While the origins of wristwatches can be traced back to the 1800s and are mainly worn by western societies, their ubiquitousness has crossed the vast oceans and found its way into Asia. Fast forward a century and you can discover wristwatches accompanying some of the more affluent classes of society — aristocrats, royals and rulers. One example is this extremely rare Patek Philippe Ref 96 Quantieme Lune, once owned by China’s last emperor Aisin-Gioro Puyi.
This extraordinary timepiece is set to go under the hammer later this year, but it has a packed tour schedule before it is bought over. For starters, it will be displayed at auction house Phillips’ Asia headquarters in Hong Kong before travelling to other cities like New York, Singapore, London, Taipei and Geneva. It is estimated that the Ref 96 will be fetching a price in the millions due to its rarity and provenance.
For those not acquainted with the history of China, Puyi was the heir to a throne that went back 4,000 years. He was the final ruler of the Qing Dynasty when he ascended to the throne at the age of two in 1908. Puyi’s reign lasted until 1912, when the Xinhai Revolution overthrew the imperial family, and he had to abdicate as a result. Despite losing his throne, he was allowed to keep his title and live in the palace. Later on, in 1932, when the Japanese took control of Manchuria, he became the ruler of the state of Manchuko.
Different sources have pointed out that the watch was delivered to Puyi in 1937. When the Japanese Occupation of Manchuria ended after World War II, he was captured by the Soviets and sent to Russia for imprisonment. During this captive period, he developed a close relationship with Georgy Permyakov, his translator. Before he was sent back to China, the Ref 96 was said to be gifted to Permyakov.
What makes the Ref 96 even more precious is its provenance and the history attached to this timepiece. Unlike other historical timepieces, this particular one sets it apart from the rest because of its connection to Puyi. The other rare pieces have a common thread: a vast majority have been associated with figures and leaders from the West.
The Ref 96 itself is an elusive find. According to the manufacture, eight such complications were ever made. The dial features an enamel Arable “Roulette” configuration; cased in platinum and bears consecutive movement numbers. The case measures 30mm, and to fit such a complex movement when it is neither done with the aid of computers nor modern equipment is telling of Patek Philippe’s watchmaking prowess.
A fascinating tale is also hidden behind the dial’s severe scratches. According to legend, the emperor once instructed his servant to scrape the varnish off the dial to check whether gold was underneath. He told the servant to halt when only brass was seen.
For the lucky one that managed to be its new owner, not only will the person own one of the finest watches ever made, but more importantly, they will own a piece of history.
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