A Patek Philippe watch given to John Lennon by his wife Yoko Ono shortly before his assassination in 1980 has been discovered in Geneva, resurfacing after having disappeared for years.
The former Beatle’s timepiece is currently in possession of lawyers for an Italian watch collector who bought it from a now-defunct German auction house, according to official legal documents from a Geneva court. Ono had given Lennon the watch for his 40th birthday, and a former driver for the Japanese artist is suspected to have stolen the timepiece long ago.
The Patek Philippe 2499 perpetual calendar chronograph is at the center of a years-long legal dispute between Lennon’s widow and the unidentified watch collector that’s only now coming to light. In June, a Geneva court ruled that Ono is the rightful owner of the watch, and the collector is appealing, according to the court documents.
The missing wristwatch has long been considered a holy grail for collectors and could be one of the most valuable timepieces in the world.
While the court’s ruling doesn’t mention Lennon nor Ono by name, biographical details clearly identify them. The suit mentions her nationality and that he was assassinated in front of his home two months after turning 40. The documents also mention an engraving on the watch that references a song the couple had “composed together after a period of separation.”
The Geneva lawyer representing Ono in the case, Michèle Wassmer, didn’t respond to telephone and email requests for comment. The court’s decision was first reported by Swiss legal blog Gotham City.
“This is undoubtedly one of the most-sought-after watches which the watch world has been hoping to see,” said Marc Montagne, the author of the book Invest in Watches: The Art of Watch Collecting.
In 2014, a Geneva company contacted Ono as it was trying to set a valuation of the timepiece, which had been bought for 600,000 Swiss francs ($672,000) by an Italian watch collector living in Hong Kong, according to the court documents.
That set off the legal battle as Ono sued to reclaim what she said was her rightful ownership of the Patek. The collector argued that Ono hadn’t reported the watch stolen and failed to act within three years of the theft, as required by the law in New York state, where she lives, the documents show.
Lawyers for Ono said the watch could be valued at 4 million francs, the equivalent of $4.5 million, according to the court filing. Experts, however, have suggested the timepiece could be worth a lot more considering the singer’s place in musical and cultural history.
Paul Newman’s Rolex Daytona fetched $17 million when it was put on the block in 2017, setting the record price for a wristwatch at auction.
Lennon’s Patek would likely fetch between 5 million francs and 10 million francs if it were to come to auction, Montagne said.
“The provenance, obviously, but also the mystery around the piece is a key element,” he said.