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Nelson's Victory Watch for the Battle of Trafalgar sells for $425,523 at Sotheby's London
Admiral Nelson's watch. Estimate: £250,000 -450,000. Courtesy Sotheby's.

LONDON.- Yesterday, in London, a watch used by the great British hero, Lord Admiral Horatio Nelson to orchestrate the Royal Navy’s victory at the Battle of Trafalgar sold for £322,000 ($425,523) in Sotheby’s Treasures sale. Now mounted in a gilt-brass carriage clock case, this pocket watch was carried by Nelson during his final battle and retrieved from his wounded body before he died. Nelson was using the latest technology of his time: this “stopwatch” was made by Josiah Emery, one of the most innovative watchmakers of the 18th century.

Daryn Schnipper, Chairman of Sotheby’s International Watch Division, said: ‘The perfect timing of the British assault at the Battle of Trafalgar was key in the historic victory of the Royal Navy so it was a real privilege to offer the watch that Nelson most likely used to establish the timing for this decisive battle.”

Never in a battle had the mastery of time been so critical. The victory at Trafalgar was partly achieved through Nelson’s innovative military tactics in which precise timing played a key part. On the morning of the Battle of Trafalgar, William Beatty - the surgeon aboard Nelson’s flagship HMS Victory, observed how before the battle commenced, the Admiral called upon his lieutenants to synchronise their watches to the time on his own watch. It is therefore quite possible that the tumultuous events of that historic day unfolded to the time kept by this very watch.

In the midst of battle, Nelson was shot in the left shoulder, a shot that would prove fatal. Quickly taken below deck, the Admiral’s body was stripped to reduce the risk of infection and his possessions, including his watch, purse, medals and a miniature of Emma Hamilton he was wearing around his neck, removed for safekeeping. Although living long enough to hear the news of the French surrender and of his fleet’s victory, Nelson died on the ship, his body preserved in a cask of brandy and returned to London onboard HMS Victory.

One of the nineteen relics returned to Nelson’s mistress, Emma, Lady Hamilton, following his death, the watch was possibly acquired by Nelson or given to him by an admirer, following his triumph at the Battle of the Nile in 1798. Following Nelson’s death, it was inherited by the Admiral’s brother, Willliam, 1st Earl Nelson and subsequently passed to his sole surviving child, Charlotte. Charlotte arranged for the watch to be mounted in its current form as a carriage clock, presumably so it could be better admired and treasured as her illustrious uncle’s most precious possession.

Excluded from the group of precious relics, including the Admiral’s orders and decorations that were offered for sale in July 1895 and subsequently acquired for the nation by the British government, this watch was one of only a small handful of Nelson’s most prized possessions known to have survived and still in private hands.

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