The discovery of a previously unknown, unique, specially commissioned Patek Philippe Grand Complication watch is today an almost unheard of landmark event, creating a frisson of excitement amongst both watch collectors and those who pursue the very best world-class works of art.
Coming for the first time ever to the market and originally made to the order of Carrie Belle Carter Allen of Louisiana for her husband Dr. Ethan Allen, very few watches of this importance have such a fully-known history and provenance while even fewer were tailor-made to the buyer’s specifications or so completely personalized. As such, it joins the ranks of the legendary Patek Philippe watches made in the early 20th century for the great American millionaire industrialists including James Ward Packard and Henry Graves Jr. Not only is the present watch one of Patek Philippe’s most extraordinary technical triumphs, it is also very early in the production of the company’s Grand Complication watches, furthermore it is the only known Patek Philippe watch with these complications to have a full hunter case.
The year 1904 was a very significant one in the Southern U.S. It was the year of the Louisiana Purchase Exposition in Forest Park – the “St. Louis World’s Fair” which lasted from 30th April until 1st December 1904. Patek Philippe were exhibitors and also participated on the jury. It was in all probability at the St. Louis fair that Mrs. Allen commissioned this watch directly from Patek Philippe. The rare opportunity of coming face to face with the company’s representatives from Switzerland would certainly account for the sheer uniqueness and number of bespoke elements created for this watch, all adding to what was already one of the most complicated and expensive watches that Patek Philippe had made up to that date. Interestingly, one of the inspectors at the St. Louis World’s fair, one George T. Cram, owned a Patek Philippe hunter case minute repeater watch with “letter” dial spelling his name in place of numerals. That watch, no. 80764 was made in 1893 and originally ordered from jewellers Merrick, Walsh & Phelps, St. Louis, Missouri. In fact of the four other known Patek Philippe watches with “letter” dials, two were ordered from Merrick, Walsh & Phelps in St. Louis. The other, also a hunter case minute repeater was made for a Richard Lewis. It is therefore more than likely that Mrs. Allen was aware of at least one of the other two special named dial Patek Philippe watches residing in St. Louis which might well have inspired her to order her own far more spectacular and exceptional dial spelling her own name.
To the best of our knowledge there are only five known watches made by Patek Philippe where the dials have letters instead of numerals. They are either by or attributable to Pierre Reymond, one of the best dial makers of his time in Switzerland whom Patek Philippe commissioned to make the dials of some of their most outstanding watches. The five known examples of Patek Philippe watches with named dials are as follows:
No. 65’446 – hunter case minute repeater “Richard Lewis” 1882
No. 76’771 – hunter case antimagnetic watch “Julian Duprat” 1889
No. 80’764 - hunter case minute repeater “George T. Cram” 1893
No. 97’107 - hunter case minute repeater split-seconds chronograph
“Metropolitan” retailed by Tiffany & Co. New York 1893
No. 125’006 - hunter case minute repeater split-seconds chronograph
Perpetual calendar “C. B. C. Allen” – the present watch 1904
“Grand complication watches rank among the most extraordinary achievements in horological history. They must possess at least three complications, each from one of the three major types of complication: astronomical functions (calendar); striking; and the division of time (chronograph).” - Patek Philippe 2013
Between 1889 with the patent of the perpetual calendar mechanism and 1904, Patek Philippe patented many mechanisms used in its watch movements. This was an extremely important period in the company’s history when its reputation as the maker of the finest, most complicated, functional and attractive watches in the world was becoming firmly established. Their early mastery of the “Grand Complication” is exemplified by the present watch. Made in 1904, it sits amongst some other very distinguished pieces made in the same year, in fact the movement no. 125’006 is only three numbers away from watch no. 125’009 – James Ward Packard’s very first Grand Complication watch. Patek Philippe’s production of Grand Complication watches began in 1895 and continues to the present day. Between 1895 and 1904 when this watch was made, approximately twelve such watches were produced or completed, on average only one or two per year. 1904 was evidently a very good year for sales because including the present watch a total of six Grand Complication watches were made or sold, as expected, the clients who bought them were some of America’s richest.
The publically known early Patek Philippe Grand Complication watches 1895-1910 are detailed in date order below.
