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China's Last Emperor's Watch

A platinum watch that once belonged to Aisin-Gioro Puyi, the last emperor of China, has just been sold at auction for twice the estimate.

Patek Philippe that belonged to Emperor Aisingyoro Puyi
The last emperor's Patek Philippe | Phillips

Puyi, who was the subject of the 1987 Oscar-winning film The Last Emperor, ruled China during the Qing Dynasty between 1908 and 1912. Puyi became China’s emperor when he was just 2 years old. Following the Chinese Revolution, he was forced to abdicate the throne in 1912.

According to Phillips, the auctioneers, Puyi gave the timepiece to his Russian interpreter, Georgy Permyakov, as a parting gift on his last day in a Soviet prison camp. When Permyakov died, he left the watch to his heirs, who later sold it to an unknown buyer. Whoever that person was, he or she just got $6.2m for it at auction.

Beyond its historical significance, the watch is quite rare: It’s one of just eight known watches of its kind made by Patek Philippe, a Swiss company known for its high-end watches and clocks.

Ahead of the sale, the auction house spent three years collaborating with researchers, scientists, journalists and other experts to verify the watch’s history and authenticity. One of those experts was Russell Working, a Chicago-area freelance journalist who interviewed Permyakov and got a glimpse of the watch in 2001.

“[Puyi] knew he was going to be leaving Russia within hours,” Working told the Chicago Sun-Times. “It clearly was just a gesture of friendship.”

At the end of World War II, the Soviet Red Army captured Puyi after Japan surrendered to the Allies. When they sent him to a prison camp, he was allowed to take some personal belongings - including the wristwatch. During his five-year detention, he grew close to his Russian interpreter, eventually giving him the watch as a gift.

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