Priceless piece of history: Last Emperor of China’s watch fetches record-breaking US$5.1 million at Hong Kong auction

Photo via Reuters/Tyrone Siu

A rare Patek Philippe watch once owned by Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the last emperor of China‘s Qing Dynasty, has been sold at auction in Hong Kong for a record-breaking HK$40 million (US$5.1 million). An anonymous buyer purchased the timepiece, which had been gifted by Puyi to his Russian interpreter during his imprisonment by the Soviet Union. The sale price, which did not include the auction house fee, exceeded the pre-sale estimate of US$3 million and set a new record for a wristwatch that once belonged to an emperor.

Thomas Perazzi, head of watches at auction house Phillips Asia, said it was “the highest result” for any wristwatch with such a prestigious past ownership. The watch is one of only eight known Patek Philippe Reference 96 Quantieme Lune timepieces in existence. Other notable watches owned by emperors that have been sold at auction include a Patek Philippe timepiece belonging to the last Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, which fetched US$2.9 million in 2017, and a Rolex watch that belonged to the last Emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai, which sold for US$5 million in the same year.

Puyi, born in 1906, began his reign as the last Emperor of China’s Qing dynasty at just two years old. Following Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945, Puyi was captured at China’s Shenyang Airport by the Soviet Red Army and detained as a war prisoner in a detention camp in Khabarovsk, Russia, for five years.

The auction house spent three years working with watch specialists, historians, journalists, and scientists to research the watch’s history and verify its provenance. According to Perazzi, the timepiece was the finest that Patek made at that time.

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Journalist Russell Working, who interviewed Puyi’s interpreter Georgy Permyakov in 2001, recalled how the emperor gave the watch to Permyakov on his last day in the Soviet Union, shortly before being extradited to China. Working said…

“These were the kind of things he sometimes did to people that were very special to him.”

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Sara is a journalist and content writer who specializes in lifestyle, wellness, and travel topics. Sara's journey in journalism began as a copywriter, and over time, her portfolio expanded to include articles and features for some of the nation's top lifestyle publications. Outside the office, she enjoys practising yoga and exploring hidden locations in Bangkok.

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