Emperor Menelik’s gift to Léon Chefneux sold for $52,000

Emperor Menelik’s first claim to international reputation occurred in 1896 when his army scored a decisive victory against invading Italian forces, marking the first time that an African country had defeated a European colonial power. As the Ethiopian historian Bahru Zewde noted, “Few events in the modern period have brought Ethiopia to the attention of the world as has the victory at Adwa.” News reports describing Italian soldiers fleeing in panic sent shockwaves throughout Europe.

In Italy, riots broke out and the government of Prime Minister Francesco Crispi was forced to resign. Italy eventually signed the Treaty of Addis Ababa – recognizing the independence of Ethiopia. Elsewhere in the world, shouts of “Viva Menelik” would emerge as a battle cry for anti-colonial movements. For those who still lived under the yoke of racial discrimination, Ethiopia’s victory “would become a cause célèbre,” writes Scholar Fikru Negash Gebrekidan, “a metaphor for racial pride and anti-colonial defiance.”

Soon, inspired by the Emperor, African Americans and Blacks from the Caribbean Islands began to make their way to Ethiopia. In 1903, accompanied by Haitian poet and traveler Benito Sylvain, an affluent African American business magnate by the name of William Henry Ellis arrived in Ethiopia to greet and make acquaintances with Menelik. A prominent physician from the West Indies, Dr. Joseph Vitalien, also journeyed to Ethiopia and eventually became the Emperor’s trusted personal physician.

King Menelik’s era is also characterized by his attempts to modernize his empire. It was during his time that the Emperor managed to introduce the first rail ways in the country. When the first phase of the rail way project completed, the King extended his gratitude by giving a gift to Léon Chefneux in 1893 in recognition of his contribution to the implementation of Ethiopia’s first railway line, which ran from Djibouti to Addis-Ababa.

The watch was specifically ordered by the King to have Ethiopian numbers on it. As inscribed on the inside of the case ‘Don de Sa Majesté Menelik II Empereur d’Ethiopie’. The watch was called ‘The Negus Watch’ stands for progress, innovation and modernity. The family of Léon Chefneux have kept the watch with them for 100 years and in 2009 they decided to share the story with the rest of the world. When the Sotheby’s auction opened, it was great event in Geneva and at the end the watch was sold 52,500 Swiss Franc, the equivalent of 51,595.95 U.S. dollars.

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