Dalai Lama Watch Collection: Unveiling a Spiritual Leader's Timepieces

dalai lama watch

The Dalai Lama, a revered spiritual leader and the highest figure in Tibetan Buddhism, is known for his wisdom, teachings, and charisma. Born as Tenzin Gyatso, he is the 14th Dalai Lama and has dedicated his life to the pursuit of enlightenment and promoting peace and compassion throughout the world. As an influential figure, every aspect of his life garners interest, and his watch collection is no exception. 

In the watch world, the Dalai Lama is regarded as a dedicated lover of fine products from Swiss watch manufacturers, there are said to be 15 different models in his collection, but you rarely see one of them because he usually wears them turned inwards on his wrist (just like the Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi), which is usually hidden under the cloak of his Buddhist monk's habit. 

The Dalai Lama once shared a story from his childhood about working on watches: "I have always enjoyed repairing watches. But I can remember a number of occasions as a boy when, completely losing my patience with those tiny, intricate parts, I picked up the mechanism and smashed it down on the table. Of course, later I felt very sorry and ashamed of my behavior—especially when, as on one occasion, I had to return the watch to its owner in a condition worse than it was before!" [Dalai Lama, Ethics for the new millennium]. 

Dalai lama watch

In a recent turn of events, the Dalai Lama has made headlines for apologizing for his behavior towards a young boy. The video, which quickly went viral, showcases not only his humility and sincerity but also highlights his humanity. As public interest in the Dalai Lama surges, there is a renewed curiosity about his personal life, including his watch collection. Therefore, I wanted to dive into the Dalai Lama watch collection (This reminds me of the reason I wrote about President Macron and Joe Biden's watch collections).

So, join me unravel the mysteries and marvels of this unique watch collection, which has captured the imagination of horology enthusiasts and spiritual seekers alike. 

Dalai Lama Watch Collection - Rolex Day-Date 18038 with a blue Lapis Lazuli Dial

Dalai Lama Watch Collection - Rolex Day-Date 18038 with a blue Lapis Lazuli Dial

Dalai Lama Watch Collection - Rolex Day-Date 18038 with a blue Lapis Lazuli Dial​​

The Dalai Lama usually wears Rolex watches for everyday use, like the yellow gold Rolex Day Date shown in the image, or sometimes a steel and gold Datejust.

The watch he has on is probably a Ref. 18038, similar to the one displayed on the right. One unique feature is that the Dalai Lama pairs his Day-Date with an aftermarket steel elastic band, which isn't typical for a Rolex. This choice is likely because the elastic band offers more flexibility and comfort, especially in hot and humid weather. 


Dalai Lama Watch Collection - Patek Philippe 658

Dalai Lama Watch  Collection - Patek Philippe 658

Dalai Lama Watch  Collection - ​​Patek Philippe 658

The Dalai Lama's most complex and valuable watch, also I need to mention his first watch, a Patek Philippe, was gifted to him in 1943 when he was just 8 years old by President Franklin Delano Roosevelt. The watch was delivered to the Dalai Lama in Lhasa, Tibet, by two OSS intelligence agents, Ilia Tolstoy and Brooke Dolan, who were assessing the feasibility of constructing a road from India to China through Tibet. They presented the watch and a letter from Roosevelt, following a traditional silent exchange of gifts.

The watch is an incredibly rare reference 658, featuring a perpetual calendar with moon phase, split-seconds chronograph, and minute repeater. Produced from 1937 to the late 1950s, only around 15 examples of this reference exist. The Dalai Lama's watch is an early version with smaller registers, Arabic numerals from 1-12 (excluding 6), and a "PATEK, PHILIPPE & Co." signature, rather than just "PATEK PHILIPPE."

The value of the Dalai Lama's reference 658 watch is hard to determine. In recent years, Christie's sold two later examples, one for around $358,000 in 2010, and another for around $273,000 in 2011 and about $254,000 in 2013. Sotheby's sold a unique black dial example from 1937 for $527,000 in 2014. 

A conservative auction estimate for the reference 658 might be $150,000 to $250,000, but with such exceptional provenance, the watch's value could be significantly higher. 

Dalai Lama Watch Collection - Rolex Datejust Two-tone

Dalai Lama Watch Collection - Rolex Datejust Two-tone

Dalai Lama Watch Collection - Rolex Datejust Two-tone​​

The Dalai Lama'watch collection also includes another Rolex, but this time it's not a Day-Date. In a photo, the Dalai Lama is seen wearing a two-tone Rolex Datejust on a jubilee bracelet while meeting with Israel's Head Rabbi Meir Lau in Jerusalem. Although it's difficult to pinpoint the exact reference of this watch, it is undoubtedly a Datejust, and the watch community assumed that would be a Datejust with a champagne dial. 



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