When the Sultan of Oman, Qaboos bin Said passed away earlier this year, the world not only lost an immeasurably influential diplomatic figure, the watch world also lost one of its most influential collectors. The Sultan was known in horology circles for curating one of the finest watch collections in the world. However, few people may realize that his role in politics was actually closely linked with his passion for fine timepieces.
Possibly the most iconic of his watches were those that he gifted. The thread on each being the specially commissioned dials featuring the Omani royal crest, or “khanjar”, which is a dagger laid over crossed swords. He worked to create these emblematic pieces with watch giants such as Rolex, Audemars Piguet and Patek Philippe.
But how do these timepieces, which were regularly sourced via London jeweler John Asprey, link to the Sultan’s political life? It turns out that many of the recipients of these incredible pieces were members of the British Armed Forces, many of which supported the Sultanate in his trajectory through politics and leadership from the 1950s onwards. Other watches were given simply in recognition of a service rendered.
For example, back in 2017 Christie’s auction house sold a Rolex Daytona featuring a green khanjar that had been gifted to an English pilot who reportedly flew the Sultan for a state visit out of Muscat to Rome. “Shortly before landing his aircraft at Ciampino airport, one of the Sultan’s ministers entered the cockpit. Holding out a small, cream, and green box before him, he explained that he had been charged with proffering ‘a little present from the Sultan,’” reported Christie’s watch specialist Sabine Kegels on the auction house’s website. “Our pleasantly surprised pilot told me how he took possession of the gift, delivered his passengers safely to Ciampino and then returned to London that same day. When he arrived he duly declared his new watch at customs, and paid £10 to cover import duty and tax.” Decades later, it realised £600,000 at auction.
It’s easy to see how these beautiful watches would fetch such big sums with this much history imbued within them. But they are also coveted because of the dials themselves. A sub-genre of horology surrounds around these so-called “co-signed” dials. Basically any dial that is unique or rare will be extremely collectible and valuable. As Danny Pizzigoni, founder of Mayfair dealer Watch Club put it: “It says, ‘I’m more knowledgeable than you’, ‘I’ve got better contacts’, or ‘I’ve got deeper pockets’. That’s what it comes down to.”
If you are intrigued about the co-signed dial phenomena and in particular, the typically rendered in red, black, gold, white or green khanjar dials such as those found on a Rolex Daytona, or an Audemars Piguet Royal Oak, the mark-up will be considerable. “A Rolex Day-Date with a khanjar on the dial? Great. But there’s thousands of them,” says Pizzigoni. “But a 1976 Nautilus ‘Jumbo’ reference 3700 with a khanjar on the dial, potentially with the box and papers? You’ve got the perfect storm: a Nautilus, which is crazy hot anyway, and there were only a handful of khanjar-dial vintage Nautiluses in steel ever made. All of a sudden, you name your price – that’s a quarter of a million-pound watch today. Maybe even more.” The dealer himself owns a vintage red khanjar-dial Rolex Submariner which he came by from a film producer. “They say there’s only two or three in the world.” It is estimated somewhere between £350,000 and £500,000.
If you want to go a step further even than that then you could own your own. Pizzigoni recommends: “In terms of what I think is potentially undervalued, it would be the modern Khanjars,” he says. These particular models are commissioned via the Omani dealer Khimji Ramdas and have a point of difference. Instead of the khanjar being featured on the dial, it sits discreetly on the caseback instead. “If you’ve got a modern Khanjar [Rolex] Submariner or GMT, they’re going for anywhere between £25,000 and £35,000. These watches are given as gifts to dignitaries at events, government seminars. As an investment, I think they’ve got room to grow.”
You never know, you may be investing in a piece of diplomatic history to boot.