A short while ago a fellow Amelia Earhart researcher and fan, Jeffrey Pearce, reached out to me to discuss Amelia Earhart’s watch. We started chatting via email, mostly at first about the known Longines Chronograph, the watch Amelia Earhart wore when she completed her transatlantic crossing.
You can see and read about the Longines watch here
From the course of conversations between Jeffrey and myself, the topic of “which watch Amelia was wearing” when she disappeared, came up. Jeffrey Highlighted that in the book “Amelia Earhart, A Biography” by Doris Rich she Writes:
Amelia wore a watch given her by the Senior Selfridge when she was in England after her Atlantic flight in 1932. The watch had been given ‘to’ Dehane Segrave, champion outboard motorboat racer. When he was killed his widow gave it back to Selfridge. Amelia was wearing this watch wen she disappeared in 1937.https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/685975.Amelia_Earhart
In exchange for the watch that belonged to Sir Henry O’Neal ‘Dehane’ Segrave, Amelia gave her “transatlantic” longines watch to Mr HG Selfridge, which is why that watch still exists today, and has now been to the Space Station.
Sir Henry O’Neal De Fane Segrave
Sir Henry Segrave had basically, a rock star legend status of the 1920’s, a pioneer, and set land and water speed records. He was friends with Mr HG Selfridge amongst others, and they were “The Rich and Famous”. No images I can find exist of the watch Mr Selfridge gave to Sir Henry, but I have reached out to the researchers at The National Motor Museum https://nationalmotormuseum.org.uk/tag/sir-henry-segrave/
To put into context the relationship between Mr Selfridge and Sir Henry Segrave, they drove the same cars, and Mr HG Selfridge took delivery of a “Saunders-Roe A.22 Segrave Meteor” plane, designed by Sir Henry Segrave in 1931, after Sir Henrys untimely death, whilst completing a water speed record on Friday 13th June, 1930 on Lake Windermere, Cumbria, United Kingdom, in the boat “Miss England II”
Sir Henry was so well thought of he had a Trophy named after him, which Amy Johnson was awarded…..
“after set a new record for a solo flight from London, England, to Cape Town, South Africa, flying a de Havilland DH.80 Puss Moth there in 4 days, 6 hours, 54 minutes, 14–18 November 1932. She broke the previous record which had been set by Jim Mollison. For this flight, she was awarded the Segrave Trophy of the Royal Automobile Club, for “the most outstanding demonstration of transport on land, sea or air.”https://www.thisdayinaviation.com/tag/segrave-trophy/
Amelia Earhart – The Brand Ambassador
When you look at images of Amelia Earhart, you soon realise after enough images, that as a watch brand ambassador she would be a headache for the brand, she always covered her sleeves, or wore her watch “driver style” (watch face inside the wrist) which of course makes total sense for a 1920’s / 1930’s pilot, ease of reading the dial whilst holding the controls.
So myself and Jeffrey started combing archives looking for any image of the watch Amelia wore from 1932 until her disappearance July 2nd 1937. Eventually I found and image which I bought from the image library as it showed her wearing the watch. When you zoomed the image in you could make out some features, shape, glass shape, rough size and slight detailing.
I was convinced that Amelia Earhart would only wear a chronograph, and was certain I could see a pusher above the crown, so started looking at through 1920’s and 1930’s Tonneau shaped watches, and finally, looking at the case dimensions I had convinced myself the closet match was a Tonneau shaped Patek Philippe Cushion shaped watch made for Henry Graves of America in 1928. Which had sold for $3.6 million and was classed as “possibly unique”
The price and scarcity of the watch did not cause me any doubt as these people we are referring to were national heroes, and let us be honest, every Patek is hand made to order in the 1920’s and 1930’s. So I reached out to Peter Reiss at the Patek Museum to ask if they had any details of a Patek made for the “Selfridges”, Harry Gordon Senior or Junior.
Peter came back to me and basically said, it would be nice if it was a Patek, but with the image it is all guess work.
Jeffrey hits gold
On friday night, 21st October 2022 Jeffrey starts sending me emails as he has found another image library, one email was entitled, “Is this the image you found”. I clicked the link and surely enough Jeffery had found the same image on a different site, that had a link to click for the high res version, and low and behold the zoom was much better, much much better, and would allow for a side by side comparison with the exemplar image of the Henry Grave collection watch.
