5 watches with incredible backstories
All watches tell the time.
Some watches catch the eye.
And a select few have fascinating stories to tell. Here are five of the best.
5. The first purpose-built wristwatch for a man
In 1906, Louis Cartier created a one-off wristwatch for the Brazilian aviator Alberto Santos-Dumont - the first purpose-built wristwatch for a man.
While women had been wearing them for some time, the fashion for men was chunky pocketwatches suspended from a chain.
The Cartier Santos was among the first wristwatches created for a man - Image: Monochrome Watches
This all changed with the advent of flight.
Santos-Dumont made the first European powered flight in 1906, with his aircraft the 14-bis. Afterwards he explained to friend Cartier that he’d found it difficult to check his pocketwatch while flying.
Cartier proposed to make his friend a wristwatch, which he promptly did. Santos-Dumont was regularly photographed wearing it.
And so, wristwatches came to be associated with bravery and derring do – casting off their feminine connotations. The first production model Cartier Santos watch was released in 1911.
The rest is history.
4. The watch stolen from an icon
Indira Nehru, who would go on to become India’s first female prime minister, gave this watch to Mahatma Gandhi during the 1920s.
It was one of Gandhi’s few possessions during his lifetime.
Gandhi's watch was stolen as he slept on a train - Image: Watches & Gadgets
When it was stolen while he slept on a train in 1947 he was distraught.
Six months later he was approached by a man in Delhi. It was the thief who had taken his watch.
He had been so consumed with guilt that the thief kept hold of it until he could return it to Gandhi.
In characteristic fashion, Gandhi forgave him.
Many years later the watch sold as part of a $1.8m auction of Gandhi memorabilia.
3. The baseball star’s watch
You may be aware of the tradition of World Series winners' rings.
But before that started in the early 1930s, players were often given other keepsakes – such as engraved pocket watches.
Babe Ruth received this watch in 1923 - Image: Heritage Auctions
This example was presented to Babe Ruth, perhaps the greatest player of all time, in 1923.
In 1948, after a diagnosis of terminal cancer, Ruth gave the watch to a close friend (a Charles Schwefel) who had stood by him in his hour of need.
On the reverse, above his own name, Ruth had it engraved “To My Pal Charles Schwefel.”
The watch is considered one of the most important pieces of Yankee memorabilia of all time. It sold for $717,000 at Heritage Auctions in 2014.
2. The watch worn on the Moon
This next watch is out of this world… literally.
It’s a Bulova watch, with a non-descript Velcro strap.
Dave Scott performed the first ever spacewalk, during the Apollo 15 mission - Image: RR Auction
But it’s so much more than it seems.
This watch belonged to Apollo 15 astronaut Dave Scott. He wore it on his final space walk and on the surface of the Moon.
It’s the only privately owned, non-NASA issue watch worn on the Apollo program and this makes it an absolute one off.
That’s why it made $1.6m at RR Auction in 2015.
1. The most expensive watch ever made
The 1933 Henry Graves Supercomplication is in a class of its own.
It’s named for the 24 functions it can perform as a result of its hugely intricate mechanism.
The Supercomplication lives up to its name - Image: Sotheby's
These include showing dates, months and star charts, a stop watch, an alarm and dials indicating the times of sunrise and sunset.
It was designed especially for banker Henry Graves, who commissioned it to outdo his rival, the industrialist William James Packard – who had had an equally ridiculous watch made sometime earlier.
It took three years to build and remains the most complex watch ever made without the use of a computer.
It sold for a world record $24m at Sotheby’s in 2014.
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