A Patek Philippe Once Owned by China's Last Emperor Was Sold for P347 Million at Auction
There was an air of excitement and anticipation in the bidding of a historic Patek Phillipe timepiece prized for its rarity and its provenance to China’s last emperor. The bidding, which took place last May 23 at the Hong Kong office of auction house Phillips in Kowloon, included Lot 3 for the Imperial Patek Philippe timepiece owned by Aisin-Gioro Puyi, who was the last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty.
All the auction items were placed on display last April until mid-May in Singapore, London, Taipei and Geneva before showcasing it in Hong Kong. Puyi was depicted in the award-winning film The Last Emperor, directed by Bernardo Bertolucci. The film won nine Academy Awards including Best Film in 1988.
Puyi, the Last Emperor of China
At the tender age of two, Emperor Puyi was summoned to the Forbidden City by the dying Empress Dowager Cixi, where he was told that he would be the next emperor since the previous one just died that day. As the story goes, Puyi grew up in his new surroundings far away from his family and in the company of dozens of palace eunuchs and maids to wait on him. He reportedly felt that his only friend was his wet nurse Ar Mo.
After returning to China, he had to endure further humiliation as a political prisoner and was constantly coerced by interrogators to admit a forced collaboration with the Japanese invaders during the Sino-Japanese war. He eventually was said to have recanted and was considered as “rehabilitated” by the Chinese government and was released in 1959. Puyi spent his final years as a simple gardener who lived a peasant life at the time of the rise of Mao Zedong’s popularity and the Cultural Revolution until his passing in 1967.
After some research Phillips discovered that the unsual half dial patina was because Puyi scraped it with a pocketknife to see if the dial was also made of precious metal
The history of the watch and Puyi’s relationship with his Russian interpreter Georgy Permyakov was documented and narrated by Russell Working, an American journalist, in a partly animated video created by Phillips. Working was based in Russia in the late 1990s where he met Permyakov who served as Puyi’s interpreter when the former emperor was detained by the Russians from December 1946 to mid-1950. But both apparently met a few decades earlier. Puyi recalled a moment when Permyakov was just a boy and fell into a pond where Puyi was reading a book.
Permyakov grew up in China so he was fluent in the language, which proved to be a life-changing experience for him as he become quite close during Puyi’s detention years in Russia.
Knowing the Chinese culture and language, Permyakov was the ideal person to serve as the captive former emperor’s interpreter and he was able to help Puyi adjust to the new environment at the prison camp. His room was plain and simple, but considered “comfortable,” and his movement was not as restricted and was even allowed to keep a few of his treasured belongings, including the Patek Phillipe which he wore as his daily watch. Puyi was a watch collector and was fascinated about timepieces since he was young. The imperial royals of the Qing Dynasty was known for their fascination with mechanical clocks and watches and Puyi was no different.
This is the Patek Phillipe owned by the China's last emperor Puyi
Adjusting from living an imperial lifestyle to becoming a Russian prisoner became a bit easier for Emperor Puyi with his newfound friend and interpreter who helped him adjust to his new life. He was taught Russian doctrines to help him understand what life in Russia was all about. On the last day of his detention before being sent back to communist China, Puyi gifted the watch to Permyakov. He was able to keep several artifacts aside from the Patek Philippe, including a red fan which included a poem he personally wrote as a dedication to his friend and comrade when Puyi was brought as a witness in the Tokyo trials. He was also given a manuscript notebook titled, inscribed and dated: Emperor Puyi as a gift to G. Permyakov, Puyi,Essays on China, Spring 1950 on a label affixed to the cover.
“The topics vary widely: childbirth in traditional China, the remarriage of widows, the etiquette of hosting guests, the burning of incense, and even regional cuisines,” according to Phillips.
The final bid price for the watch, including buyer’s premium, was $6.2million (about P347 million in today’s rate). Compare this to the Patek Philippe Nautilus x Tiffany sold a year ago, which fetched $6.5million.
Puyi's Patek Philippe and the red fan are just two of the artifacts kept by Permyakov
Puyi’s Patek Phillipe is extremely rare, and according to Phillips, only two known examples with the exact enamel Arabic “Roulette” configuration have surfaced until the discovery of Puyi’s watch. Both timepieces were cased in platinum bearing consecutive Victorin Piguet 11-inch ebauche movements. These movements were produced in 1929, at the time of the Great Depression. The watch was given to Permyakov’s heirs after his death and upon the discovery of the watch and other artifacts in 2019, Phillips kept it a secret until they could conduct authentication and provenance and historic value by interviewing people who have met Puyi and carbon dating the artifacts to ensure authenticity.