Faisal II, Last King Of Iraq, And His (Previously) Unknown Patek Philippe Reference 1518 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
by Nick Gould
When it comes to the Patek Philippe Reference 1518 perpetual calendar chronograph, there is a strong association with royalty.
King Farouk of Egypt owned an 18-karat gold model, which last sold at Christie’s in 2018 for CHF 912,000.
Another notable owner was King Michael of Romania, who was thought to have owned a mythical two-tone version of the timepiece. I came across a color photo back in 2017 that showed the king did not own a two-tone version but rather a yellow or pink gold version.
The pink gold Reference 1518 with rare pink dial previously belonging to watch industry icon – perhaps the closest our industry gets to its own royalty – Jean-Claude Biver just sold at Phillips Geneva Watch Auction: XI in June 2020 for a whopping CHF 3,380,000, setting a new record for this reference in pink gold.
Above and beyond that, one of four known Patek Philippe 1518 perpetual calendar chronographs in steel briefly became the world’s most expensive wristwatch with an auction price of CHF 11,000,002 ($11,136,642) at Phillips in 2016.
And along comes an undiscovered Patek Philippe Reference 1518
One person I was not aware of who owned a Reference 1518 was King Faisal II of Iraq. Faisal II was born on May 2, 1935, the only child of King Ghazi. When Faisal was three years old his father died in a mysterious car accident, suddenly making him the new king. As he was still too young to assume leadership, his uncle, Abd al-Ilah, served as regent (with a notable, deposed break) until he was old enough to take over.
In August of 1952, at the age of 17, King Faisal II and his entourage traveled to the United States for a five-week tour. On August 13, the young king took in a baseball game between the Brooklyn Dodgers and the New York Giants.
After the game, the young king met the Dodgers’ second baseman, Jackie Robinson. Robinson, the first African American to play Major League Baseball, thereby breaking baseball’s color line, was inducted into the Baseball Hall of Fame in 1962.
In a photo taken of King Faisal II while chatting with Robinson, I noticed a watch peeking out from underneath his sleeve.
In plain sight was a hint of the dial, the case including crown, and one of the two chronograph pushers.
Closer inspection revealed more details, including a moon phase at 6 o’clock and date windows at 12 o’clock. Very much the tell-tale signs of a Patek Philippe Reference 1518.
Searching on Google, I found no mention of the teenage king owning a Reference 1518 – quite a watch for a 17-year-old! As I’ve not been able to find any color photographs of the watch, determining the metal combination of the timepiece is challenging. My best guess is that the watch has a yellow or pink gold case with a silvered dial.
In 1953, Faisal II officially took over as the king of Iraq. His reign would be a noticeably short one.
On July 14, 1958, a coup d’état was launched by a secret military group led by Brigadier Abd al-Karim Qasim. King Faisal, along with other members of the royal family and the Iraqi prime minister, Nuri al-Said, were assassinated, the regicide ending both the 37-year-old Hashemite monarchy and establishing the Republic of Iraq.
Out there somewhere, hidden away in a box or a drawer, is another Patek Philippe Reference 1518 – the world’s first serial chronograph/perpetual calendar wristwatch combination – with quite a history waiting to be rediscovered. Watch historians have suggested that only 281 examples of Reference 1518 exist . . . has this one been counted among them?
Quick Facts Patek Philippe Reference 1518 Perpetual Calendar Chronograph
Case: 35 mm, yellow or pink gold, 4 known stainless steel examples
Movement: manually wound Caliber 13”’130 Q, 23 jewels, 2.5 Hz/18,000 vph frequency, column wheel chronograph
Functions: hours, minutes, seconds; perpetual calendar with day, date, month, and moon phase; 30-minute chronograph
Years of manufacture: 1941-1955