Proud Possession of Royalty

Not too long ago, a visiting non-WIS friend approached the watch cabinet with interest.  I prepared for the usual questions on age and cost but was caught by surprise when he pointed to a display box and asked, “who the heck are they?”  Huh?  Ahhh, ornately printed on the inside of the open box was this notice; Vacheron & Constantin Proud Possession of Royalty Since 1755, followed by an impressive list of names and titles.  I had to confess that I was mostly ignorant of the histories, having previously considered such scripture as hype, like the fussy little ads found in the back of magazines.  But the question was raised and the challenge must be met!

Proud Possession of Royalty

1.       Napoleon I, Emperor of France: no further explanation required.  Died in exile 1821, age 52.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1815 watch by Berthoud

2.       Mary-Louise of Austria, Empress: 2nd wife of Napoleon I, Dutchess of Parma.  Died 1847, age 56.

3.       Murat, King of Naples: title created by Napoleon I for his brother-in-law Joachim Murat.  Executed 1815, age 48.

4.       Queen Mary-Therese: mother of Marie Antoinette, only female Habsburg ruler.  Died 1780, age 57.

5.       Queen Mary-Adelaide: mother of Queen Mary and Queen Consort to George V.  Died 1897, age 64.

6.       Napoleon III, Emperor of France: nephew and heir to Napoleon I.  Died in exile 1873, age 65.

7.       The Duke of Genoa: subsidiary title to King of Sardinia which was under House of Savoy from 1720-1946.

8.       Franz-Josef, Emperor of Austria: ruler of Austro-Hungarian Empire largely credited with starting events that led to WWI.  Died 1916, age 86.

9.       William II, Emperor of Germany: the last Kaiser abdicated in 1918.  Died in exile 1941, age 82.

10.   The Prince of Naples: subsidiary title to Duke of Savoy.

11.   Nicolas II, Emperor of Russia: nicknamed Bloody Nicholas, last Emperor of Russia, abdicated 1917.  Executed 1918, age 50.

12.   Edward VII, King of England: first British King from the House of Saxe-Coburg Gotha renamed House of Windsor by George V.  Died 1910, age 69.

13.   Hubert I, King of Italy: aka Umberto, son of Victor Emanuel of Sardinia.  Assassinated 1900, age 56.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1885 V&C presented to Umberto I

14.   The Duke of Abruges: likely Savoyard Duke of Abruzzi Luigi Amedeo, cousin to Victor Emanuel III.  Famous Arctic explorer and mountaineer.  Died 1933, age 60.

Proud Possession of Royalty
Duke of Abruzzi on expedition, 1906

15.   The Prince of Carignan: junior line to House of Savoy.

16.   The Prince Isabelle of Baviere: likely Princess Isabelle of Bavaria married Savoyard Prince Thomas of Genoa, brother-in-law to Umberto I and uncle to Emanuel III of Italy.  Died 1924, age 61.

17.   The Princess Laetitia Napoleon: daughter of Napoleon’s brother, the only member of Bonaparte family allowed to remain in France.  Died 1904, age 83.

18.   Victor Emanuel, King of Italy: King of Sardinia, assumed title as King of Italy 1861.  Died 1878, age 58.  House of Savoy reigned as Kings of Sardinia from 1831 to 1861, and Kings of Italy from 1861 until the dynasty ended in 1946.

19.   Queen Marguerite of Italy: Savoyard royal family, Queen Consort to Umberto.  Died 1926, age 75.

20.   King Peter I of Serbia: known as Peter the Liberator following WWI, exiled in Geneva 1894 – 1903, returned to Serbia after engineering a bloody military coup.  Eventually became ruler of the Kingdoms of Yugoslavia.  Died 1921, age 77.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1905 V&C presented to Peter I

21.   Alexander I, Yugoslavia: attended school in Geneva with Charles Constantin, inherited throne on death of father Peter, instituted a dictatorship in 1929.  Assassinated 1934, age 46.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1931 V&C presented to Alexander I

22.   Pope Pious XI: most famous for gaining independence of the Vatican state from Mussolini.  Died 1939, age 72.

23.   Fouad I, King of Egypt: Sultan of Egypt during the 1919 revolution against British rule, established dictatorship following independence in 1922 but restored constitution in 1935.  Received famous V&C watch in 1929.  Died 1936, age 68.

Proud Possession of Royalty
1929 V&C presented to King Fouad

24.   Queen Mother of Egypt: 2nd wife of Fouad, Queen Consort Nazli Sabri, mother of Farouk.  Frequently abused, in revenge she sold the King’s clothes to a street merchant after his death.  Died 1978, age 84. 

25.   Ferdinand I, King of Bulgaria: Saxe-Coburg Gotha family.  Although gay, he married Princess Marie Louise of Bourbon-Parma and had four children.  In 1908 declared independence from Ottoman Empire and himself Tsar of Bulgaria.  Defeated by the Allies in WWI, he abdicated and returned home to Germany, leaving his son to surrender.  Following WWII, the remaining Bulgarian royal family and officials were executed by Soviets.  Died 1948, age 87.

26.   The Mahargia of Patiala: Maharaja Bhupinder Singh had 10 wives, 88 children, and unknown consorts.  Was avid cricket player with extravagant tastes, commissioned the famous Patiala Necklace from Cartier with nearly 3000 diamonds including one yellow stone of 235 carats.  The Maharaja once purchased a gold pocket watch with moon phase from Garrard’s in 1911 for his Maharani.  This resulted jealously by his four secondary wives, all sisters.  To placate them, the Maharaja ordered four unique watches in 22 carat gold with day and month calendar and phases of the moon, made by Picard Freres of Chaux De Fonds to be grander than the Maharani’s, and everyone was happy.   In 2011, