AUCTION : Watch purportedly used to time JFK’s death for sale

Photo from Christies.

Vintage Patek Philippes, especially chronographs, create their own buzz when sold at auction. Anything to do with J.F.K. causes even more buzz. Put them together and you get a Patek Philippe Ref. 1463 from 1948 that is up for auction at Christies New York on 17 December 2013.

Purchased for 1290 CHF (US$750) in 1949 by the mother of Dr. Kemp Clark, who was the neurosurgeon at Parkland Memorial Hospital who called President Kennedy’s time of death (1p.m., 22 November, 1963) and signed his death certificate, this vintage Patek may/ may not have been the timepiece used when marking the official time of death, but at any rate Dr. Clark was wearing it on the day, and this fact has become a core part of the selling of this piece.

This 18k gold chronograph Ref. 1463 has a silvered matte dial, applied gold Roman and baton numerals, outer railway minute divisions and pulsometer scale, two subsidiary dials for 30 minute register and constant seconds, circular water-resistant-type case, two round chronograph buttons, and a screw back engraved with Dr. Clark’s name.

The watch comes with a Patek Philippe Certificate of Origin dated August 16, 1949, a Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives confirming production of the present watch in 1948 and its subsequent sale on August 16th of the following year, and a Patek Philippe red presentation box.

What is so unusual about this particular watch, is that it was not originally created as it now stands. Reference 1463 was Patek Philippe’s first water resistant chronograph wristwatch, produced in three series. As mentioned, it was bought by Dr. Clark’s mother for him as a gift. The dial originally featured a tachometer scale, but Dr Clark’s parents asked for this to be changed to a pulsometer scale, which would be more useful for their medical student son.

Information about the requested changes and the original purchase form part of the Patek Archive extract that comes with the lot, and small details such as the details of correspondence with the Clarks during their European travels, form the interesting background story to the watch’s acquisition.

Clark died in 2007. His watch has an estimate of $100,000 – $150,000, and a portion of the proceeds will be donated to the Red Cross.

Is this range likely to be reached? I’d suggest that the answer is in the affirmative. It is not only a rare reference but it is a Ref. 1463 with a pulsometer, it comes with a motherload of documentation, and of course there’s the grim Kennedy notoriety factor thrown into the mixture as well.

To cite two examples, in 2011 a gold Ref.1463 made in 1950 was sold for US$103,238, and a one-off steel Ref. 1463 with an asthmometer dial (admittedly created and once owned by a famous Patek Philippe watchmaker, Jacques Golay) sold for CHF 194,500 in 2012. Details and bidding for Dr. Clark’s watch can be found here.

I have written previously about the topic of watches, scarcity and provenance in terms of auctions, here.

Categories: Auctions, Patek Philippe, Vintage watches, watches

1 reply

  1. now that’s a lovely chrono and the nice touch with the dial and the pulsometer!!! i wonder if Patek will still do that for their customers?


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