The Stolen Rolex of India’s First President

It’s the stuff that belongs in a Hollywood film: a family’s precious, priceless object stolen, only to return many years later on an auction block. What follows is the family’s attempts to return it to their possession through years’ worth of legal wrangling. While the scenario echoes the real-life events depicted in 2015’s Woman in Gold, this is a different story entirely. This one involves a gold Rolex once owned by the first President of a newly-independent India.

 

Who is Dr. Rajendra Prasad?

Dr. Rajendra Prasad is an important figure in Indian history. First a teacher, then a lawyer, he took an active leadership role in the movement for Indian independence and became the country’s first president in 1950. During the time he was active in political life, Prasad was a supporter of Mahatma Gandhi and colleague of first Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru. As an admired political figure, the people of India elected Dr. Rajendra Prasad as the President of the Republic of India two times—no one since has managed to duplicate that achievement.

Dr. Rajendra Pradal

A portrait of Dr. Rajendra Prasad

Prasad retired from the presidency in 1962, and passed away in 1963.

 

The Rolex In Question

On the first constitutional day of the new Republic of India—January 26, 1950—Prasad received an 18k pink gold Rolex Oyster Perpetual. The cloisonné dial featured a map of India and the date of Republic Day. It was one of two commissioned and sold by Rolex’s Bombay agent—the other meant for Prime Minister Jawaharlal Nehru.

Prasad’s Rolex was stolen from the Sadaqat Ashram in Patna, India in 1964. It reappeared in Geneva, Switzerland in 2011, presented by Sotheby’s in a line-up of important timepieces belonging to famous leaders of the post-WWI era. Before the sale, the auction house estimated its worth between $222,000-$444,000. Unfortunately for them, Sotheby’s would never have the chance to see its real value.

The Stolen Rolex of Dr. Rajendra Pradal

The Rolex in question, from Sotheby’s Archives

Needless to say, Dr. Prasad’s grandchildren did not approve of his watch being auctioned off by an anonymous seller. They petitioned the Indian government to intervene, and Sotheby’s halted the auction.

 

The passing years haven’t yielded many answers. Sotheby’s never offered the watch for sale again. But since then, there’s been no word on whether Prasad’s Rolex came back to his estate. Perhaps Indian authorities will solve the mystery of the watch’s theft in the future. But for now, we have a brief glimpse at a very interesting and significant watch to hold us over until then.

 

 

Editor’s Note: This article was originally published on July 6, 2012. We have updated it to include more information.


Image Credits: Header,2-3; Sotheby’s. 1; Wikimedia Commons.

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