It is common practice among Gulf royals to gift watches with their signature or the official coat-of-arms on the dial. Made as a special order for governments or prominent royals to mark important events or milestones, these timepieces were never available for public consumption in retail stores. However, some of them made their way into the secondary or vintage market after those that received these watches sold them on.
Since so few were available to buyers, these timepieces are highly collectible. Within the slightly esoteric circle of vintage watch collectors, where rarity and provenance are of paramount importance, these watches ended up being highly coveted. 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.
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. His Highness Shaikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, then the Defence Minister, commissioned these watches and his name appears on the dial. Back in the 1970’s, the retailer Ahmed Seddiqi & Sons sold each of these chronograph for about AED6,000-7,000.
Leading auction house Christie’s hosts its biggest online watch sale “The Dubai Edit” from October 15 to 29 this year. The annual auction moved online in line with COVID-19 restrictions. There are 160 watches up for grabs but we narrow our focus in this article to feature the most interesting “Arab dials” in the auction catalogue.
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”.
A Rolex Day-Date Ref. 1807 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 with 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 “Stella” dial with the khanjar symbol and an estimate of $50,000-80,000. The burgundy lacquered dial has diamond indexes and the calendar indications are in 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 royal court ordered a limited number to commemorate King Saud’s accession to the throne in 1953. The monarch himself presented this particular timepiece to the consignee at the latter’s wedding; it has 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. 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 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 is a special order from the Royal Jordanian Air Force as part of a small order of personalized 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.