Christie’s New York, 7 December
Sold for $250,000
With its vintage and modern watches often realising huge sums at auction, it is easy to forget that Patek Philippe has a long history of making timepieces of exceptional accuracy purely for commercial or professional use – as in the case of this remarkable set of navigator’s pocket watches that were bought by the U.S. Navy in 1917 having achieved outstanding scores in the Geneva Observatory contest four years earlier.
For what purpose the massive, 60mm diameter “torpedo boat watches” were originally acquired by the Navy is unknown, although it is likely they were among the equipment carried on expeditions to make remote astronomical observations.
But the trio’s finest hour came in 1924 when it was carried aboard the U.S. Navy zeppelin airship the USS Los Angeles during its delivery flight from Friedrichshafen, Germany, to New York.
A bright future was envisaged for such airships which were expected to become America’s dominant for of air transport – so much so that there were plans to use the top of the Empire State Building as a zeppelin docking station.
In the event, the USS Los Angeles was the only one of the country’s four such craft not to come to a tragic end. Of the other three, the Macon crashed into the sea off Monterey Bay, killing two crew; the Shenandoah broke-up over Ohio killing 14 and the Akron was destroyed in a thunderstorm off New Jersey, leaving 73 dead in the greatest airship disaster of all time. Each craft had cost more than $4 million.