King Farouk: The Royal Time-Keeper
King Farouk has long been known for his eccentric choices and luxurious lifestyle. As a watch from his collection headlines the Christie’s auction, we take a look at his extravagant lifestyle and some of his exquisite timepieces
If you lived in Egypt in the 1940s, you couldn’t own a red car. Why? A royal decree by the King ensured that only cars belonging to him and the palace officials would sport the color, so that they would not get stopped by the police. When King Farouk raced by in one of his red cars, people ran for their lives. An undeniably charming man, he was also capricious and a kleptomaniac at the same time. He famously stole a pocket watch from Winston Churchill as well as a ceremonial sword from the coffin of the Shah of Persia. It was said that if there were seven deadly sins, Farouk would find an eighth.
Born in Alexandria, Egypt to King Fouad I of the Egyptian royal family, Farouk ascended to the throne at the tender age of 16. He instantly enamored himself to the public, talking to them directly in the first ever public radio address by a reigning monarch in 1936. The rich prince loved to splurge, enjoying a glamorous royal lifestyle and would often travel to Europe on royal shopping sprees. Being the tenth ruler of the powerful Mohammad Ali dynasty, his estate included thousands of acres of land, dozens of palaces, and hundreds of luxury cars and yachts. In addition to a rare Mercedes Benz 540K Farouk acquired in 1938, he owned several Rolls Royces and Bentleys. With rumors that he consumed around 600 oysters a week, and known for excessive partying and gambling, the young prince quite literally lived a lifestyle fit for a king. Constantly surrounded by women but known to be miserly and disrespectful, Farouk was married twice and had a string of affairs throughout his life. Farouk was overthrown in the 1952 military coup d'état at which time his infant son, Ahmed Fuad succeeded him as Fuad II. Farouk died in exile in Italy in 1965.
King Farouk was an avid collector and is best remembered for his collections, especially of rare coins, which included 8,500 gold coins and medals. The collection is believed to be worth around $150 million today. His collection included two of the most famous rare coins in existence: a 1933 Saint-Gaudens Double-Eagle and a 1913 Liberty Nickel. Farouk collected many other kinds of object: rare stamps (including imperforate stamps of Bahwalpur), a Faberg egg and a solid gold coffee set. The 'Shepherdess Automaton' from his collection includes seven moving parts of the decorative image, including the shepherdess's arm and a water-wheel. He even collected antique aspirin bottles. But perhaps his greatest collection of all is that of watches. Today, more than sixty years later, Farouk’s priceless collection is the stuff of dreams for today’s auctioneers and collectors alike.
For someone with no shortage of money, King Farouk was quite meticulous when it came to collecting watches. The love of horology was passed on to him by his father, from whom he also inherited several historically important watches. Legend has it that while on a visit to Geneva, King Farouk insisted on visiting the Vacheron Constantin factory, surprising the officials there with his horological knowledge. With his acquired appreciation of the art of fine watchmaking, King Farouk was known to commission watchmakers to complete masterpiece watches for him.
The Patek Philippe Reference 1518 is one piece from his unique collection that bears witness to his refined taste. The Ref. 1518 is celebrated as the first perpetual calendar chronograph wristwatch produced in series by any watch company. Launched in 1941, it is estimated that only 281 pieces were created in all. The watch is personalized as part of King Farouk’s collection, with the Royal Crown of Egypt with its star and half-moon engraved on the case back along with the letter ‘F’. King Farouk’s father believed that the letter F was lucky for his family and named six of his children starting with this letter. The watch was kept in a private collection until mid-2014, when it realized a price of 438,871 USD at a Christie’s auction.
The Universal Geneve Ref. 112167 is a rare wrist watch in pink gold with an enamel dial. Made especially for King Farouk in 1951, just a year before he was deposed from office, the dial was beautifully decorated with the arms of King Farouk. His love for Swiss watches doesn’t end there, as Breguet made a host of bespoke watches for King Farouk, foremost among them being the “King Farouk” No. 1880/24071. Presented to him in 1935, this pocket watch had the royal insignia on the box to designate its royalty. He also owned a fabulous Piguet and Capt gold and enamel watch, originally made in 1805-10.
Perhaps the most significant watch amongst King Farouk’s incredible treasure would be the King Farouk I, from Vacheron Constantin. Presented to the King in 1935, the watch stands as a testimony to legendary Swiss craftsmanship that has stood the test of time. The watch houses 15 complications including a carillon minute repeater, grande et petite sonnerie (three gongs), split-seconds chronograph, perpetual calendar with moon phase, alarm and two power reserve indications. Until 2005, the King Farouk I was the most complicated watch made by Vacheron Constantin.
The artful masterpieces of King Farouk’s erstwhile personal collection are a nod to the uber-luxurious and extravagant lifestyle that he enjoyed. Even today, his prized possessions are a hot favorite among collectors, confirming that true luxury is indeed timeless.