Phillips unveils Patek Philippe wristwatch and artefacts once belonging to the Last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty

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Phillips unveils Patek Philippe wristwatch and artefacts once belonging to the Last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty
Among the items accompanying the watch is the red paper fan that Puyi personally inscribed and gifted to his interpreter in Tokyo. Image courtesy of Phillips.

HONG KONG.- Phillips in Association with Bacs & Russo announced the unveiling of several artefacts once belonging to Aisin-Giro Puyi, the last Emperor of the Qing dynasty, at the opening of Phillips’ new Asia headquarters in Hong Kong’s West Kowloon Cultural District. A Patek Philippe Reference 96 Quantieme Lune, an inscribed paper fan, a manuscript notebook, watercolour paintings and a leather-bound printed edition of Confucius’ Analects will all be exhibited, offering a rare insight into a remarkable chapter in history. From 1945 to 1950, the deposed Emperor was held prisoner in the USSR. During these five years, a Soviet official who spoke fluent Mandarin served as the Emperor’s interpreter and tutor. These artefacts spotlight the extraordinary friendship which developed between Puyi and his Russian translator. Phillips is proud to unveil them in Hong Kong, where they will be on view from 18-31 March; this will be followed by an international tour to New York, Singapore, London, Taipei and Geneva, with the pieces being offered for sale at a later date.

Aisin-Giro Puyi, The Last Emperor of the Qing Dynasty (1906-1967)

Born in 1906, Aisin-Gioro Puyi was the last Emperor of the Qing dynasty, ascending the throne as the Xuantong Emperor at nearly three years old in accordance with the Empress Dowager Cixi’s decree. When the Japanese forces surrendered in 1945, Puyi was captured at Shenyang Airport by the Soviet Red Army.

After he was detained, Puyi was held first in Chita as a prisoner of war, then incarcerated in a Khabarovsk detention camp for five years. During his time in the Soviet Union, Puyi developed a close friendship with his interpreter, Georgy Permyakov. After Chairman Mao Zedong’s victory in China, he visited the Soviet Union in 1950 and authorities agreed to Puyi’s repatriation. According to a first-hand account by the Emperor’s nephew, it was at this time that Puyi gifted the watch to his friend, the interpreter.

In August 1946, Puyi testified at the International Military Tribunal for the Far East as a historical witness. Four years later, in 1950, Puyi was extradited back to China before eventually being granted amnesty several years later and becoming a citizen of New China. He was also appointed Commissioner on Cultural and Historical Materials by the National Committee of the Chinese People's Political Consultative Conference.

On 17 October 1967, Puyi passed away of illness in Beijing at age 61. His life would later be dramatised by Bernardo Bertolucci’s 1987 cinematic masterpiece, The Last Emperor.

The Watch

Truly the first of its kind, a legendary reference, a tremendous importance to Patek Philippe’s heritage, the present Patek Philippe reference 96 with triple date and moon phase transcends as one of the most crucial examples ever to resurface. While only seven Patek Philippe reference 96 of such complication were previously known, the present example is fresh-to-the-market and is the eighth example to appear.

The Calatrava case in platinum was crafted by Antoine Gerlach and identified by “Key number 4” stamp. The dial features an Arabic numeral dial paired with matching pink gold ring and Feuille hands. Housed within the timepiece is a 11’’’ Victorin Piguet ébauche movement produced during the downfall of the global economy in 1929, the beginning of the Great Depression, and therefore was never cased. With the game-changing unveiling of the reference 96 as a novelty in 1932, the movement was further upgraded by the manufacturer and fitted into this present modernist platinum case with Bauhaus influences in 1937.

Underscoring the rarity of the timepiece presented by Phillips, only two
examples with the exact dial configuration – which includes an enamel Arabic “Roulette” configuration – have ever previously surfaced. Both cased in platinum bearing consecutive movements numbers, one is now part of Patek Phillipe Museum collection, and the second was sold in 1996 to a private collector. Exceedingly prestigious, kept in its original untouched condition with consistent patina throughout, this time-capsule piece with incredible historical importance, is the epitome of its kind.

Further cementing its authenticity, the production of the timepiece is confirmed by the Patek Philippe Extract from the Archives mentioning a silvered dial, rose gold zone and enamel hour markers manufactured from 1929, and was later sold on 6th October 1937.

Other Artefacts
Among the items accompanying the watch is the red paper fan that Puyi personally inscribed and gifted to his interpreter in Tokyo. The fan is inscribed with a poem composed and penned in Chinese by Puyi himself, consisting of four lines of five syllables each, the English translation herewith:


It is not dawn yet at the courtyard, the moonlight seeps through the south window. Sitting together
by the lamp, the long silent mood endures.
Dedicated to my comrade Bie’ermiankuofu (Permyakov) in Tokyo on 19 August 1946, by Aisin-Gioro Puyi.

A manuscript notebook provides a never-before-seen glimpse into the mind of Puyi. For the five years that Puyi was in the Soviet Union, he penned miscellaneous notes on the books and magazines he read. The content is diverse, focusing mainly on customs and daily life in China.

A leather-bound edition of Confucius’ Analects bears witness to the attachment that Puyi held for the traditional values and teachings of Confucius, the famed Chinese philosopher and politician of the Spring and Autumn period (770 to 481 BCE) who was and still is hailed as the paragon of Chinese sages.

Fifteen watercolour paintings attributed to Puyi’s brother-in-law Runqi, depicting various aspects of Chinese culture and rural scenes, will also be on view. These watercolours had a didactic purpose; they served as pictorial illustrations with every element in the different scenes carefully labelled in Chinese characters.

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