For collectors and scholars of vintage timepieces, nothing is more exciting than when a watch with traits previously unseen comes to light. When the watch is a reference already regarded as one of the most sought-after wristwatch models ever made by any manufacturer — and furthermore boasts an Imperial provenance — excitement tends to turn into something else altogether.
This 18k gold perpetual calendar Patek Philippe 2497 is one such watch. Offered in the Important Watches auction on 9 November at Christie’s Geneva, it is the one and only known example of this reference bearing a previously never before seen military-style black dial with luminous Arabic numerals and luminous Alpha hands — all these features being unrestored and in original condition.
What’s more, this timepiece features one of the most distinguished provenances ever seen in an auction room. According to our research, it was commissioned in 1954 as a gift for Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie, and presented during his official visit to Switzerland in November that year.
Patek Philippe. An exceptionally important, possibly unique and previously unknown 18k gold perpetual calendar wristwatch with sweep centre seconds, moon phases, black luminous military-style dial, luminous alpha hands, engraved case back, former property of His Majesty, king of Kings, Emperor Haile Selassie I of Ethiopia. Signed Patek Philippe, Genève, Ref. 2497, Movement no. 888’058, Case no. 679’792, Manufactured in 1954. Estimate: $520,000-1,000,000 / €460,000-920,000. This lot is offered in our Important Watches auction on 9 November at Christie’s Geneva
Years later, the Emperor himself presented the timepiece as a gift to an eminent personality, whose descendant is now disclosing it to the world. According to the Department of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University, His Majesty used to make gifts of watches to high profile acquaintances.
Haile Selassie with his pet cheetahs in front of the Jubilee Palace in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, 1962. Alamy
Born Tafari Makonnen Woldemikael on 23 July 1892, Haile Selassie’s full title in office was ‘By the Conquering Lion of the Tribe of Judah, His Imperial Majesty Haile Selassie I, King of Kings of Ethiopia, Elect of God’. This biblical lineage, combined with a particular interpretation of a passage from the Book of Revelation, prompted the emergence of the Rastafari movement in Jamaica in the 1930s.
This religion, followed today by some two to four million people worldwide, considers Ras Tafari (the Emperor’s title and name before coronation — Ras being loosely translated as ‘Duke’) their Messiah. His Majesty never rebuked such titles, though he never either took active steps as leader of the Rastafari movement.
Jamaicans welcome Emperor of Ethiopia Haile Selassie 1, 1966. Photograph by Lynn Pelham/Time Life Pictures/Getty Images
When he visited Jamaica on 21 April 1966, more than one hundred thousand people gathered at the airport to witness his arrival — 21 April is now the second holiest day in the Rastafari religion, the holiest being the day of Haile Selassie’s coronation (2 November).
Throughout his life, The Emperor was an advocate of peaceful international relationships and political mediation. Beyond facilitating the entrance of Ethiopia into the League of Nations, he was a fervent supporter of the return of the deported African people to their country of origin, and started a fierce battle against slavery which he eventually managed to outlaw in 1942.
The Emperor became an anti-fascist icon, and was named Man of the Year by Time magazine
Following the Italian invasion in 1936, the Emperor and his family fled the country, so that he could prepare a case to be presented to the League of Nations in Geneva. The speech he gave is now considered to be one of the most powerful pieces of rhetoric of the past century, and made him an anti-fascist icon, as well as meaning he was named Man of the Year by Time magazine.
Emperor Haile Selassie was reinstated in 1941, after the Italians had been defeated with the help of the British Army. The last part of his office saw him struggle to further modernise the country, measures that were opposed by the ruling class. On 23 November 1974, with the country afflicted by a devastating famine and the after effects of the oil crisis of 1973, the Emperor was deposed. He died on 27 August 1975.
Left: a monogram engraved to the case back. Right: The reason behind the rarity of black dial Patek Philippe timepieces has been the object of much speculation. Research shows only another 2497 with black dial known from the market, albeit one that is non-military in style as it lacks the luminous numerals. The military dial of the this timepiece can be motivated by the fact that it was intended for the supreme military commander of the Ethiopian Army
The scarcity of special orders and variations (so far, only five are known in the 12-year production run of reference 2497) highligh the exclusivity of this reference and the importance it had in the panorama of Patek Philippe’s offer of the time.
Uniting rarity, provenance, stunning looks and the excitement of being a previously unknown iteration of landmark reference 2497, this timepiece is one of the most captivating and important horological discoveries in recent years.
For more features, interviews and videos, visit Christie’s Daily