Straight away you can see the similarities
- Brequet styled font
- 6/12 configuration sub dials, which is rare for this period
- Outline to the minute track
- Leaf hands
- Overall shape of the watch
- The Venus 170 6/12 movement was not invented when Sir Henry Segrave owned this watch
The only real difference to my watchmaker dyslexic eyes is the pusher situated above the crown, but bearing in mind the watch was made to presented to a world famous “master of speed” it does not surprise me at all to see this change in complication. to my eyes if you saw these watches together “as people” you would say “they certainly share the same parents!”
So could it really be….
That not only did we loose a great pioneer when Amelia Earhart disappeared July 2nd 1937, but we have also lost another piece of Horological excellence by the fine watchmakers at Patek Philippe. It seems to me a fitting tribute that a pioneer of female power would be wearing a fine historical piece by pioneers in Horology.
Of course we have to tie it all together and recap, if the owner of Selfridges, and the rich and famous, the people setting the land speed records and the pioneers were not wearing a Patek Philippes at the end of the 1920’s, who was wearing them? This in itself makes it feasible. We must also bear in mind that the watch was presented by HG Selfridge senior to Sir Henry Segrave, before making its way onto Amelias wrist, and she thought enough of the watch to give her Longines watch away after it had safely brought her across the Atlantic.
Of course [Edited 24.10.2022] I sent the new images to Peter at the Patek Museum for his perusal, , and unfortunately we will never know, according to Peter the image is not good enough to make an identification. I am sure that this article will cause conversation and debate, but I can live with that, is that not the point, as we go through our lives researching the histories of those that made their own history and inspired.
If I hear any updates, I will be sure to pass them along into this story.
Tuesday 8th November 2022: Update to the story.
I recently acquired a copy of a rare book, “Soaring Wings – A biography of Amelia Earhart” by George Putnam (Amelia Earharts husband)
In the book George refers to the watch and its story, and I will quote directly from the book.
She went to Selfridge’s, and while things for her needs were being assembled to show her, they invited her to sign her name with a diamond-pointed pencil on a plate-glass window that Harry Selfridge and his son Gordon have made a unique autograph album. Then the foundation of her friendship with Gorgon Selfridge was established — a friend-ship which led later to his giving her a watch having a most interesting story, and which she was wearing when she disappeared.
Gorgon had that watch made in the winter of 1928-29 for Dehane Segrave. Selfridge was in St. Moritz for the winter sports, and he ordered the instrument – a wrist stopwatch with a superlatively fine movement – in a mood of hero-worshipping admiration for Segrave, who had already broken many world’s records, and who broke them all with a charm and ease that were magnificent.
“Segrave wore it continuously after I gave it to him” Gordon says, “and had it on his wrist when he was killed on a record breaking motorboat attempt on Lake Windermere. It went down to the bottom of the lake with him, and Mrs Segrave gave it back when it was recovered, and I took to wearing it myself for a while.
“And then I met Amelia, and I had a growing feeling that a watch made under such circumstances, and for a person for whom I felt such an intense personal affection as I came also to feel for her, ought to be inherited by her who had obtained, just as naturally and with even more personal charm, my enormous admiration.
“As you remember, I gave it to her in America, and I think she liked it. She gave me in return the silver wrist watch she was wearing. It had a stop mechanism, and she told me it was the only watch that had, at the time, twice flown the Atlantic. I have it still. She was, of course, fond of it as being her own watch, and made me promise to give it back — in return for the gold one that I had given her —whenever she asked for it. I am awfully glad to know that she was wearing the one I gave her . . . “page 112/113
We now know more details than we did before;
- The watch was made in Switzerland winter 1928/9
- The watch (as pictured) was in deed a chronograph stop watch
- It was made at the end of the same year that the as the Henry Grave Patek (pictured above)
- It was Gold cased (as was the Henry Grave)
Now i suppose the next stop is to see if any jewellers in St. Moritz keep really good records, like “since 1928” type records.
Any further updates, we will let you know.
Dan Hodge / Jeffrey Pearce