Napoleon’s wife, Empress Josephine’s watch under hammer for $1.3 million

Turn back the clock! A watch that belonged to Empress Josephine, wife of 19th century French ruler Napoleon Bonaparte, sold in Geneva for more than $1.3 million (1.5 million Swiss francs, 914 million euros) on Monday, more than seven times its pre-auction estimate. The auction house has estimated it at 200,000 Swiss francs. The watch, made in 1800 in gold and enamel and set with diamonds, went under the hammer at Christie’s auction house. However, the identity of the buyer is a mystery. The watch is an example of the ‘montre a tact’ or ‘tactile watch’ style invented by Abraham Louis Breguet around 1790 when it was considered unseemly to consult the time in public. The system, with the watch hand on the outside of the case, helped wearers to tell the time by touch without taking the watch out of their pocket. Apparently, Josephine ordered the watch in 1799 for 3,000 francs. The diamonds were added in 1804 shortly after Napoleon was crowned Emperor of France, and a crown motif was added to reflect Josephine’s new imperial status.

She subsequently gave the watch to her daughter Hortense, who married Napoleon’s brother Joseph Bonaparte in 1802. Hortense became Queen of Holland when Napoleon made his brother King in 1806, and the watch was then engraved with a capital ‘H’.