It was one of the most incredible finds to occur on camera when the public-television show came to St. Paul’s RiverCentre nearly 10 years ago to mine for lost treasures in the Upper Midwest.
Power, an engineer from Amery, Wis., brought a watch owned by his great-grandfather for appraisal. It wasn’t the first time the timepiece had been evaluated. Seventeen years earlier, an appraiser pegged the value at $6,000, but Power had seen a similar watch appraised for $25,000 on television. He hoped his might be worth more than $50,000.
The Power family was in for a big surprise.
The 1914 Patek Philippe 18-karat gold pocket watch with a “complicated” movement boasts 37 jewels, an unusual nickel lever movement, and a host of other extras, such as a split chronograph and a perpetual calendar that adjusts for leap years. For decades, it had rested in a safe deposit box.
“My father used to bring it home every once in a while when I was a kid,” remembers Power, “and we’d play with the chimes.”
His great-grandfather was George Thompson, former owner of the St. Paul Pioneer Press and the Dispatch. And while the origin of the watch is unclear, Power assumes it was either given to Thompson or, more likely, commissioned by him (he had a love of mathematics). Thompson passed away in 1917, three years after taking ownership of the watch.
As it turns out, it was one of the three most famous double-dialed watches in the world. “I’ve never held a watch like this in my hand,” said the Antiques Roadshow expert. “This is one incredible watch.” And he valued it at $250,000.
“I can’t believe it,” said Power upon hearing the number. “How do I get it home?”
“Carefully,” replied the appraiser.
Power and his wife, who have three children and four grandchildren, put the watch up for auction in 2006, two years later. (“How was I ever going to cut a watch up into 15 pieces?” he said.) Power was stunned a second time when the hammer price at the Sotheby’s auction was a whopping $1,531,760.
He and his wife put part of that bounty aside for retirement and built “a real nice cabin” in Port Wing, Wis., on Lake Superior for the entire family to use. On Labor Day, 15 members of the Power family gathered at the four-bedroom cabin and his sister’s cabin nearby on property their parents had bought.
Power, 67, still works two days a week at Prism, a plastic injection molding company in New Richmond, Wis. And he’s never worn a watch in his life.