The watch is a valuable object in its own right, made by Josiah Emery, one of the most renowned watchmakers of Georgian England. With the Nelson connection and family provenance, it is estimated to fetch up to £450,000 when it is sold by Sotheby’s on 4 July.
Nelson knew the importance of time. He once told his officers: “Time is everything: five minutes makes the difference between victory and defeat.” On the morning of the battle, on 21 October 1805, he ...rdered them to make sure their watches were synchronised. He once boasted that he had been a quarter of an hour early for engagements all his life, “and it has made a man of me”.
The watch was among his most intimate possessions, taken for safekeeping when his bloodstained uniform was stripped off below deck as the ship surgeons attempted in vain to save his life. Nelson knew the wounds would be fatal.
While his body, preserved in a cask of brandy, was shipped back to England for a huge state funeral, the watch was sent separately with his purse, medals, and the miniature worn around his neck of his girlfriend, Emma Hamilton.
Facebook Twitter Pinterest His brother William inherited it and gave it to his daughter, Charlotte. She had the watch mounted as a travelling clock inscribed: “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 descendants who may enter the navy.”
The watch, originally in a gold case, may have been a gift to Nelson from an admirer after his victory at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Daryn Schnipper, head of the international watch department of the auction house, said it would probably have been too expensive for Nelson to pay for it himself as a younger officer, when it would have cost at least £100.
He is said to have offered the watch he wore at the Nile as a gift to the composer Joseph Haydn, suggesting that by then he owned a better watch.
Emery spent years making increasingly sophisticated watches in an attempt to win the navy prize for a watch accurate enough to allow sailors to establish longitude, a contest eventually won by his rival John Harrison. The clock historian Jonathan Betts said the survival of most of the watches made by Emery was testimony to how much they were valued.
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