The watch that Admiral Lord Nelson is thought to have carried with him into the Battle of Trafalgar is up for sale.
by James Buttery
Provenance accounts for much in the auction world. A good, verifiable origin story can turn a solid lot into something that will spark a bidding war in the sales room, whether that’s Paul Newman’s own Rolex Daytona Paul Newman or Elvis Presley’s Omega. Association with these icons of the 20th Century created the most expensive wristwatch ever sold and the most expensive Omega ever sold respectively.
Of course, this has much to do with the cool factor of the former owners. But how would the landscape change if pop culture cool were not such hot property and, say, historical significance was deemed more bankable. What watches would then be deemed the most valuable? Certainly few could live up to one being offered by Sotheby’s in July.
Sotheby’s is offering the pocket watch thought to have been carried by Admiral Lord Nelson into the Battle of Trafalgar in 1805, the watch that was removed from his person, along with his other personal effects, after he was mortally wounded by a French sharpshooter and lay dying below decks of the HMS Victory.
This open-faced regulator watch has, at some point, been mounted in a gilt-brass carriage clock case inscribed with the words ‘The Chronometer of Horatio Viscount Nelson. Worn by him at the Battle of Trafalgar, placed in this case by his Niece, Charlotte Mary, Lady Bridport, to be preserved for any one of her descendents who may enter the Navy.’ Given that the Baroness Bridport died in 1873, this work was most likely carried out at least 155 years ago.
The watch in question, No. 1104, is the product of Josiah Emery, a Swiss clockmaker based in London, at 2 Cockspur Street. But given the quality and original cost of the watch it was almost certainly given to Nelson by an admirer.
This is complete supposition on our part but that admirer may even have been royalty as William IV, then Prince William, served under Nelson in the West Indies and the pair were firm friends. William’s brother, the deeply unpopular Prince of Wales (latterly George IV) even owned an identical Josiah Emery chronometer (No. 1057) which sold for £68,500 at Bonhams in 2014.
No.1104 was one of 19 possessions returned to Lady Emma Hamilton, Nelson’s mistress, following his death. It was then inherited by his brother, William, before being passed on to his daughter, Charlotte. Many of Nelson’s personal effects were put up for sale in 1895 and purchased by the British government, making this watch one of the few Nelson items in private hands.
Nelson’s watch (est. £250,000-£450,000) will be offered as part of Sotheby’s Treasures sale in London on 4 July which focuses on pieces of royal, noble and aristocratic provenance.