With later added fitted red Morocco presentation box stamped with the retailer's name Schuch L. Utóda És Szlavik, Budapest Kigyo Utca 4, the gilt metal coat-of-arms of Csáky de Kereszteg of Hungary applied on the cover, a watch-shaped glazed medallion containing a handwritten note, an entrance ticket for the 1893 World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago and a cardboard note stamped Hausmann & Co., Roma with a drawing showing the various functions of the watch.
Proudly presented as the pinnacle of the newly founded manufacture Glashütte Uhrenfabrik Union's production at the 1893 World Columbian Exposition in Chicago, watch no. 47'373 was at the time believed to be the very first example of such a "super complication" ever made by any watchmaker.
With the first "Grande Complication" to be finished in the newly founded firm, presumably the first watch ever made with these complications and consequently the world's most complicated watch at the time, "Union" gained enormously in reputation for the watch industry in Glashütte but most importantly for themselves, also by outrivaling their fiercest competitor A. Lange & Söhne.
The ingenious businessman Johannes Dürrstein had meticulously planned and prepared his "coup" well in advance and launched production of watch no. 47'373 already in 1891. Following an extremely laborious and costly manufacture period of two years, Union's masterpiece was finished just in time for the World Exposition in 1893 where it sold for the astounding amount of 5,000 Marks, price of a villa in Dresden at the time (Deutsche Uhrmacher-Zeitung, 15 October 1893, No. 20, p. 160). The dial of the watch is signed "Dürrstein & Co. Glashütte und Dresden", in use prior to the founding "Uhrenfabrik Union" on 1st January 1893; its movement is already bearing the signature of the watch manufacture, hence showing the connection between the two firms.
It is commonly acknowledged and confirmed in literature that the ébauches for Union's complicated watches were supplied by Audemars Piguet, often made by Louis-Elisée Piguet for Audemars Piguet with whom he had signed a contract in March 1891. Audemars Piguet seemingly held a monopole for the delivery of the ultra-complicated ébauches, at least 5 of those delivered by Louis-Elisée Piguet were inscribed "Glashütte" in his workbooks. For a detailed description of Louis-Elisée Piguet and his work see the following website: www.piguet-famille.ch/fileadmin/groups/2/Archives_famille_LEP/Fa brique_p39riode_LEP/Louis_Elisee_Piguet_vie_et__oeuvre_de.pdf.
The authors Gisbert L. Brunner, Christian Pfeiffer-Belli and Martin Wehrli state in their reference tome Audemars Piguet that a total of 35 movements, mostly complicated pocket watches, were delivered to the "Mecca of German watch industry" between 1895 and 1912 (pp. 52 - 55). The majority of these ébauches bear the latter's serial number and are recorded in the firms workbooks (op.cit., p. 55).
Close examination of the present watch did not reveal any numbers or hallmarks related to Audemars Piguet or Louis-Elisée Piguet. Scholars however unanimously agree that layout, design and particularly the outstanding quality must be attributed to the celebrated houses, specialized in the manufacture of such "super complications". This assumption is furthermore underlined by the illustration of a very similar "Grande Complication" prominently illustrated on p. 55, op.cit..
The use of Swiss made ébauches for complicated watches was common use amongst the manufacturers in Glashütte, the reason not being a lack of knowledge or resources but insufficient production capacity, caused by the strong demand for timepieces from the region.
The ébauche of the present "Grande Complication" was finished by two of the most talented Glashütte watchmakers working for Johannes Dürrstein: Julius Bergter and Martin Simmchen, future director and master watchmaker of Union. Under the guidance of these two men, one of the world's most complicated pocket watches was created, impressing with the stunning number of no less than 13 complications (in addition to the essential timekeeping functions such as hours, minutes and seconds which are not considered complications):
1. The perpetual calendar
2. The days of the week
3. The months
4. The days of the month
5. The phases of the moon
6. The chronograph
7. The split seconds
8. The 30 minutes register
9. The flying 1/5ths of a second
10. The minute repeating
11. The grande sonnerie
12. The petite sonnerie
13. The twin barrel bi-directional winding
Its sumptuous pink gold case is of highest quality, featuring five-part hinges, a remarkable diameter of 68 mm and a weight of nearly 300 grams, rendering it also a perfect desk time piece.
The present watch, no. 47'373, is one of possibly eight of such "Grande Complication" watches made by Union, out of which six are publicly known to date. As they however all differ from each other by the dial signatures, case decoration or style of the engraved striking functions, the watches can be considered unique pieces. To celebrate the 50th anniversary of the watchmaking industry in Glashütte in 1895, the second example of the "Grande Complication" series was presented and baptized "Jubiläumsuhr" (anniversary watch).
Unquestionably amongst the most important watches ever made in Germany, the present "Grande Complication" pays tribute to the country's horological testimony, supported by finest Swiss watchmaking tradition. The ultimate combination of finest Swiss and German craftsmanship, engineering and design, together with the impeccable provenance, render this masterpiece a trophy for any collector and amateur of exceptional watches.
Johannes Dürrstein started his career in watchmaking after an apprenticeship at the wholesaler Ludwig & Fries, working as a travelling salesman for a Swiss watchmaker. In 1874, he decided to set up his own business, founding the watch wholesaler Dürrstein & Compagnie in Glashütte together with his brother Friedrich. With his experience as a watch wholesaler and his flair for sales, Dürrstein was in a perfect position to start producing his own watches. To demonstrate his watchmaking skills, he hired the master watchmakers Julius Bergter and Martin Simmchen, both highly talented and reputed artists.
On 1 January 1893, "Uhrenfabrik Union" was founded, with the aim of producing only the best, finest and most accurate watches. Union's watches were of highest quality and on special request could be supplied with the most complicated of mechanisms including pocket chronometers, tourbillons and perpetual calendars and with a rating certificate from the Hamburg Observatory. To satisfy their clients' strong demand, Dürrstein often bought best quality Swiss movements which were then finished, cased and sold under his or Union's name. The trademark of a stylized temple was introduced in 1896.
In 1900, a highly complex watch surpassing even the most successful Grande Complication caliber was created. Dürrstein's "dream watch" marked a high point in the art of watchmaking: presented at the watchmaking trade exhibition in Leipzig in 1900, the "Universal watch" with its 18 complication was considered at the time to be the most complex pocket watch in the world, a position which it held for many years.
We are indebted to Mr. Bernd Schaarmschidt for his kind and generous assistance with the research of this watch and preparation of this catalogue entry.