A luxury Patek Philippe watch worn by the last emperor of China at a turbulent time in modern history was sold in Hong Kong on Tuesday for a massive HK$40 million (US$5.1 million).
The anonymous buyer of the 86-year-old Reference 96 Quantieme Lune model once owned by Aisin-Gioro Puyi saw off tough competition after a jump bid by phone that topped the previous offer by HK$10 million.
The final price of the watch, including commission charges, came to HK$48.9 million.
The sale, called “The Imperial Patek Philippe” and held at auction house Phillips Asia in the West Kowloon Cultural District, also included other objects that once belonged to the emperor.
These included a paper fan, a notebook and paintings on paper by the brother-in-law of Puyi, the last of the Qing dynasty to rule China.
Patek Philippe watches are highly valued by collectors, with the world’s most expensive watch sold at auction, a Grandmaster Chime by the Swiss manufacturer, going under the hammer for US$31.2 million in 2019.
But the final price for Puyi’s storied watch was considerably lower than the price fetched in 2021 for a 1946 Patek Philippe which was also once owned by royalty.
Prince Mohammed Tewfik A Toussoun of Egypt’s Reference 1518 watch, with a presale estimate of US$1.2 million, sold for more than US$9.5 million, including fees.
Puyi became the emperor of China aged just two in 1908 and was forced to abdicate after the Xinhai Revolution in 1912.
He was restored to power twice for brief spells, once in 1912 and in 1934, when was made emperor of Manchukuo, a puppet state set up by Japan after its invasion of modern-day northeast China.
He was wearing the watch when he tried to flee in 1945 after the second world war defeat of Japan. But he was captured by the Soviets and taken to Siberia, where he remained between until 1950.
As first revealed in a 2001 article in the Post, Puyi gave the watch, artworks and a fan to his Russian interpreter at the time, Georgy Permyakov, before he was extradited to China.
Permyakov’s family sold the Puyi collection several years ago to an anonymous European collector.
Puyi is understood to have been carefully treated by the Soviets.
He was detained at a sanatorium in Khabarovsk, a town near the Chinese border, and allowed to keep servants and some of his prized possessions.
Piyu was jailed for almost 10 years in China and released. He worked in a variety of jobs, including as a gardener at what is now the China National Botanical Garden in Beijing.
He died in the capital in 1967, aged 61, from complications caused by kidney cancer and heart disease.
The auction, held jointly by Phillips and watch advisory firm Bacs & Russo, kicked off a busy week in Hong Kong as Christie’s will start its spring sales on Wednesday.
This week’s sale results are expected to be scrutinised for signs of whether the rising cost of borrowing will hit the Asian auction market as it has in New York.