You might recently have come across a story about a watch currently up for auction, a Patek Philippe grand complication with the name “Vladimir Vladimirovic Putin” listed as owner on its official papers. This comes hot on the heels of record-setting auction results of watches connected with national leaders, so people are kinda excited about this watch, obvy.

Christie’s did the Haile Selassie watch just last month and Phillips scored bigly with the Rolex previously belonging to the last emperor of Vietnam. Now it’s Antiquorum’s turn, with the Patek Philippe ref. 5208 of Vladimir Putin — allegedly. Because here’s the thing, a Bloomberg article did some digging and it seems that the Kremlin are denying that such a watch ever belonged to Russia’s president. The plot thickens — but wait, there’s more!

According to the Bloomberg piece, Monaco Legend Group, the auctioneers co-organising the July 19th sale with Antiquorum, have stoutly defended the provenance of the watch. They claim that the watch was bought as a gift for Trump’s BFF and the retailer (Watches of Switzerland in London) performed their due diligence as to ascertaining the ownership of the watch. The plot now thicker than a Kardashian in bodycon.

It’s difficult to get this past a “he said, she said” sort of conversation, so let’s look at what we know. Putin loves high-end mechanical watches. At least, we know he has a lot of them. We also know that Patek Philippe are particular about who gets one of their minute repeaters, and that retailers are anxious to maintain this exclusivity so that coveted pieces don’t end up being sullied by grey-market transactions or being flipped by opportunistic dealers. This supports the claim that proof of ownership was carefully established at the point of sale.

Then again, we have the official refutation from the Kremlin (not that any government organisation would ever lie to the media, of course). There is the possibility that the watch just never made it to its intended owner. There is the fall in global watch sales, creating an atmosphere in which selling began to take priority over safeguards of exclusivity. Obviously, we’re not suggesting that the ref. 5208 was sold cavalierly, just that the transaction happened to take place in a cynical global sales climate.

The Patek Philippe ref. 5208, which allegedly was meant for Vladimir Putin

Generally speaking, however, if you’re a controversial leadership figure, you might want to avoid publicly associating yourself with mega-expensive timepieces. There’s that theory about the legendary pocket watch of Marie Antoinette; remember her? Anyway, it was the most complicated watch of its time, and it was made by Breguet, who was just as much of a swaggy horological superstar in the 18th century as you might imagine.

The theory is that the watch was commissioned in her name by her political enemies in an attempt to stir up the cesspit of public outrage at her extravagance. Ultimately the French people got fed up of Marie Antoinette on their own and got rid of her without any additional horological instigation, but the theory remains as a tantalising glimpse into Bourbon court intrigue. Literally like watching an episode of House of Cards. (#ClaireUnderwood2020!)

Rather more recently, an Indonesian general was shown up in rather spectacular fashion when he was identified wearing a Richard Mille in some press conference or news interview, I don’t even remember. General Moeldoko was exposed by a Singaporean watch blog (that no longer exists, but still… REPRESENT!!) as someone able to afford an RM 011 on military pay.

Indonesia had like 10 percent of its population living in poverty in 2014, when this happened, so you can probably guess that this story went over like a fart in a spacesuit. People were seriously not happy about it, and Moeldoko had to try and get himself out of the doko by claiming it was a counterfeit. The general’s “I’m not a criminal, just an asshole” defence consisted of him flinging his watch at the floor to prove its lack of value. An unassailable defence, at least for people without an internet connection to Google how Richard Mille does the exact same thing to his watches to prove their high-tech engineered toughness. People living beneath the poverty line, maybe.

You may think watches are irrelevant today, but timepieces have always been cast as agents of change. Symbols matter, and they will continue to matter as long as civilisation exists. Which brings us back to the alleged Putin watch, the triple-comp ref. 5208. Will people ever truly care whether or not it really sat on his wrist? By now, everyone relevant to the July 19th sale knows that this is the watch that was said to belong to the Russian president. The story can sometimes be bigger than the truth, and this story is YUGE. And don’t give me any covfefe about how “fake news” is destroying the world. This is a watch auction. It is not the conflict in the Middle East. It is not, in any sense, even trying to be “real news”. Calme-toi.

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The Patek Philippe ref. 5208, which allegedly was meant for Vladimir Putin

In any case, both sides have had their say, and we’ll see how things pan out during the auction. It’d be fascinating to find out why the eventual buyer goes for it. The thing about the Selassie and the Emperor of Vietnam watches is that their famous owners are kind of dead. Putin is still alive and very much in the headlines, which makes him more interesting, but the best thing about buying dead people’s watches is that their associated legacies have more or less been settled one way or another. You know what you’re buying, or at least you know what it means.

As of now, there’s so much we still don’t know about the ref. 5208, its owner, its owner’s legacy. Makes a great story though.

The Patek Philippe ref. 5208, which allegedly was meant for Vladimir Putin