On October 9th 1980 John Lennon turned 40 years old and celebrated by spending 21 hours working. Having not released an album for over 5 years, he was in the studio with his wife Yoko Ono on an album to be released later that year called 'Double Fantasy'. Having left for the Hit Factory recording studio in New York on Oct 8th at around 1pm, he worked with Yoko and team through the night and returned to his New York apartment on his birthday, a birthday he happen to share with his son Sean. Several photographs exist that were taken inside the studio the day/evening or morning of his 40th birthday, presumably taken by Yoko Ono, that show a carefree John Lennon wearing signature round glasses and a denim shirt with jeans, in two of the images he is clearly showing off the gifts he received from Yoko on such a milestone day.
The most talked about present from Yoko is probably the tie she hand-knitted for him as well as a diamond and ruby studded American flag pin she apparently ordered from Tiffany or Cartier jewelers at a cost of US$75,000, less mentioned is the Patek perpetual calendar chronograph reference 2499 wristwatch, also very possibly either from Tiffany & Co. or Cartier. The significance of the tie and pin remain a mystery to me but no doubt have a relevance, I had read the US flag pin was to celebrate John obtaining US citizenship, although as he received his US green card in 1976 he wouldn’t have been eligible for US citizenship until the following year in 1981. According to others working at the studio that night, Yoko presented him with the tie and Lennon was slightly upset such a milestone birthday didn’t warrant a more significant gift, she then presented him with the pin he proudly attached to the tie and presumably at the same time, a Patek Philippe watch. The pictures taken tell a slightly different story. The picture displayed above, presumably taken first, show Lennon wearing the pin on his shirt without the tie, the two pictures below appear to have been taken at the same time and show him wearing all of his presents, the tie now around his neck with pin attached to it and him holding up his hand, clearly showing off the watch. In the first picture he looks very straight faced and posed and you can almost imagine the photographer, presumably Yoko, saying “Come on, look happy!” hence the second picture with him grinning like a Cheshire cat and pointing to his new Patek Philippe watch.
The smile really says it all. The watch he is pointing to with such glee is a yellow gold Patek Philippe perpetual calendar chronograph reference 2499/100 (the /100 was the sapphire crystal version). The model is one of the most popular and collectable in the company’s history; first released in 1951 it underwent 4 significant variations until the last one was sold in 1987. The version Yoko Ono gave John Lennon in 1980 would have been a fourth series fitted with a sapphire crystal.
John Lennon was tragically shot dead outside his apartment in New York by Mark David Chapman on December 8th 1980, just 2 months after his 40th birthday. Researching images and video taken of Lennon during those 2 months, Oct 9- Dec 8, I can’t find another scene where he is wearing the watch, nor tie or pin.
So somewhere there is a Patek Philippe Ref.2499/100 given to John Lennon on his 40th birthday and probably worn only once, of course the big question is, will it ever see the light of day again? There was a rumour started by a Los Angeles based watch dealer that Lennon’s 2499 had recently been sold privately, however this dealer isn’t known for his truthful comments and as Yoko Ono has a reported nett worth of $600 million, doubt she would part with such a gift for the money. I would guess either Yoko Ono still has the watch or she gave it to their son, Sean Lennon, on his 40th birthday (Sean shares the same birthday as his dad). At 85 years old and with no financial considerations I don’t see why Yoko would sell such a personal treasure, we know she kept John’s glasses he was (presumably) wearing when he was shot so retains sentimental objects. Considering John Lennon’s Patek Philippe Ref.2499 is the only watch (known to me) that could break the current auction world record $17.8 million achieved for Paul Newman’s ‘Paul Newman’ Rolex, as much as I would like to report I have a lead or a contact, I believe Christie’s or Sotheby’s at some future date will offer John Lennon’s Patek Philippe as part Yoko Ono’s estate auction.