The Last Emperor Of China 's ‘Imperial Patek Philippe’ Sells For $6.2 Million

Initially estimated to exceed $3 million, this timepiece held immense historical value and a significant connection to Puyi, the former emperor. Not only was it a rare watch, but it also held great importance in Patek Philippe's legacy as the eighth complete calendar moonphase ref. 96 and the third known Quantieme Lune in platinum. The other two platinum examples are currently housed in the renowned Patek Philippe Museum.

In our previous article on the Imperial Patek, we explored similar 96 Quantieme Lune models. One of these platinum examples was sold for $1.1 million at Antiquorum in 1990, while another, featuring a roulette dial akin to the Imperial Patek, fetched $2 million in 2003.

The Imperial Patek Philippe retains its original and well-preserved platinum case. Although the dial bears evidence of curiosity-driven scraping by Puyi and his aide, the symmetrical marks add a captivating element to the watch's story, further enhancing its rarity and provenance. The watch is accompanied by its original strap and Patek Philippe buckle. The Extract from the Archives confirms that it was sold by the French retailer Guillermin in 1937.

While it remains unclear how a timepiece sold by a French retailer found its way into the possession of a Chinese emperor, Phillips has proposed a theory based on Guillermin's practice of supplying luxury products to international dealers in addition to their retail operations in Paris. One such dealer could have been Sennet Frères, a Hong Kong-based distributor of watches and jewelry. Supporting this theory is the fact that Puyi owned a few objects from Sennet Frères, suggesting that his Patek Philippe might have been another acquisition from the same source.

The anticipation surrounding the Imperial Patek was unparalleled, making it the highlight of the auction season. Consequently, the $3 million starting estimate always seemed conservative. An author from a Chinese-language watch publication, SJX, described the Imperial Patek as the "ultimate example of a historically significant timepiece," surpassing the likes of Paul Newman's Paul Newman, John Lennon's 2499, or even Buzz Aldrin's missing Omega Speedmaster.

This sale underscores the global appeal of watch collecting, making it challenging for a Western audience to fully grasp the allure of this timepiece, despite Puyi's complex legacy. Regardless, the watch exudes a museum-worthy appeal, not limited to watch-focused institutions. Various artifacts belonging to Puyi can be found in museums throughout China. While the Patek Philippe Museum already possesses a couple of platinum 96 Quantieme Lune examples, the exceptional provenance of this particular piece sets it apart.

The auction, overseen by Phillips Hong Kong's Thomas Perazzi, commenced with an opening bid of HKD 18 million, swiftly escalating to HKD 30 million. Following a brief pause in the bidding, specialist Gertrude Wong elevated the stakes to HKD 40 million on behalf of her phone bidder. Ultimately, the hammer fell at that price, resulting in a final sum of HKD 48,850,000 (approximately $6.23 million).

Regardless of its final destination, this watch has already made an immeasurable impact by contributing to the narrative of a complex character—from ascending to the throne at the tender age of two to enduring five years of Soviet imprisonment—and shedding light on the profound influence of his previous life as royalty.