Within the slightly esoteric circle of vintage watch collectors, there are certain key dynamics that decide the final price tag of a timepiece. Besides the brand name and condition of the watch, its rarity and provenance are of paramount importance. Over the last decade, the value of watches with a connection to Gulf royalty or bearing a logo of the armed forces or the national symbol has soared in value.
It is common practice among Middle Eastern royals to gift watches with their signature or the official coat-of-arms on the dial. Most of these watches were made on special order for governments to mark important events or as diplomatic gifts and never sold publicly. These timepieces often make their way back into the secondary or vintage markets and since the numbers are always small, they are highly collectible.
A Rolex Daytona Ref. 6263 with the Quraysh Hawk print, the emblem of the UAE, sold for AED1.2 million at a Phillips auction on May 12, 2018. This watch had a unique dial configuration – there was no Rolex badge on the dial, just the crown and – and was commissioned by His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, who was then the Defence Minister, his name is printed on the dial. Back in the 1970’s, the retailer Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons sold this watch for about AED6,000-7,000 each.
Leading auction house Christie’s hosts its biggest online watch sale “The Dubai Edit” from October 15 to 29 this year and features a number of watches with a regional link. The auction was moved online due to prevailing COVID-19 restrictions. There are 160 watches up for sale as part of the auction, but we narrow our focus down to some interesting “Arab dials”.
Consider this yellow gold Rolex Day-Date Ref. 18238 with a dial bearing the logo of the UAE armed forces. The emblem consists of a golden falcon, the UAE flag, and seven stars representing the federation of seven emirates. The watch, produced in 1994, has a pre-sale estimate of $12,000-18,000. According to industry insiders, a watch with a logo like this one can command up to three times more than one without the logo, assuming all other details remain the same.
Sultan Qaboos Bin Said, the former ruler of Oman, was a well-known watch aficionado and often commissioned watches with special dials that are extremely rare and sought-after today. The Khanjar Bo Sayfain - an insignia consisting of a sheathed khanjar superimposed upon two crossed swords, is the national symbol of Oman - and often appears on watches commissioned by the Omani government and is probably the most popular “Arab dial”.
The Rolex Day-Date Ref. 1807 above in yellow gold with bark-finished central lugs on the bracelet has the signature of the sultan on the dial. It has a pre-sale estimate of $35,000-55,000. The khanjar symbol in green also appears on a 1976-made Rolex Ref. 4652 in white gold with a burgundy lacquer dial. The watch was reportedly commissioned by the Sultan himself and later gifted to dignitaries or individuals close to the crown. It has a pre-sale estimate of $25,000-35,000.
Perhaps the most collectible of the lot is a white gold Rolex Day Date Ref. 1803 with an Oxblood lacquer dial and khanjar symbol. This watch has a whopping estimate of $50,000-80,000. The burgundy lacquered dial has diamond indexes and the calendar indications are in Arabic script, both for day and date.
A pink gold Patek Philippe Ref. 2481 from 1955 has an enamel dial with a portrait of King Saud Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud, former ruler of Saudi Arabia. The watch was supposedly ordered by the royal court in commemoration of King Saud’s accession to the throne in 1953. The watch was presented to the consignee at his wedding by the monarch and hits the auction block with an estimate of $40,000-60,000.
The dial of a vintage pink gold Omega Seamaster Ref. BB 166.010 from 1964 features diamond hour markers and more importantly a portrait of Sheikh Isa Bin Salman Al Khalifa, the first emir of Bahrain (watch the video below). It has a pre-sale estimate of $10,000-15,000. Iraq is represented by a white gold Patek Philippe Calatrava Ref. 3601/1 from 1979. The dial carries the country’s official coat-of-arms and carries an estimate of $15,000-25,000.
Also of interest is an Omega Speedmaster chronograph with a caseback featuring an engraving of the royal Jordanian crown. This automatic version of the popular chronograph was commissioned by the Royal Jordanian Air Force as part of a small order of personalised wristwatches for pilots and officials. It has a pre-sale estimate of $8,000-12,000. For more information about the auction lots, visit the official Christie’s website.