A few months back, auction house Phillips announced that an incredibly rare Patek Philippe watch once owned by Aisin-Giro Puyi, the last emperor of China, was to be sold this year after completing a tour around the world. A dedicated sale took place at Phillips’ new headquarters at Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural on Tuesday which included the historically important timepiece along with 11 other objects that once belonged to the emperor. According to a report by Bloomberg, the auction was attended mostly by mainland and local Hong Kong collectors and representatives. Living up to its provenance and rarity, Puyi’s Patek Philippe was sold after a seven-minute-long bidding battle for a whopping HK$48.85 million (about $6.2 million), which is more than twice its pre-sale estimate. Tuesday’s sale makes the rare Patek Philippe the most expensive watch to be sold at auction so far in 2023.
Emperor Puyi’s watch is one of the eight examples of the Patek Philippe reference 96 that were produced by the iconic watchmaker. While it was made in 1937, it isn’t known when or how Puyi obtained the watch. The timepiece was eventually discovered by a journalist named Russell Working when he met an 83-year-old Russian translator by the name of Georgy Permyakov back in 2001. The Russian had served as the translator for Puyi when he was dethroned and sent to a Soviet prison from 1945 until 1950.
Permyakov and Puyi even became friendly during Puyi’s time in prison. Permyakov told the journalist that the emperor had given him some of his personal items, which included an inscribed fan, a notebook, and the Patek Philippe. Later, Permyakov’s family sold the Puyi collection several years ago to an anonymous European collector.