The Fairytale Watch Collection Hidden in a Bank Vault for More Than Sixty Years

Among serious watch collectors and horological aficionados, perhaps no name inspires as much reverence and admiration as that of James Ward Packard (1863-1928), the American auto manufacturer and inventor whose passion for watch collecting is the stuff of legend. Packard was among the first of the great watch collectors to work directly with Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin, the world’s most exclusive watch manufacturers, in his quest to build an exquisite personal collection of highly complicated, custom-designed timepieces.

This June, Christie’s is honored to announce the descendants of James Ward Packard have entrusted the auction house with the sale of exceptional timepieces from this legendary collection. These extraordinary watches remain in pristine condition, having been stored away in a bank vault for the last 60 years. They will be unveiled for the first time to the public this June, and offered as a key highlight of Christie’s sale of Important Watches on June 15 in New York.

“In watch collecting circles, this is a true fairytale collection. James Ward Packard is the original icon who inspired generations of serious watch collectors that followed him,” said Sam Hines, Head of Watches for Christie’s Americas and Asia. “As a mechanical engineer by training, he had a deep knowledge and passion for the craft of watchmaking that made him uniquely qualified to work directly with the best Swiss watch manufacturers and create completely unique, one-of-a-kind watches that do not exist anywhere else in the world.

Beyond this, he had a refined sense of style that was heavily influenced by the design motifs of his day, and it is a true delight to see Packard’s personal taste reflected in the elegant, Art Nouveau styling of these timepieces, even down to the stylized monograms stamped on the case backs. These rediscovered watches are likely the last of the great Packard watches to come to market directly from his descendants, and we anticipate intense interest from collectors in the U.S., Europe, Asia and beyond.”

The James Ward Packard Vacheron Constantin No. 375551

Estimate: $250,000-500,000

One of the great revelations of Packard’s rediscovered collection is documented proof of his design partnership with Vacheron Constantin, the oldest watch manufacturer in Geneva. In 1918, the firm created a completely unique 20k gold openface chronograph clockwatch for Packard according to his specific instructions, incorporating a customized combination of complications, including trip minute-repeating, grande and petite sonnerie, chronograph, and half-quarter repeating functions (front and back views pictured left).

Beautifully detailed and stamped with Packard’s signature Art Nouveau monogram in blue enamel (detail, page one), this elegant timepiece has survived in impeccable condition and accompanied by a neatly drawn and labeled diagram – likely in Packard’s own hand – that reminds the owner how to operate each of the watch’s settings.

Research of Vacheron Constantin’s records show that Packard paid 3,320 Swiss Francs for the piece in 1919, the year of its delivery. With its unparalleled technical innovations, undiminished elegance, and exceptional provenance, this magnificent timepiece is without question the most significant Vacheron Constantin watch to come to market in recent memory.

The James Ward Packard Patek Philippe No. 174907 Estimate: $200,000-400,000

A second major discovery of the collection is a previously unrecorded and completely unique watch that Packard commissioned from Patek Philippe circa 1919. Prior to the rediscovery of this collection, watch experts knew of 16 watches the firm made specifically for Packard, each incorporating his own specifications. Christie’s experts were thrilled to re-discover this beautifully-crafted openface dress watch, the only known minute-repeating watch by the firm to feature both power reserve and an unusual Murat-style case.

Seldom used and still wrapped in its original paper, this superb watch was meticulously stored in its original presentation box (pictured at left) and packaged with its original certificate, spare crystal and two spare main springs. Patek Philippe records show it was delivered to Packard on April 22nd of 1920.

Because the majority of Packard’s watch collection was gifted to the Horological Institute of America upon his death in 1928, only two other Packard Patek Philippe watches have ever appeared at auction. As a rediscovered masterpiece commission from the world’s most exclusive watch manufacturer, this pristine example presents an unprecedented opportunity to acquire one of the most historically significant watches to come to market in years.

Packard Family Watches from the 19th Century
Rounding out the collection of rediscovered watches are two Packard family heirlooms: a pair of 19th century pocketwatches made by the American Watch Company that belonged to Packard’s father, Warren Packard. The older of the two is a handsome inscribed 18k gold hunter case key wound lever pocket watch from circa 1858 that was sold under the name of Appleton, Tracy & Co., a precursor to American Watch Company (estimate: $2,000-3,000).

The second, later watch from circa 1870 is a touching family heirloom that may have been a gift to Warren Packard from James Ward Packard and his brother William Doud Packard. The elegant silver and pink gold half hunter case keyless lever pocket watch with blue enamel decorative detailing (estimate: $2,000-3,000) bears an inscription on the silver cuvette that reads “From the Boys – Mar 1874”. Tucked into the interior of the case is a black & white photo of a small boy in a white sailor suit and hat.

About UAA Team

Urban Art and Antiques first published in 2007. If you are interested in becoming a contributor, let us know. Email urbanartantiques (at) gmail.com

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