By Ashley Davis
Geneva--The “Bao Dai” Rolex isn’t the only wristwatch previously owned by an emperor making news in Geneva this week.

Hot on the heels of the record-setting Rolex, a rare Patek Philippe watch with an equally interesting origin story sold for $2.9 million Monday at Christie’s Rare Watches and a Rolex Afternoon sale held at the Four Seasons Hotel des Bergues in Geneva. The final selling price was nearly three times the high end of the watch’s pre-sale estimate.

The Patek Philippe Ref. 2497 wristwatch is the only one of its reference to feature its particular style of military-esque black dial with Arabic numerals and Alpha hands from the 1950s. The watch is in excellent condition and has never been restored.

According to Christie’s, the work was commissioned by Ing. Federico Bazzi, an entrepreneur and pilot based in Eritrea, and presented in Switzerland to Emperor Haile Selassie of Ethiopia in November 1954. (At the time, Eritrea formed a federation with Ethiopia.)

Selassie ruled Ethiopia as regent from 1916 to 1930 and emperor from 1930 to 1974. His reign was marked by his institution of the first written constitution of Ethiopia, the abolition of slavery and resisting Italian colonialism. He also was a central figure in the Rastafari religion, as he was seen as a messiah, though Selassie had no participation in the religion. 

A year before his death, Selassie was deposed in a coup that triggered the Ethiopian Civil War.

The “Haile Selassie 2497” was presented as a gift to an unnamed person by Selassie years after he received it. Christie’s noted that the Department of Ethiopian Studies of Addis Ababa University confirmed that Selassie was in the habit of giving away wristwatches to “high profile acquaintances.”

To further add to the watch’s interesting ownership, the Patek Philippe Ref. 2497 was meant to go up for auction two years ago but was pulled from the sale at the last second.

It is a perpetual calendar wristwatch with sweep centre seconds and an engraved case back. The dial is solid 18-karat gold.

The unusual “alpha” hands were likely custom, despite the rarity of Patek Phillipe special requests, as 2497 references typically feature feuille or dauphine hands.

The black dial might be the most unexpected feature of this previously unknown style of watch. The only other 2479 with a black dial is from 1990.

Among the 280-plus lots the Patek Phillipe Ref. 2479 was the top seller. The sale earned $16.1 million in total at current exchange rates.

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