The world of classic cars and vintage watches are replete with stories of ‘barn finds’ – when you find something of value in an unlikely place – but a Dubai-based collector couldn’t believe his luck when he found out that a vintage watch he purchased from an auction in Europe was in fact a watch gifted by late Saudi King Saud Bin Abdulaziz Al Saud to Shaikh Zayed Bin Sultan Al Nahyan, the founding father of the United Arab Emirates.
The wristwatch, a gold-plated Universal Genève, was manufactured in 1955 and has a silver dial with applied gold hour markers and the coat-of-arms of the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia printed in black just below the 12 o’ clock marker.
The dial also features an Arabic signature which translates to ‘Saud’, a reference to the Saudi King who ruled the country from 1953 to 1964. Powered by the manufacture calibre UG 332, the movement, case and dial are signed Universal Genève.
It is common practise among Middle Eastern royals to gift watches with their signature or the official coat-of-arms on the dial. These watches often make their way back into the secondary or vintage markets and these ‘Arab dials’ are highly collectible.
“Most of these watches were specially commissioned by governments to mark special events and occasions and never sold publicly,” says Tariq Malik, a vintage watch expert and co-founder of Momentum Dubai, a vintage watch boutique nestled in the DIFC district.
“I have a few 'Arab dials' in my collection and didn’t think much about picking this one up at the auction,” says the collector, a European expatriate who wishes to stay anonymous. “What piqued my interest was the unusual serial number etched on the well-worn caseback – 1745471 – a palindromic number is unusual and suggested that this was a special commission,” said the collector, who wishes to remain anonymous.
“I got in touch with the Archives Department of Universal Genève and asked them if they could help me find out more about the history of this watch and they were quick to respond,” said the collector.
The Extract from the Archives confirmed his suspicion that he had something special on his hands. The Extract read, “Heads of States often commissioned watches bearing the emblems of countries from Swiss watchmakers, to be gifted during diplomatic relations. Universal Genève made this special serial number with the number 7 for his Royal Highness Sheikh Zayed.”