Last Chinese emperor’s watch fetches $6.2 million at auction

The Patek Philippe Ref 96 Quantieme Lune timepiece, once owned by Aisin-Gioro Puyi, on display in Hong Kong on 23 May

Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the final monarch of the Chinese Qing dynasty, held on to the timepiece for years

A watch once owned by China’s last emperor, Aisin-Gioro Puyi, fetched over $5 million at an auction in Hong Kong earlier this week.

The Ref 96 Quantieme Lune timepiece, which boasts a crown-like moon phase, originally belonged to the final monarch of the Chinese Qing dynasty, reports AFP. 

Emperor at the age of two in 1908, Puyi was immortalised by Bernardo Bertolucci’s Oscar-winning film but left a mixed legacy. More than 20 years later, he was installed as the puppet leader of Japanese-occupied Manchuria, before he was captured in 1945 after the fall of Japan and taken to a Soviet prison camp, states the AFP report.

The watch was expected to fetch about $3 million, but it was finally sold for HK$40 million ($5.1 million). With the commission fee, the total price came to about $6.2 million.

Thomas Perazzi, Phillips’ head of watches in Asia, said he was “thrilled with this groundbreaking sale” because it set records, states the AFP report. Those records included “the highest result of any Patek Philippe reference 96 ever sold”, according to a news release.

“The Ref 96 was the first complication wristwatch serially produced by Patek Philippe, with Perazzi saying there are currently only “three examples known” in the world. According to the memoir of Puyi’s nephew Aisin-Gioro Yuyuan, the watch was a “personal item” of the deposed emperor, who passed it to his Russian interpreter Georgy Permyakov for safe-keeping when he left the prison camp,” the AFP report adds.

Russell Working, a journalist who interviewed Permyakov more than 20 years ago, told AFP that the elderly interpreter had no idea of its value when he pulled the timepiece from his drawer. “To have this one surface all of a sudden after all these years, it was like a treasure chest washing up on the beach,” said Working, who was part of the auction house’s research team.

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