Tuesday, February 19, 2013

Just a Tad Bit Complicated

A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World's Most Legendary Watch by Stacy Perman

Disclaimer: I received this book from the publisher in exchange for a review.

Summary: 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.

Review: An intriguing story of two very different men with a similar passion.

I enjoy clocks, mechanical clocks anyways. Digital watches give me no pleasure. I love old clocks with gears and lots of moving parts. When I have a house one day I am going to get a beautiful grandfather clock for it. I also love the tick-tock sound they make. In short, I was very interested to read about the most complicated watch ever made. Despite the title, this book focuses mainly on Packard and Graves and the competition between them to create the world's most complicated watch. It's an interesting story, but I had been hoping for more about the world's most complicated watch and how it mechanically works. 

I must admit that I really didn't like Graves. Both Packard and Graves were rich, but Packard made his own wealth. This book is about the competition between them, but beyond Graves mentioned Packard once, I am very curious as to how they knew about each other and their desire to have more complicated watches. A lot of this book was a catalogue of watches and their complications. I would have liked to have more explanation or at least pictures of the complications mentioned. 


Recommendation: I would recommend this book to those interested in watches and timekeeping or Packard.

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