Indian President's prized Rolex winds up at Sotheby's



Relatives of India’s first president have sought the intervention of the country’s Ambassador to Switzerland to try and halt the sale of a rare watch once owned and worn by the man who played a seminal role in the nation’s history.

The great grandson of the late Rajendra Prasad has written to the embassy in Geneva, requesting it to step in and try and ensure the 18 carat pink gold Rolex Oyster is somehow returned to India. The auctioneers insist the watch is being sold legitimately and estimate it will fetch up to £140,000 when it comes under the hammer next month.

In an emailed message to the Indian ambassador in Switzerland, Ashoka Jahnavi Prasad, the eldest great grandson of the former president, said his family had only come to learn the watch had emerged decades after they last saw it, and were anguished by news of its imminent sale.

“We have no idea how the watch reached Geneva but can confirm that the family had nothing to do with it,” he wrote. “We also believe the item rightly belongs to the nation, to which we shall remain forever indebted for enabling our forebear to serve it…We should all feel most grateful if you could kindly look into the matter.”

The late Dr Prasad is a revered figure in India, celebrated for both his role in helping secure the country’s independence and well as drafting its first constitution. He served as the country’s first president and it is believed he was given the watch to mark India’s first republic day celebration on 26 January 1950. (India had secured independence in 1947, but its constitution was not completed for a further three years.)

The dial of the watch is said to be decorated with a map of India and the date of that republic day event. Nepal and Afghanistan are also shown on the watch face.

Mr Prasad, 56, told The Independent, that his great grandfather, a man of humble tastes, wore the watch only on special occasions, and that it was one of two timepieces specially made to mark the occasion when India’s constitution came into force. The other, he said, was given to the country’s first prime minister, Jawaharlal Nehru.

Mr Prasad, a medical consultant, said that following his great grandfather’s death in 1963, many of his possessions, including the watch, were donated to a museum in Patna, capital of the state of Bihar where he spent his childhood and retirement. He said that sometimes in the mid-1960s, the watch “mysteriously disappeared”. He added: “We accepted the fact that we would never see it again. Then we read about this sale in the newspaper.”

A diplomat with the Indian embassy in Geneva said they were aware of Mr Prasad’s email and that an official would look into the matter. “I am sure the appropriate official will be taking action,” said the diplomat.

Officials with the Bihar branch of the Congress Party, of which the late Dr Prasad was a member, told the Times of India they were taking up the issue as a matter of urgency. “This is a serious issue and cannot be overlooked,” said SK Verma, a spokesman.

The watch is due to be put on sale on 13 November by Sotheby’s as part of a larger lot of timepieces, including one owned by Konrad Adenauer, the first chancellor of what was West Germany. A senior spokesman, Matthew Weigman, said the seller of the Indian watch wished to remain anonymous. He said there had been no contact from either the Indian embassy or a member of Dr Prasad’s family. He added: “Sotheby’s had followed all of its customary due diligence procedures before accepting the watch for sale, including checking the consignor’s title. Sotheby’s established that the watch had never been reported as stolen to the Art Loss Register, the database of missing or stolen art.”

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Life and Style
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
musicBand's first new record for 20 years has some tough acts to follow
Life and Style
Shoppers in Covent Garden, London, celebrate after they were the first to buy the iPhone 6, released yesterday
Liam Payne has attacked the media for reporting his tweet of support to Willie Robertson and the subsequent backlash from fans
peopleBut One Direction star insists he is not homophobic
Life and Style
healthFor Pure-O OCD sufferers this is a reality they live in
Arts and Entertainment
A bit rich: Maggie Smith in Downton Abbey
tvSeries 5 opening episode attracts lowest ratings since drama began
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Website Editor

£15 - £17 Per Hour: Clearwater People Solutions Ltd: Our client is currently r...

Primary Supply teaching jobs in Stowmarket

£21552 - £31588 per annum: Randstad Education Cambridge: Randstad Education ar...

Year 1 Teacher

Negotiable: Randstad Education Birmingham: The Job An inner city Birmingham sc...

Year 2 Teacher - Maternity cover

£120 - £130 per day: Randstad Education Luton: Year 2 maternity cover, startin...

Day In a Page

A roller-coaster tale from the 'voice of a generation'

Not That Kind of Girl:

A roller-coaster tale from 'voice of a generation' Lena Dunham
London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice. In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence

London is not bedlam or a cradle of vice

In fact it, as much as anywhere, deserves independence
Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with Malcolm McLaren

Vivienne Westwood 'didn’t want' relationship with McLaren

Designer 'felt pressured' into going out with Sex Pistols manager
Jourdan Dunn: Model mother

Model mother

Jordan Dunn became one of the best-paid models in the world
Apple still coolest brand – despite U2 PR disaster

Apple still the coolest brand

Despite PR disaster of free U2 album
Scottish referendum: The Yes vote was the love that dared speak its name, but it was not to be

Despite the result, this is the end of the status quo

Boyd Tonkin on the fall-out from the Scottish referendum
Manolo Blahnik: The high priest of heels talks flats, Englishness, and why he loves Mary Beard

Manolo Blahnik: Flats, Englishness, and Mary Beard

The shoe designer who has been dubbed 'the patron saint of the stiletto'
The Beatles biographer reveals exclusive original manuscripts of some of the best pop songs ever written

Scrambled eggs and LSD

Behind The Beatles' lyrics - thanks to Hunter Davis's original manuscript copies
'Normcore' fashion: Blending in is the new standing out in latest catwalk non-trend

'Normcore': Blending in is the new standing out

Just when fashion was in grave danger of running out of trends, it only went and invented the non-trend. Rebecca Gonsalves investigates
Dance’s new leading ladies fight back: How female vocalists are now writing their own hits

New leading ladies of dance fight back

How female vocalists are now writing their own hits
Mystery of the Ground Zero wedding photo

A shot in the dark

Mystery of the wedding photo from Ground Zero
His life, the universe and everything

His life, the universe and everything

New biography sheds light on comic genius of Douglas Adams
Save us from small screen superheroes

Save us from small screen superheroes

Shows like Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D are little more than marketing tools
Reach for the skies

Reach for the skies

From pools to football pitches, rooftop living is looking up
These are the 12 best hotel spas in the UK

12 best hotel spas in the UK

Some hotels go all out on facilities; others stand out for the sheer quality of treatments