James Ward Packard, born on November 5, 1863 in Ohio, is best remembered by most Americans for the car manufacturing company he founded with his brother: Packard Motor Car Company. But collectors of timepieces as well as classic cars remember him with respect.
Packard was an inventive mechanics enthusiast, filing 43 patents in his lifetime, and his best-known career was set when he sent a list of shortcomings he saw in the 'horseless carriages' made by (Alexander) Winton to the maker.
Winton, irritated by the criticisms, challenged him to do better - which he did. In fact classic Packards are still coveted on the market, with collectors such as Bob Turnquist always keen to snap them up.
But Packard was a collector himself. In fact James Ward Packard stands as one of two American gentlemen, the other being Henry Graves, Jr., who supported, encouraged and demanded the production of the most exceptional and complicated of watches.
Their 'contest' to acquire the most complicated of timepiece led to the great patronage of Patek Philippe and also Vacheron Constantin.
Graves ultimately received the most complicated of watches of the day from Patek Philippe but Packard was provided by the company with 17 watches including ones each with ten and sixteen complications.
Upon his death the majority of his watch collection was given to the Horological Institute of America which later became the AWCI (American Watchmakers-Clockmakers Institute).
It was with enormous excitement, therefore, that a set of Packard's watches were discovered in a bank vault recently, having been preserved there for 60 years.
They are going under the hammer at Christie's today (June 15). The results will be in our Watches section - perhaps even by the time you're reading this. Christie's Simon Hines, Head of Watches for Christie's Americas and Asia, enthused:
"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," he noted.
"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 US, Europe, Asia and beyond."
Two of the recent discoveries include fantastic timepieces from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin:
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, this elegant timepiece has survived in impeccable condition and is accompanied by a neatly drawn and labelled diagram - probably 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.
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.
This beautifully-crafted openface dress watch is the only known minute-repeating watch by the firm to feature both power reserve and an unusual Murat-style case. It will be only the third Packard Patek Philippe to appear at auction.
The two watches are expected to sell for up to $500,000 and 400,000 respectively, and typify Packard's great love for horology.
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