Surely you were as bored with the pearls on my blog as I have been, but try as I did I couldn’t find the absolutely perfect replacement — something that symbolically said “ageless, beautiful, classic, charming, unique.”
For months I’ve searched for the elusive, timeless, intriguing — and with a little luck, historically significant — object that could somehow reflect all the things we wish to say about ourselves, les femme d’un certain age. I wanted something that would eloquently speak to our aspirations of elegance, allure, intelligence (you’ll see. . .), generosity, mystery — well you get the idea.
Yesterday I found it in this magnificent timepiece created for Empress Josephine Bonaparte. And thus this post.
She ordered it in 1799 from Abraham Louis Breguet and received it a year later. Often referred to as a hunter case pocket watch, I prefer to imagine it as a pendant falling into Josephine’s famously lush poitrine (bosom). Why else is the link on top of the mounting?
The jewel features an enamel face in midnight blue surrounded by an 18 karat gold “ribbon” and diamonds. The four pivotal hours — 12, three, six and nine — as you can see, are larger stones and the arrow is encrusted with pavé diamonds. It cost an extravagant 3000 francs.
The crown on the reverse side was added in 1804 when Napoleon became emperor of France.
Much more than a functional objet d’art, Josephine’s timepiece has fascinating facets one might not immediately recognize. Of course it was created as an object of rare beauty, but it was also made so that Josephine could tell the time with her fingers without glancing at the face of her jewel. Considered the height of rudeness and on occasion disrespect, even a discreet peek at a watch communicated any number of possibly unsavory messages — just as such a gesture does today: “I’m bored. It’s late. I’m tired. Your time is up. . .”
Her timepiece was invented specifically with that consideration incorporated into the design. (The tactile watch, which was also a tactful watch, was invented by Breguet in 1790.)
Some years later Josephine gave her treasured montre to her daughter (from her first marriage) Hortense de Beauharnais, pictured above. It was at that moment when the H was added below the crown.
It wasn’t my intention to write this post today, as you may have noticed from the weekly line-up, but I have always had a fascination with Josephine and as I mentioned some time ago was riveted to the “Josephine Trilogy” written by Sandra Gulland. She brilliantly weaves history with fictional situations and conversations while portraying one of French history’s most interesting lives and passionate love affairs.
It’s true Josephine was ambitious and a notorious spendthrift, amassing shocking debts for her dresses, jewels, bibelots, homes and extravagant interior design projects, but at the same time she was courageous, intelligent, generous and an extraordinary taste maker whose influence in dressing (her famous empire gowns) and interior design remains to this day.
Three years ago her timepiece sold to an anonymous buyer at Christie’s in Geneva for $1.3 million — seven times its estimated price.