It’s never too early to start thinking of what to get that special person for the holidays! In a world seemingly overrun with Disney Princesses what little girl would not want to own a piece of genuine Royal antiquity? To paraphrase from “FROZEN”: don’t let it go!
We get to see press releases on a great number of auctions involving collections of fantastic watches. I myself have reported on a few of them for you. While there is always a good selection of rare pieces, few can trace their provenance back over two centuries. Rarer still are watches owned by royal and/or historical figures. Even rarer are the pieces that have spent their entire lives in the care of just one family. Lot number 33 of Bonham’s June sale can tick all three of those boxes.
The 35mm gold, full hunter style case pocket watch decorated with blue enamel and split pearls was finished by Francois-Regnault Nitot and originally presented to Marie-Louise Empress of France, second wife of Napoleon the 1st. (The watch is estimated to sell in the range of 25,000-35,000 GBP.) That part of its history alone would qualify to put this piece in the realm of only a select few other pieces to come to auction. What became of this watch after leaving the hands of Marie-Louise makes it even more spectacular.
As it turns out, the highly decorated and highly personalized pocket watch was given as a gift to a precocious 4-year-old girl: Emilie de Pellepra. Details of the exchange were recorded vividly in both Marie-Louise and de Pellepra’s journals. The watch remained in de Pellepra’s possession until she bequeathed it to her third child, Valentine de Riquet.
De Riquet subsequently gave the watch to her daughter-in-law, Princess Marthe Bibesco. Bibesco, a writer, who still owned the watch when she died in 1973. The watch has remained in the family’s possession ever since. So what we have with this watch is over 201 years of authenticated records, including public documentation of the receipt of the watch as a gift and all of the subsequent inheritances within the same family. A truly unique piece!
But Wait! There’s More!
When Empress Marie-Louise handed the watch over to the young Emilie de Pellepra she did not know was that Napoleon was (shall we say) acquainted with certain members of the family – in particular Emilie’s mother… from around 5 years beforehand! What an awkward state of affairs! In reality there is no way to prove this part of the story to be true; at least I can’t see how it could be proven incontrovertibly. However, the thread of this story is woven in the diaries and journals of all of the women who possessed the watch from beginning to end. It is also the subject of a book from 1922 published by Marthe Bibesco. Sensationalism aside, this is speculation. It may be backed by family stories, urban legends and such, but it is still speculation. On the other hand, if it could be proven true, the history behind the Marie-Louise pocket watch would certainly transcend simple provenance and become something of a legend!
All in all, this plotline is probably a bit too ribald to make its way onto Sophia the First, but I’m sure that the imagineers at Disney could find a way to massage the facts of this story and convert it into another multi-billion dollar animated feature! But first they need to buy the watch! So if you happen to be on New Bond Street on June the 11th, take a crack at lot number 33. Fair warning: if the person sat next to you has a pair of mouse ears they may not back down from bidding.