What’s a Philippe Beguin?

If there is one thing about collecting watches that makes it fun, it’s the story behind each piece. And oh boy, have I got a story for you!

Last year, while scrolling through watches on eBay, I came across several watches for sale in a lot. In that lot of 8 watches I saw a couple that seemed nice enough, but one was worth the price of all of them, a Casio MD-1010 “Submariner.” So, for 62 dollars I bought 8 watches.

Upon receiving my little box full of goodies, I went straight for the Casio, only to find that it needed more than a battery to work; it needed a new movement. However, I was fortunate to purchase a NOS movement just like the one that had died and before long it was running like new.

There were a couple of other neat watches in the group, including a rare Invicta tank. But what I did not expect to find was a watch connected to one of the most famous watch transactions in history.

A Peace Talk Purchase

In 1954, peace talks were being held in Geneva at the Hotel des Bergues (now the Four Seasons). Attending those peace talks was the last Emperor of Vietnam, Bao Dai. As history would show, the peace talks were not that successful, and neither was Emperor Bao Dai who was later exiled in 1955. But if there was one thing that could be said about him, Bao Dai had expensive tastes.

Frustrated with how the talks were going, Bao Dai stepped outside to get some fresh air. On a whim, he left the Hotel des Bergues and walked across the street to the respected watch retailer, Philippe Beguin, and asked for the most expensive Rolex he had.

“Bao Dai” Rolex ref. 6062

Not having anything extravagant enough, the jeweler contacted Rolex and begged for something fancier … and that’s what he got. The watch that Rolex sent over was the one-of-a-kind Rolex ref. 6062 in 18k gold with a diamond-set dial. It is said at that time the watch cost SFr4000, almost the same as a Patek Philippe perpetual calendar.

That Rolex the last Emperor of Vietnam bought became a daily wearer. But later, after his death, in 2002 the “Bao Dai” Rolex ref. 6062 sold at auction for $235,000, making it the most expensive Rolex sold up to that point. But is was in 2017 that the same watch sold by Philippe Beguin to Bao Dai went for a staggering $5,060,427. Yes, 5 million.

Unfortunately, there is not a lot of information about Philippe Beguin. However, one interesting thing to note was that his relationship with Rolex was such that each model sold through his store had his name printed by Rolex on the dial! I’d say you would have had to have earned a little respect for that to happen. But as history would have it – and I’ve not been able to find out why – Philippe Beguin went out of business not long after the sale to Emperor Bao Dai.

An eBay Purchase

What does all this have to do with anything? It’s because one of the watches I got in that lot of 8 was a Philippe Beguin. Inside is a gold-plated Peseux 320 movement with a 40-hour power reserve that’s only 3 millimeters thick!

So, for an initial investment of around $7.75, then servicing by James P. Soboleski in California, I have a watch made in the late 1940s to early 1950s which was sold in the shop by the very same man who sold one of the most famous watches in horological history!

Not bad for an eBay find, huh?

(How much would you say it’s worth?)

2 Comments

Filed under History, hobbies, watches

2 responses to “What’s a Philippe Beguin?

  1. I love a great horological story, and that is one!

    Check this out: https://www.instagram.com/p/CVvbxNKLz1O/?utm_medium=copy_link

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