A unique competition between two scions of the Gilded Age is the driver for this fresh look at the mores of the rich and powerful.
The aim of the competition was to acquire the world's most complicated timepieces. The contenders were Ward Packard, founder of the eponymous luxury automobile brand, and Henry Graves, a financier whose family's money was made in railroads, coal, cement and lumber. Packard commissioned pieces to his own specification, while Graves desired to be the owner of the best. Former Time writer Perman (In-N-Out Burger: A Behind-the-Counter Look at the Fast-Food Chain that Breaks All the Rules, 2010, etc.) applies her investigative skills and attention to detail to a sharply focused but wide-ranging account of the behind-the-scenes struggle as it was waged through the precision engineering and technical expertise of Europe's greatest watchmaking establishments, such as Patek-Philippe, Breguet and Vacheron Constantin. The author also includes a history of time-keeping and watchmaking, through the invention of mechanical action and the later competition to locate longitude. Perman documents how America's wealthy replaced Europe's royalty and aristocrats as patrons of the watchmakers. She effectively combines these different strands, providing a compelling social history, especially during the years before and after the stock market crash of 1929, as the collections were assembled, then dispersed and are now being reconstituted by the very companies that first made them.
A masterful approach to composition combines with a fascinating plot and makes its subject entertaining as well as compelling.