A rare Patek Philippe watch once owned by the last emperor of China sold for a record $6.2 million at an auction in Hong Kong on Tuesday, smashing the previous record for a wristwatch previously owned by an emperor.
The 18-karat yellow gold timepiece, a Reference 96 Quantieme Luna model from the Swiss watchmaker, was one of only eight known examples of its kind in the world and the only one with a platinum dial.
It belonged to Aisin – Gioro Puyi, who ascended to the throne of the Qing Dynasty at the age of two in 1908 and was forced to abdicate four years later after the 1911 revolution that ended imperial rule in China.
He later becomes the puppet ruler of Manchukuo, a Japanese-controlled state in northeastern China, during World War II. He was captured by Soviet troops in 1945 and spent five years in a prison camp in Siberia, where he gave the watch to his Russian interpreter Georgy Permyakov.
The watch resurfaced in 2018 when Permyakov’s grandson contacted Philips, the London – based auction house that managed the sale. Phillips spent three years verifying the provenance of the watch and tracing its history.
The watch features a perpetual calendar with moon phases and a small seconds hand. It has a distinctive scratch on the dial, which Puyi made to test if it was made of platinum or gold. He was disappointed to find out that it was made of brass.
The auction attracted fierce bidding from collectors around the world, who were drawn by the rarity and historical significance of the watch.
The winning bid came from an anonymous Asian collector who participated by phone. The final price of HK$38.85 million ($6.2 million) included the buyer’s premium and set a new record for a Patek Philippe Reference 96 and for a wristwatch previously owned by an emperor.
The previous also included other items related to Puyi, such as his diary, a paper fan, and watercolor paintings by his brother-in-law Gobulo Runqi. They were sold for a total of HK$9.4 million ($1.2 million).
Puyi returned to China in 1950 and was jailed for almost 10 years as a war criminal. He was later released and lived as a gardener and librarian until his death in 1967 at the age of 61.