Lot 156
  • 156


30,000 - 50,000 CHF
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  • 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 Certifcatecirca 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


This rare and historically important piece has remained in a well preserved condition, directly from the descendant of the original owner to whom it was offered by the Emperor of Ethiopia himself. Being well kept in its original wooden presentation case, it shows some small signs of wear. Enamel is fully original with only small signs of wear on the edge of the case back. The watch is also accompanied by another enamel dial written in Erythree and also with the precious First Class Observatory Certificate from Geneva. Overall, this piece has remained in its original condition with a high symbolic value and an amazing provenance.
"In response to your inquiry, we are pleased to provide you with a general report of the condition of the property described above. All dimensions in catalogue descriptions are approximate. Condition reports may not specify mechanical replacements or imperfections to the movement, case, dial, pendulum, separate base(s) or dome. Watches in water-resistant cases have been opened to examine movements but no warranties are made that the watches are currently water-resistant. Please note that we do not guarantee the authenticity of any individual component parts, such as wheels, hands, crowns, crystals, screws, bracelets and leather bands, since subsequent repairs and restoration work may have resulted in the replacement of original parts. Since we are not professional conservators or restorers, we urge you to consult with a restorer or conservator of your choice who will be better able to provide a detailed, professional report. Prospective buyers should inspect each lot to satisfy themselves as to condition and must understand that any statement made by Sotheby's is merely a subjective, qualified opinion. Prospective buyers should also refer to any Important Notices regarding this sale, which are printed in the Sale Catalogue. In particular, please note it is the purchaser's responsibility to comply with any applicable import and export matters, particularly in relation to lots incorporating materials from endangered species.NOTWITHSTANDING THIS REPORT OR ANY DISCUSSIONS CONCERNING A LOT, ALL LOTS ARE OFFERED AND SOLD AS IS" IN ACCORDANCE WITH THE CONDITIONS OF BUSINESS PRINTED IN THE SALE CATALOGUE."

**Please be advised that bands made of materials derived from endangered or otherwise protected species (i.e. alligator and crocodile) are not sold with the watches and are for display purposes only. We reserve the right to remove these bands prior to shipping.

Important Notice regarding importation into the United States of Rolex watches
Sotheby's cannot arrange for the delivery of Rolex watches to the United States because U.S. laws restricts the import of Rolex watches. The buyer or a designated agent may collect the property in the country of sale."

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.