Movement/Case No. Date of manufacture
97’546 buyer unknown 1895 – 97
219’763 buyer unknown 1896
97’912 sold to Stephen S. Palmer 1898
222’680 buyer unknown 1898
11’927 sold to Burt H. Whiteley 1900
112’153 buyer unknown 1901-2
97’292 buyer unknown 1904
97’992 buyer unknown 1904
111’689 buyer unknown 1904
125’006 sold to Mrs. Carrie Belle Allen – 1904 - (the present watch)
125’009 sold to James Ward Packard 1904
125’204 sold to Horace Scudder Sears 1904
156’727 sold to Dean Wentworth Myers 1910
The present exceptional Grand Complication watch has some artistically unique and technically advanced features:
Hunter case – to the best of our knowledge, this is the only watch with these particular horological complications to be fitted with a hunter case. The Extract from the Patek Philippe Archives specifically mentions the hunter case and describes it as “Louis XVI style” one of the most expensive styles. The interior of the front cover is adorned with an engraved portrait of Carrie Belle Allen herself. This kind of highly detailed, almost photographic style of engraving is called “taille douce”.
Dial – The totally unique specially commissioned hand-made enamel dial is a true masterpiece of the enamellist's art. Confirmed by the Extract from the Archives, as “enamel dial, hour markers in capital letters”. Very few makers were skilled enough to make a dial of such complexity and artistry. This one-off work of art is most likely to be the work of Pierre Reymond who was responsible for many of Patek Philippe’s finest and most complicated dials. The numerals spelling the name C. B. C. ALLEN are furthermore very cleverly and beautifully designed as “roots”, thought to represent the cinchona root in reference to Dr. Allen’s work as herbalist and practitioner of homeopathy. Another interesting feature of the dial is that the days of the week are in Latin. This may have had some personal significance for the Allens and to the best of our knowledge is unique on a Patek Philippe watch.
Movement – Most of Patek Philippe’s highly complicated movements and special projects were constructed using ebauches supplied by the legendary maker Victorin Piguet & Cie. The present watch is highly unusual and possibly unique in having the name of the owner engraved upon the movement itself in addition to the Patek Philippe signature. The balance wheel and escapement is very highly finished with gold and platinum adjustment screws.
Patek Philippe Museum, Patek Philippe Watches Volume 1, published by Patek Philippe, Geneva, p. 416-437.
Patek Philippe, Huber & Banbery, 1982, p. 237.
Dr. Ethan George Allen (September 19th, 1856 - October 21st, 1914)
Mrs. Carrie Belle Carter Allen (September 20th, 1868 - February 24th, 1945)
A man of his own principles, Dr. Ethan George Allen broke boundaries into a world that ultimately formed the future for alternative medicine. At the early age of 35 when he graduated from Pulte Medical College, Cincinnati, Ohio, he soon established his own medical practice in Shreveport, Louisiana, a Homeopathic center which specialized in chronic disease. At the time, still considered a taboo form of therapy, Dr. Allen forged his own path to treat his patients the way he believed would be the most effective, although once shunned, has in fact been globally adopted today.
The founder of Homeopathy, Samuel Hahnemann (1755-1843), grew up in Germany and during his research as a physician he made an important discovery. Doses of the Cinchona plant was found to produce symptoms of fever (malaria) but to a mild degree. This led to his published ideas that if a patient had an illness then it could be cured by giving a dose of medicine that bases itself on a ‘like cures like’ principle. It is thought that Cinchona was the trigger medicine, or breakthrough medicine for the foundation of homeopathy. In America, Homeopathic remedies first began in Cincinnati by a student of Samuel Hahnemann in 1839 and was it met with severe ridicule but later expanded to different states and schools as it became more popular.
It is quite remarkable to what lengths the physicians in Homeopathy, such as Dr. Allen, would go to in order to prove their commitment to these other forms of treatment. Despite the many constraints at the time, Dr. Allen, like his fellow physicians in the field, was a man who believed in the 'other', he thought outside of the box and wanted to make a substantial and lasting difference to the world of medicine and beyond.
A few years after establishing his medical practice, Dr. Allen met Miss Carrie Belle Carter. The two wed in November of 1894 at the residence of her father, Judge L. E. Carter of Shreveport. When looking at the present watch, we can see how deep their affection was for one another. The watch was given as a gift from wife to husband, a commemoration of a life of achievement together in work as well as romantic alliance. Now called by her married name, Mrs. Carrie Belle Carter Allen, she was able to offer this watch to her husband with her portrait to the inside, her name to the movement and her name to the dial which is spelled out in numerals that resemble the very root of his life’s work – the roots of the Cinchona plant. It is clear the two were joined together by the common drive of deep devotion, a devotion to helping others and of course a devotion to each other.
Dr. Allen and his wife didn’t stop there, their interests expanded to include owning a popular jewelry store on Texas Street, the Carter-Allen Jewelry Company, seen pictured. Remarkably, the watch offered here is accompanied by an original Carter-Allen Jewelry Company pouch, though faded over 100 years, still retaining the logo to the front.
Christie's is proud to offer the present watch as a one-of-a kind discovery for the history of two creative individuals at the turn of the century America, for the history of Patek Philippe, and indeed for the history of unique horological masterpieces.