“At the time the tourbillon was a very new thing, someone buying it then would be like someone buying an iPhone when they were first released, it was the latest piece of technology you could own.”
The watch cost 2000 francs, which was a huge amount of money at the time. But rather than just being a status symbol for a rich gentleman, what made Sir Thomas’ watch noteworthy, Ms Schnipper said, was it was a functional tool.
In addition to Sir Thomas Makdougall Brisbane’s duties as NSW governor during the early colonial settlement of Australia, he was also a keen astronomer, with the Brisbane planetarium at Mount Coot-tha named after him.
Indeed, his passion for astronomy was one of the reasons he lobbied for the Australian position, as it would allow him to help chart the stars visible from the southern hemisphere.
Ms Schnipper said the watch would have been used to help make scientific measurements because it could be relied on to be accurate.
“If you were somebody who was scientifically minded, you would want the most accurate time-teller, so it makes perfect sense he would have wanted a tourbillon,” she said.
If the watch was the iPhone of its day, then Breguet was the Steve Jobs – famous and innovative, providing watches for powerful and influential world leaders including the Duke of Wellington, King George IV, Napoleon Bonaparte and even Marie Antoinette, for whom he made a pocket watch considered by experts to be one of the finest ever made.
Ms Schnipper said she regarded the Brisbane watch as “an old friend” after having sold it twice before to private buyers.
“Its size, the fact that it’s so thin, and it’s one of [Breguet’s] earlier pieces, the earlier ones from around 1804 were much heavier and thicker, makes it a really wonderful watch,” she said.
It last sold for about $US230,000 in 1986, and she expected it would fetch between 300,000 and 500,000 Swiss francs in the present auction, the equivalent of about $470,000 to $780,000.
“So just a little bit more than an iPhone,” she said.
If you have a spare half-a-million dollars, you can bid on the watch online at Sotheby’s website from June 3-16.
Stuart Layt covers health, science and technology for the Brisbane Times. He was formerly the Queensland political reporter for AAP.