By Brecken Branstrator
The city of San Francisco gifted Rupert Blue this 18-karat gold Patek Philippe in 1908 for his work eradicating the bubonic plague from the city. It sold for $50,000 at auction on Tuesday, topping its high estimate by $5,000.
Dallas—The timepiece given to the physician who helped San Francisco beat back the bubonic plague and led the country through the Spanish flu outbreak in 1918 sold for $50,000 Tuesday at auction.

The 18-karat gold Patek Philippe was part of Dallas-based Heritage Auctions’ Watches & Fine Timepieces Auction, where it was estimated to sell for between $35,000 and $45,000.

The watch was a gift to American physician Rupert Blue.

When the pandemic known as the Spanish flu hit in 1918, Blue was the country’s surgeon general, counseling Americans to follow protocols that will sound familiar: wearing facial coverings, practicing social distancing, and closing establishments to large groups of people.

Blue was only 50 years old at the time but had already navigated several crises as a member of the U.S. Public Health Service, most notably the bubonic plague that swept through San Francisco in two waves at the turn of the century.

Blue understood the disease would only be cured if doctors figured out how it spread and who was impacted, and embarked on a campaign to disinfect the city and exterminate its rats.

When he left San Francisco to help other cities, its health department awarded Blue with a proclamation and the 18-karat gold split-second Patek Philippe chronograph pocket watch.

Its inside dust cover bears the following inscription (as seen in the picture above): “To Rupert Blue P.A. Surgeon, U.S.P.H. and M.H.S. from the citizens of San Francisco. In grateful recognition of services rendered the city while in command of the Sanitation Campaign of 1908.”

Heritage Auctions Watches & Fine Timepieces Director Jim Wolf said the piece “would have cost a handsome sum—close to $1,000 when manufactured in 1905.”

Tuesday’s watch auction realized $5.6 million total, more than twice the $2.7 million pre-auction estimate, with 19 of the auction’s 216 lots selling in the six figures.

20200610 Richard Mille insert

The event’s top lot was the Richard Mille RM 11-03 seen above, No. 38 out of only 150 made to celebrate French former rally driver Jean Todt.

Made in 2018, the Flyback Chronograph sold for $325,000 after starting with an opening bid of $52,500.

Following just behind was a 2019 Audemars Piguet Royal Oak Concept, Chronograph and Self-winding Peripheral Rotor, which sold for $312,500.

To view all results, visit

Get the Daily News >
National Jeweler

Fine Jewelry Industry News

Since 1906, National Jeweler has been the must-read news source for smart jewelry professionals--jewelry retailers, designers, buyers, manufacturers, and suppliers. From market analysis to emerging jewelry trends, we cover the important industry topics vital to the everyday success of jewelry professionals worldwide. National Jeweler delivers the most urgent jewelry news necessary for running your day-to-day jewelry business here, and via our daily e-newsletter, website and other specialty publications, such as "The State of the Majors." National Jeweler is published by Jewelers of America, the leading nonprofit jewelry association in the United States.