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5 Minutes with... Pope Pius IX’s Patek Philippe pocket watch

John Reardon, Christie’s International Head of Watches, takes a closer look at a very special timepiece which once belonged to a pope — and that one day might also be described as having been the property of a saint

Decked out in a panoply of robes and regalia and surrounded by a host of attendants, it’s not easy to imagine a pope feeling around his midriff in search of his pocket watch. Yet even the Bishop of Rome needs to keep an eye on the passing of the hours, and Pope Pius IX, who was supreme pontiff from his election in 1846 until his death in 1878, was no different. This Patek Philippe was given to Pius IX in 1877 by the Swiss branch of the Catholic organization Piusverein, formed in 1848 to defend Catholic interests across Europe.

‘There are some watches that transcend their material value by an unimaginable factor,’ says Christie’s International Head of Watches, John Reardon. ‘A Patek with papal provenance is impressive, but a Patek Philippe that once belonged to a pope who has been beatified by the Catholic Church [by Pope John Paul II in 2000] is unimaginable. Could this one day be described as a Patek that belonged to a saint?’

Patek Philippe. A fine and historically important silver openface pocket watch. Signed Patek Philippe & Co., Genève, movement & case No. 52233, Manufactured in 1876. Estimate $50,000-100,000. This lot is offered in Important Watches on 6 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Patek Philippe. A fine and historically important silver openface pocket watch. Signed Patek Philippe & Co., Genève, movement & case No. 52'233, Manufactured in 1876. Estimate: $50,000-100,000. This lot is offered in Important Watches on 6 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

This is indeed a watch with a rich history, humble in spirit, extravagant in its execution, and this could very well be the last time that a Patek Philippe owned by a pope is offered on the market. And not just any pope, either — at 11,560 days, or 31 years, 7 months and 23 days, Pope Pius IX enjoyed the longest reign of any elected head of the Roman Catholic Church.

The watch was presented to Pius IX in honour of his golden Episcopal Jubilee — marking 50 years since he had become Archbishop of Spoleto — when followers from around the world flocked to Rome to honour him. In 1823 and 1825 Pius had been dispatched by the Vatican to Chile and Peru, which made him the first pope to have set foot on South American soil. 

Patek Philippe. A fine and historically important silver openface pocket watch. Signed Patek Philippe & Co., Genève, movement & case No. 52233, Manufactured in 1876. Estimate $50,000-100,000. This lot is offered in Important Watches on 6 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Patek Philippe. A fine and historically important silver openface pocket watch. Signed Patek Philippe & Co., Genève, movement & case No. 52'233, Manufactured in 1876. Estimate: $50,000-100,000. This lot is offered in Important Watches on 6 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Patek Philippe. A fine and historically important silver openface pocket watch. Signed Patek Philippe & Co., Genève, movement & case No. 52233, Manufactured in 1876. Estimate $50,000-100,000. This lot is offered in Important Watches on 6 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

Patek Philippe. A fine and historically important silver openface pocket watch. Signed Patek Philippe & Co., Genève, movement & case No. 52'233, Manufactured in 1876. Estimate: $50,000-100,000. This lot is offered in Important Watches on 6 December 2016 at Christie’s in New York, Rockefeller Plaza

‘After reading the book Cross Upon Cross: The Life of Pope Pius IX, and the list of miracles attributed to him after his death, I can only say it made me think twice about this watch,’ reveals Reardon. ‘When I first held it in my hands, I asked a colleague half-jokingly, “Might this watch really have the power to heal?” If time heals all wounds, I can only imagine what this watch could do!’

The watch has rock-solid provenance as having once belonged to Pope Pius IX. ‘After his death Pope Leo XIII gave the watch to Cardinal Francesco Salesio della Volpe,’ explains Reardon, ‘and it was passed down through the cardinal’s family.’