(CN) - Former Upjohn chairman Donald Gilmore and his wife Genevieve had a penchant for automobiles and modern art, the latter of which they often gave to their favorite museums. Some of those pieces have since been run through famed auction house Sotheby's and sold to make room for future acquisitions.
But on Wednesday, Sotheby's plans to auction off a pre-war, engraved Swiss pocket watch allegedly given to Gilmore by Genevieve on a European vacation in 1938. Just how Sotheby's came by the watch is a mystery, and Gilmore's grandson sued the auction house Monday to block the sale.
Donald Parfet's federal lawsuit, filed in Manhattan on behalf of himself and as representative of his grandparents' estates, seeks an injunction to halt the Dec. 10 auction in New York. He also seeks a declaration that the watch belongs to the Gilmore family, and charges Sotheby's with conversion and unjust enrichment.
Parfet says that Sotheby's came by the Patek Philippe watch through someone identified in the lawsuit as John Doe. Sotheby's lists the watch on its Internet lot listing as "property of a Midwestern family."
And while the listing acknowledges the existence of both a monogram and inscription on the exquisite timepiece, the details of both - "G D S" and "Donald S. Gilmore from Genevieve U. Gilmore 1938" are conspicuously absent from the catalogue.
According to Parfet's complaint, John Doe claims that Gilmore gave him the watch as a gift - a point Parfet disputes.
"Upon information and belief, John Doe has no relationship with plaintiff or any of his family members, including Donald S. and Genevieve U. Gilmore," the complaint states.
"Upon information and belief, John Doe has no record of acquiring the watch from plaintiff or any of his family members, including Donald S. and Genevieve U. Gilmore.
Upon information and belief, Sotheby's has no record of John Doe's ownership of the watch.
"Plaintiff is currently unaware of how John Doe came into possession of the watch," Parfet continues.
What Parfet does know is that John Doe "acquired possession of the watch unlawfully without plaintiff's authorization, permission or consent," according to the complaint, and that Sotheby's won't say how.
"Plaintiff contacted Sotheby's on multiple occasions to request information regarding John Doe's acquisition of the watch," the complaint states.
"Sotheby's has failed to provide information to substantiate ownership of the watch by John Doe.
"Sotheby's has possession of the watch and has refused to return it to plaintiff upon plaintiff's request for same.
"Sotheby's actions constitute a conversion," Parfet says in the complaint.
Parfet estimates his damages exceed $400,000.
He is represented by Eric Goldberg of the firm Littleton Joyce Ughetta Park & Kelly in Manhattan.
In its catalogue notes, Sotheby's says the watch - with its yellow gold, black dial, perpetual calendar and moon phases function - "represents the apex of Patek Philippe's technical creations" that even in wristwatch form "would fetch seven figures handily."
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