The Curious Case of the “Howard Hughes” Patek Philippe Ref 1463, Continued

An open letter…

Dear Christie’s Watch and Press Department:

Yesterday I submitted a few questions to you in an attempt to clarify and better understand the provenance of the “Howard Hughes” Patek Philippe Ref 1463 (“Lot 385″ in your June 16 (today’s) auction).  I did this in good faith and because, as I also indicated, the account of Donald Woolbright in the Christie’s catalogue is inconsistent with two meticulously researched biographies of the life of Howard Hughes and in which Woolbright is mentioned numerous times (Citizen Hughes, by Michael Drosnin, and Howard Hughes: His Life and Madness, by Donald L. Bartlett & James B. Steele).  In my view as well as others, these inconsistencies call into question the watch’s purported association with Howard Hughes, specifically that it was gifted to Woolbright by Hughes.  Your initial response to my inquiries, as I noted here, was that “we are researching the inquiries and will respond accordingly.”

Today, you gave me the following response in regards to my inquiries: “After further research of this item, Christie’s is pleased to offer the Patek Philippe Reference 1463 on June 16 as planned.”  First let me say that you can rest assured that I have no doubt that you are pleased to offer the watch as planned!  Bravo and enjoy the commission.  However, I would like to make clear that your pitifully empty response in no way addressed my inquiries.

Maybe I was a bit naive in thinking that you might directly answer my questions.  Maybe I was also a bit naive in thinking that “answering questions” was a standard part of the transparency and trust that is paramount to your business.  I find the lack of transparency here unfortunate.  Were I an interested and potential bidder for Lot 385, would you treat my inquiries in the same way?

I also find it unfortunate that a former personal secretary to Howard Hughes (whom I consider to be a generally non-interested party in this matter) and the ostensible consignor of Lot 385 (whom I consider to be a self-interested party in this matter, much like yourself) are engaging in a “battle of words” elsewhere on my blog when I believe that you could so easily put all the curious minds to rest by sharing, for example, some or all of the carefully documented set of corroborating and independently verified evidence that you presumably have on file.   But you have not, at least to me, and this has only served to heighten my sense that the full story behind this watch is far from known.

These things said, I thought I might try once more to gain some clarity as to the provenance of Lot 385, and so here (again), are my questions:

  • Who told Christie’s the story of Donald Woolbright and this watch?
  • Did Christie’s independently corroborate this story (i.e. that the watch was given by Hughes to Woolbright)?
  • Is there any tangible/physical evidence to support the notion that this watch has any association with Howard Hughes (e.g. the handwritten note)? If so, has the authenticity of the tangible/physical items been corroborated?
  • Was/is Christie’s aware of the accounts of Woolbright as detailed in the two aforementioned books?

Without answers to these questions, it is my view that this watch’s purported association with Howard Hughes is just that — purported and unproven.

  • Geoff Schumacher

    As the author of a book about Howard Hughes, I would like to lend my support to Mr. Stults’ efforts to verify the authenticity of the claim that this watch once belonged to Mr. Hughes. The best available published materials about this period of Hughes’ life do not lend authority to this claim. In fact, they strongly suggest that Hughes had no direct connection to this piece of jewelry. What’s more, a retired Hughes executive, Paul Winn, has raised compelling arguments that this watch is fraudulently being portrayed as having a link to Hughes.

    Geoff Schumacher
    Author of “Howard Hughes: Power, Paranoia & Palace Intrigue,” Stephens Press, 2008,
    and proprietor of

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