Lot 156
  • 156


30,000 - 50,000 CHF
bidding is closed


  • Made especially for the Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia: a very rare and historically important 18k yellow gold, enamel, ruby and diamond chronometer watch with detent escapement, First Class Geneva Observatory Certifcate
    circa 1893

  • diameter 53.5 mm
• nickel lever movement with detent escapement, cylindrical balance spring, compensation balance, gold cuvette bearing technical details 'chronometre, echappement a detente spiral cylindrique, 21 rubies, reglage a la temperature, Bulletin de l'Observatoire de Genève' • white enamel dial with polychrome writing in Ethiopian symbolising the hour indication, subsidiary seconds • large half hunting case, the front cover with Ethiopian writing around the aperture to read the time, blue and white enamel pattern on the outer side of the case, the back cover representing the royal crown of Menelik II fully set with rubies and diamonds, also enhanced with blue and white enamel decoration • with original First Class Geneva Observatory Certifcate, presentation case and a white enamel replacement dial

Catalogue Note


Emperor Menelik II of Ethiopia, (1844 – 1913), was baptised Sahle Maryam and was known as Negus of Shewa from 1866 to 1889 and finally as Nəgusä Nägäst of Ethiopia from 1889 to his death.

'The Negus Watch' stands for progress, innovation and modernity, which in turn are key characterics of the reign of Emperor Menelik II. The Watch was a gift to Léon Chefneux in 1893 in recognition of his contribution to the implementation of Ethiopia's first railway line, which ran from Djibouti to Addis-Ababa. Specifically, in his choice of the Watch, it is highly likely that Menelik II was influenced by the Swiss engineer, Alfred Ilg who was responsible for the construction of the railway system. The Negus is a precision timekeeper with chronometer detent escapement.  

As inscribed on the inside of the case 'Don de Sa Majesté Menelik II Empereur d'Ethiopie', the Watch was probably presented as a welcome gift before the commercial agreement signed by the Compagnie Impériale des Chemins de fer Ethiopiens, a company founded by Alfred Ilg and Léon Chefneux.

Menelik II took an independent stance in relation to other colonised countries in Africa. He was intrigued by modernity and actively sought to introduce Western technological and administrative advances in Ethiopia. Notably, Menelik II founded the first modern bank in Ethiopia, the Bank of Abyssinia, he introduced the modern postal system, the supply of electricity to Addis-Ababa and telephone and telegraph systems.

Inevitably this desire for modernity mostly impacted the capital, Addis-Abeba, which became a large cosmopolitan city and an important destination for traders from around the world, typically Armenian, Yemenite, Greek, Indian and French merchants worked in Addis-Abeba at this time. Menelik II's accomplishments were also down to his charismatic personality and his genius at diplomacy with Western powers, mainly France and Great Britain. His charm remained a powerful asset until the final years of his reign.  

'The Negus Watch' has remained in the same family for over 100 years and it is the first time it has appeared at auction. It is an historical fragment from a pivotal period in the history of Ethiopia and encapsulates the visionary role played by Emperor Menelik II.