Los Angeles native Stacy Perman, the author of “In-N-Out Burger,” a New York Times bestseller, has just published her third book, “A Grand Complication: The Race to Build the World’s Most Legendary Watch” (Atria Books).
Her narrative concerns the competition between two extremely rich men, Henry Graves Jr. and James Ward Packard, who were surreptitiously vying to see who could create the world’s most extraordinary watch, a contest that lasted from 1900 to 1928. Packard was a largely self-made man who had commercialized the incandescent light bulb and manufactured the first luxury cars in the U.S., making his fortune from his myriad inventions, while Graves, a financier, was the scion of an established New York family with a vast fortune that came from railways, coal and banking.
The book’s title is derived from the term of art “complications,” which, in watches, means anything beyond the general timekeeping functions of marking the seconds, minutes and hours. Among them are perpetual calendars and maps that enable celestial navigation — the latter are considered, in watch-collecting circles, to be “supercomplications.” The star of the book, which appears on its cover, is the watch known as the Graves Supercomplication, shown at left, which has 24 complications and took Patek Philippe almost eight years to create. In a 2009 Sotheby’s auction, it brought $11 million from an anonymous buyer, later revealed to be Sheikh Saud bin Mohammed bin Ali Al-Thani of Qatar.
To research the book, Perman combed libraries and archives in the U.S. and Switzerland and attended auctions for watches. One particular pleasure, she notes, was to bring to life the two main characters in her book. “Henry Graves was a big mystery,” she says. “He kept a very, very low profile.” She writes of him, “Henry was confident, discreet and pathologically private. He grew up a bon vivant, entitled and cloistered, with the ability to differentiate friends from sycophants, keeping his circle tight.” A trustee of a Byzantine family trust outlined in the will of his father, Henry Graves Sr., Graves Jr., graduated from Yale, then became a bank vice president.
By contrast, while Packard was the son of a successful Warren, Ohio, entrepreneur, he was a mechanical genius whose remarkable practical gifts were evident very early on. One of Ward Packard’s many automobile innovations was the H-slot gearshift for cars, and, over the years, Packard cars debuted the steering wheel, double windshield wipers and air-conditioning in passenger vehicles. Packard, an engineer, contributed ideas and details to the designs of the watches he commissioned from Patek Philippe and Vacheron Constantin.
Part of Perman’s original interest in this story had to do with the fact that, after the Great Recession began in December 2007, extremely luxurious mechanical watches, manufactured before World War II, didn’t just hold their value, but increased in price at auction. With their intricate workings, and the far-above-estimate prices they have been fetching, these pieces “remain difficult for most people to attain,” she says.
“Azzedine has been one of the biggest influences in my life. He has always been such a strong, loving, fatherly figure to me. I call him Papa. His designs are indescribably unique, they are pieces of art. He knew how to make the female form look its loveliest. I have so many memories of him; my favorite might be during my first show with him in Paris. He liked me and he wanted to help me get more work. He called all his friends at Kenzo and Comme des Garcons, and asked them to book me. They said, ‘But she can’t walk!’ And he said, ‘but she has such a great ass!' His friendship and support has been the great privilege of my career. I can't imagine life without him. Repose en paix mon Papa.” - @stephanieseymour tells @wwd. #wwdfashion (📷: @steveeichner) #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa, flanked by two of his closest friends, models Stephanie Seymour and Naomi Campbell.
He designed Seymour’s dress for her 1995 wedding to Peter Brant, and treated Campbell (who famously called him Papa), like a daughter. For more on the legendary designer, tap the link in bio. #wwdfashion #alaia #azzedinealaia
Azzedine Alaïa's “I-did-it-my-way” ethos stood out starkly at a time when brands are experimenting with consumer-facing fashion shows, coed formats and trans-seasonal collections – anything to perk up lackluster sales of ready-to-wear in an age of Insta-everything. “It’s not creation anymore. This becomes a purely industrial approach,” the late designer told WWD in an interview last year. “But anyway, the rhythm of collections is so stupid. It’s unsustainable. There are too many collections.” Read more about the iconic designer’s life and work on wwd.com, link in bio. #wwdfashion #azzedinealaia (📷: @WWD Archive, 1986) #alaia
Sneaker reselling app @goat’s latest exhibit, "The Greatest: New York," tells the story of New York's sneaker culture. To celebrate the exhibit, an intimate crowd gathered on Thursday night at the pop-up gallery space, located at Platform in Culver City, to hear guest speaker and illustrator @esymai talk about her own rise in streetwear and women in the business. "For me I'm just someone who is creative. I like to create things," said Chang. #wwdfashion
Azzedine Alaïa, one of the most iconic couturiers of the modern era whose body-con designs defined Eighties fashion, has died in Paris. The diminutive Tunisian-born designer, known for his structured knitted dresses with fitted waists and impeccably cut, figure-hugging second skin silhouettes was deeply admired by his peers, and counted supermodel Naomi Campbell - his adoptive daughter - among his inner circle, one of a gang of glamazons including Farida Khelfa, Carla Bruni and Stephanie Seymour who became ambassadors of his style. (📷: Alexandre Guirkinger) #wwdblast