• Important Watches auction at Christies

    Sale 1398

    Important Watches

    11 November 2013, Geneva

  • Lot 377

    Dürrstein & Co.; Glashütte Uhrenfabrik Union; Audemars Piguet. An exceptional, historically important and most certainly unique 18K pink gold openface minute repeating, perpetual calendar, split seconds chronograph keyless lever watch with moon phases, instantaneous minute recorder, flying fifths of a second, grande and petite sonnerie clockwatch


    Price Realised  


    Dürrstein & Co.; Glashütte Uhrenfabrik Union; Audemars Piguet. An exceptional, historically important and most certainly unique 18K pink gold openface minute repeating, perpetual calendar, split seconds chronograph keyless lever watch with moon phases, instantaneous minute recorder, flying fifths of a second, grande and petite sonnerie clockwatch
    Signed Dürrstein & Co., Dresden & Glashütte i.SA and Glashütte Uhrenfabrik Union, movement by Audemars Piguet, no. 47'373, manufacture started in 1891, sold in 1893
    Cal. 20''' two train fully jewelled gilt-finished lever movement, bi-directional winding, gold chatons, bimetallic compensation balance with gold poising screws, micrometer regulator, diamond endstone, finely chased engraved foliage decorated balance cock, minute repeating and grande and petite sonnerie striking on two hammers onto two gongs, glazed dust cover, gold cuvette, white enamel dial, Arabic numerals, outer scale calibrated for 300 units, blued steel spade hands, sunk centre and four sunk subsidiary dials for month, leap year and instantaneous 30 minutes recorder inscribed Schaltjahr Wte Immerwährend, day, date and moon phases, lunar calendar, constant seconds and flying fifths of a second, heavy circular case, stepped bezel and rim, reverse centred by the engraved coat-of-arms of the Hungarian noble family Csáky de Kereszteg, trip repeating slide and two buttons for the split seconds chronograph mechanism in the band, striking mechanism selected by six levers under the bezel for '1/4 1/2 3/4 u. Stunden' and 'St. und Viertel' (grande and petite sonnerie) and 'nicht schlag' and 'schlagen' (silence/strike), case and cuvette numbered, dial signed Dürrstein & Co., Dresden & Glashütte i.SA, movement signed Glashütte Uhrenfabrik Union on the backplate and Dürrstein & Co. Glashütte and Dresden underneath the dial
    68 mm. diam.

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    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.

    Uhrenfabrik Union
    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.


    Several evidences lead to the conclusion that the present watch was the property of the Hungarian bishop Károly Emmánuel de Csáky, notably the engraved coat-of-arms of the noble family Csáky de Kereszteg engraved on the case back and applied to the cover of the presentation box. He presumably bequeathed it to Achille Ratti, future Pope Pius XI, at the time of Csáky's death the apostolic visitor (unofficial papal representative) of Pope Benedict XV in Poland. The watch was handed over by Monsignor Hanauer, the successor of bishop Csáky. In 1937, the Holy Father bestowed it to his personal physician Dr. Amanti Milani, certainly as a token of gratitude for the devotional care as he had been suffering for some time already.

    The note contained in the medallion accompanying the watch bears an inscription in Italian, presumably hand-written by Pope Pius XI, stating to one side

    "Cronografo prezioso donato al S.P. p ult.a vol.t di Msr. Csaki Vesc.o d. Va??tig p.m.l. Mr. Hanauer, Pius PP XI", translating into
    "Precious chronograph given to the Holy Father by last will of Monsignor Csaki Bishop of Va??tig by the hand of Monsignor Hanauer, his successor".

    The hand-written inscription to the back of the note states "donato al Dr Milani 2 XI 37" - "given to Dr. Milani 2 November 1937".

    Károly Emmánuel de Csáky (1852-1919) was the Bishop of Vác or Waitzen in German from 1900 until his death in 1919. He was succeeded by Árpád István Hanauer (1919-1942).

    Dr. Aminta Milani was the personal physician of pope Pius XI (and later Pius XII).

    The presence of the original entrance ticket for the "Chicago Day" (9 October 1893) of the World's Columbian Exposition accompanying the watch supports the assumption that it was bought on this day from Dürrstein, either by the future Bishop Károly Emmánuel de Csáky himself or by a member of his family for him. Amongst aristocrats, dignitaries and the wealthy of the time it was fashionable to travel and the attendance of a fair of such repute would have wonderfully befitted one's social status.

    Following the bestowing of the watch to Dr. Milani in 1937, the whereabouts of the present "Grande Complication" remain unknown until its appearance at public auction on 16 May 2006. Since this day it has been the property of the present owner, now offered only for the second time in public since its first sale in 1893.

    Pope Pius XI
    Pope Pius XI, born Ambrogio Damiano Achille Ratti (31 May 1857 - 10 February 1939), was the head of the Catholic Church from 6 February 1922 to his death in 1939. He was sovereign of Vatican City from its creation as an independent state on 11 February 1929. He took as his papal motto, "Pax Christi in Regno Christi", translated "The Peace of Christ in the Kingdom of Christ".

    Pre-Lot Text



    Deutsche Uhrmacher-Zeitung, 15 October 1893, No. 20, p. 160
    100 Jahre Uhrenindustrie in Glashütte von 1845 bis 1945 by Reinhard Meis, p. 426 & 427.