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Vietnamese emperor's Rolex sells for record US$5m

[ZURICH] A Rolex that was owned by the last emperor of Vietnam became the brand's most expensive wristwatch ever sold at auction, fetching US$5 million at Phillips as Geneva's spring auction season kicks off.

The "Bao Dai", a Rolex that the late emperor bought during Geneva peace negotiations in 1954, was sold to an unidentified phone bidder on Saturday, according to the auction house. The bidding war lasted eight minutes among 10 bidders in the room and three on the phone.

The watch is one of the rarest Rolexes, one of three black-dial models known to exist with diamond hour markers. Through the sale, London- and New York-based Phillips scores another victory as it aims to dominate the high-end market for vintage watch auctions, eroding the position of larger rivals. Sotheby's failed to sell a third of the lots in its watch auction Sunday, including Patek Philippe's most intricate timepiece.

The Sotheby's auction raised US$3.36 million, less than the Bao Dai Rolex alone, and the auctioneer failed to sell a 1989 Patek Philippe pocket watch that has 33 functions. The timepiece, completed in 1989 to commemorate Patek Philippe's 150th anniversary, had been estimated at US$6.4 million to US$9.9 million.

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Christie's sold a Patek Philippe wristwatch that used to belong to Ethiopian Emperor Haile Selassie in its Geneva watch auction Monday. The 18-carat gold Patek Philippe ref 2497 went under the hammer for US$2.9 million. It was estimated to be worth US$500,000 to US$1 million.

Christie's had halted the sale of the timepiece in 2015 after a group of Ethiopian-Americans working with Selassie's grandson demanded it be returned to his descendants. The dispute was resolved at the end of December after a court ruled the original consignor possesses all rights to offer the watch at auction.