent: Michelle Tessler." Publishers Weekly Copyright PWxyz, LLC. All rights reserved.
"Stacy Perman has pulled off a remarkable feat in this book. In telling the story of the most complex watch ever made, she writes about a device that not only tells time with exquisite percision but also, in her capable hands, opens up a revealing window onto an entire age." Toby Lester, author of The Fourth Part of the World and Da Vinci's Ghost
"A unique competition between two scions of the Gilded Age is the driver for this fresh look at the mores of the rich and powerful. The aim of the competition was to acquire the world's most complicated timepieces. She effectively combines these different strands, providing a compelling social history....A masterful approach to composition combines with a fascinating plot and makes its subject entertaining as well as compelling." Kirkus, starred review
New York Times bestselling author Stacy Perman chronicles the thrilling pursuit between two ambitious men in the early 1900s to possess the most complicated timepiece in history.
In 1999, at a monumental auction held at Sotheby’s in New York City, an eighteen-carat gold pocket watch delivered in 1933 shattered all known records when it was sold for $11 million. Secretly commissioned by the wealthy financier Henry Graves, Jr., the timepiece contained twenty-four “complications,” including a celestial chart over Manhattan. Considered the Mona Lisa of timepieces, it had been the coveted victor in a collecting duel that spanned three decades.
In A Grand Complication, Stacy Perman takes us back to the early twentieth century to tell the incredible story of horological rivals: Wall Street and high society figure Henry Graves, Jr., and James Ward Packard, the brilliant inventor and automobile tycoon behind the elegant Packard Motorcar. These archetypes of American success went head to head, driving the finest watchmakers to push the boundaries of mathematics, astronomy, craftsmanship, and technology, all to win a personal race against time. With fascinating historical details that recreate the rich lives of these players and their families, Perman transports us from the clubby world of New York high society to the birth of the American auto industry and its apogee of style in the Packard line, and into the ateliers of the greatest Swiss watchmakers. Theirs is the story of consuming passion, money-fueled epochs and economic collapse, the obsessive world of watches, and how it influenced the expression of wealth and luxury through gadgets and toys that have become symbols of status.
About the Author
Stacy Perman is an award-winning journalist and the author of the New York Times bestseller In-N-Out Burger. The recipient of a MacDowell fellowship, she is a former writer with Business Week and Time. Her work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, The Wall Street Journal, and many other publications. She lives in New York City.
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