dalai lama watch collection

When we think of famous watch collectors, we probably do not think of the Dalai Lama. The 14th Dalai Lama is a collector of watches himself. Yes, we are talking about the Dalai Lama, the former head of the Tibet state and the highest spiritual leader. Tenzin Gyatso, the highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism and a revered spiritual leader born is known for his charisma, teachings, and wisdom. Being an influential figure, all aspects of his life garner our interest, with no exception in his watch collection. The Dalai Lama, born in 1935, has been collecting watches for a far longer time. He is regarded as a dedicated lover of some fine items from Swiss watch manufacturers.

Over the years, he has had a collection of small but enviable watches. This is controversial as it is quite unseemly for a person to have any worldly possessions, particularly luxury watches. It seems that The Dalai Lama received all the watches as gifts. The private watch collection of the Dalai Lama is said to include over 15 models; however, little is known about them. He wears his timepieces inward on inexpensive and elastic bracelets that are made with stainless steel such that the dial and case both remain concealed and face his body. Apart from his Patek Philippe pocket watch, the monk has also been seen in two Rolex models. Let’s have a closer look at the Dalai Lama’s watch collection.

Dalai Lama watch collection

1. Patek Philippe 658

Dalai Lama wearing Patek Philippe 658

The most complicated watch of Dalai Lama and certainly his most valuable piece was the one he received in 1943 when he was only eight years old. His love for mechanical watches started very early, at the age of 6 or 7. The Dalai Lama was presented with one Patek Philippe pocket watch with ref. 658 by President Franklin D. Roosevelt. The watch was presented in Lhasa to Dalai Lama. Though the President did not present the Dalai Lama with this watch himself. This was presented by two members of the OSS (Office of Strategic Services), Ilia Tolstoy (Grandson of Leo Tolstoy), and Brooke Dolan, along with a letter from the President. Visitors silently handed over the presents and received a prayer shawl called ‘Katha’. The two were on a mission to assess the viability of the construction of a path from India through Tibet to China. This was important strategically to the US to supply China during their war with Japan.

Dalai Lama’s Patek Philippe 658 has numerous complications, which include a split-seconds chronograph, moon phase, perpetual calendar, and minute repeater. The piece was in production from 1937 until the late 1950s, with hardly around 15 pieces produced. The watch of the Dalai Lama is an early version with small registers and Arabic numerals from 1 to 12 (apart from 6) and a signature of “PATEK PHILIPPE & Co.” instead of just “PATEK PHILIPPE”.

Due to the rarity of this piece, any market price is tough to come by. Another watch with Reference 658 but labeled E. GUBELIN along with a black dial was traded for $527,000 at an auction in 2014 by Sotheby’s. Some other models were traded for around $254,000 in 2013,  $273,000 in 2011, and one for around $358,000 in 2010. Given the latest surge in the market of luxury watches and the history behind this piece of the Dalai Lama, one can assume this timepiece of Dalai Lama to raise around $150,000 to $250,000. However, with such exceptional provenance, the value of the watch can be significantly higher.

  • Diameter: 42mm
  • Price: Around $150,000 to $250,000
  • Release year: 1937

2. Rolex Day-Date 18038

Dalai Lama wearing Rolex Day-Date 18038

None of the other watches of Dalai lama have the story same as his Patek Philippe. However, the Dalai Lama has also been seen wearing a few different Rolexes for his everyday use. One of the timepieces that he has been spotted wearing often fairly is his yellow-gold Rolex Day-Date. The watch he is wearing has a Ref. 18038, as seen in the image below, has a blue Lapis Lazuli Dial. The sole variance is that the Dalai Lama is seen placing his Day-Date piece on an aftermarket steel as well as elastic bracelet, which is definitely not typical for any Rolex. He does this because this bracelet would be more comfortable, particularly in humidity and heat, and gives more flexibility. This Rolex Day-Date ref. 18038 with blue dial is selling on the secondary market presently for roughly $16,000.

  • Water resistance: 100 meters
  • Diameter: 36mm
  • Price: $16,000
  • Release year: 1977

3. Rolex Datejust Two-tone

Dalai Lama wearing Rolex Datejust Two-tone

Surprisingly, this Day-Date watch is not the Dalai Lama’s watch. During his meeting with Head Rabbi Meir Lau of Israel in Jerusalem, he was spotted donning one two-tone Datejust on a jubilee bracelet. However, it is pretty hard to identify the precise gold Datejust as the Dalai Lama wears his watches mostly with the cases on the inner side of his wrist. It is clear that the watch is a Datejust as the Datejust is offered in two-tone, while the Day-Date is available only in gold or platinum.

  • Water resistance: 100 meters
  • Diameter: 41mm
  • Price: $9,650
  • Release year: 1957

4. Valjoux 7715 Watches

Dalai Lama wearing Valjoux 7715 Watches

The final watches of Dalai Lama were the toughest to spot. He has been spotted wearing a couple of slightly different timepieces with innumerable complications, which include month, date, day, and moon phase. He has some watches that house the Valjoux 7715 movements. This Valjoux 7751 movement is the workhorse movement that is made by Valjoux. Several brands will buy ETA/Valjoux movements for use in their timepieces. Due to this, and also as his piece is quite similar to several watches with this 7751 movement, it is very difficult to identify the exact reference and the brand. Many defunct and obscure watch brands built pieces with this movement.

What Watches Dalai Lama Owns? 

Dalai Lama is recognized to enjoy fiddling with his timepieces. Though he says that he is not a watchmaker, in his book Dalai Lama: The Book Of Humanity – A New Ethic For Our Time, he mentioned that he always loved to repair watches, and he recalls situations from his childhood when he lost his temper completely in dealing with the fine, tiny parts. He said he picked up the movement and then slammed that on the table. He also mentioned that later he regretted and was ashamed of his behavior, particularly when he had to return a watch to its owner in a worse condition than the original one. Dalai Lama tinkered with his watch with the Valjoux movement by replacing it with different dials. The above images clearly show that the two watches have similar cases with different dials. But they run on a similar movement, while the logo is at 3 o’clock.

Tenzin Gyatso, The 14th Dalai Lama, is a spiritual and secular leader of Tibetan Buddhism. He was awarded the Nobel Prize in 1989. The aesthetic monk, admittedly, is not the foremost prominent name that comes to our mind in connection with high-priced timepieces. However, it is pretty interesting to see that the Dalai Lama has quite a soft spot for mechanical watches, and he loves to take them apart and put them back together himself. The Dalai Lama’s watches are exceptionally high-end timepieces and are technically complex. In the world of haute horlogerie, his Patek is a heavyweight and displays various complications, which include a Rattrapante, minute repeater, perpetual calendar with month, weekday, and date, and a moon phase indicator.

From The Writer

The Dalai Lama, the spiritual and religious leader of the Tibetan and Buddhists travels all over the world to spread the message of non-violence and peace. Usually, the concept of Buddhism and religious leaders is not associated with flashy watches. But the Dalai Lama has quite an immaculate collection of timepieces. If we look at different timepieces of the Dalai Lama, we can come to the conclusion that in terms of material value, luxury is not crucial to a monk. The watches of Gyatso are indisputably high quality. However, they are precisely so luxurious because of their astonishing brilliance and precision, technology, and mechanics. For someone who is quite passionate about the qualities of these watches is worth much more than only a price tag. It can be argued that the watches of the Dalai Lama exemplify luxury in their untainted form and are quite good watches.

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