Phillips to auction the last Qing Emperor’s Patek Philippe watch

A Patek Philippe watch owned by the last emperor of China’s Qing dynasty, and worn through his five years as a captive of the Soviets in Siberia, will come to auction later this year. Based on similar sales in the past, it could very easily gavel for a price in the seven figures.

Aisin-Gioro Puyi, crowned in 1908 when he wasn’t quite 3 years old, had to abdicate the throne in 1912 during the Chinese Revolution. He was allowed to retain his title and continued live lavishly in the palace until 1924, when he was forced to leave during a coup. It’s not known when or how Puyi obtained the watch, which was finished by Patek Philippe in 1937, but it was sometime during the period that he was Japan’s puppet emperor of the state of Manchuria, or Manchukuo, from 1934 to 1945. At the end of World War II, the Soviets took him captive as he tried to flee Manchuria and kept him in captivity for five years. He managed to keep his watch throughout his turbulent life after abdication, even while he was imprisoned.

To make things more interesting, the auctioneer who’s behind the sale, Aurel Bacs, at Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo, notes that even without all this royal history, the wristwatch would be incredibly rare and sought after. The model, known as the Reference 96 Quantieme Lune, features a moon-phase and triple-date calendar: Two windows show the day of the week and the month, and a long central hand gives the date.

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The Patek Philippe Ref 96 and a leather-bound printed edition of Confucius’s Analects formerly from the collection of Aisin-Giro Puyi. Source: Phillips

Today, we expect such “complications,” which are mechanical display features beyond standard timekeeping. But according to Bacs, in the 1930s when Patek Philippe made the Ref 96, shrinking components to fit complications in slim timepiece cases was a novelty only skilled artisans could achieve.

The first wristwatches with any complications debuted in the 1920s. The Great Depression hit shortly after, deeply affecting the watch market and the demand for expensive novelties. After the market recovered, watchmakers returned to the challenge of adding complications. When Patek Philippe created eight models of Ref 96, Bacs says, it would have been one of the most expensive watches—if not the most expensive—the brand made at the time. “It was the end game,” he says. It has a platinum case and a base movement created by Victorin Piguet, a watchmaking company that created movements for Patek Philippe. Patek Philippe later upgraded the movement, finishing this watch in 1937. Of the eight models of Ref 96, only three exist with this particular silvered dial, rose-gold chapter ring and enamel hour markers.

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The watch and the fan. Source: Phillips

“Any auction house, if they didn’t know the story, if it didn’t have any of this extraordinary ephemera coming with it, would already say, ‘Wow, this is the highlight of the season,’” Bacs told Bloomberg.

Patek Philippe bought one of the three for about $2 million at a 2003 Sotheby’s auction, to showcase in its Geneva museum. Back then, the price was astonishing. “The collector’s market has come so far in 20 years that it’s even more difficult to say” what a Reference 96 is worth today, Bacs says.

Originally published on Bloomberg.com

Patek Philippe Watches for Sale

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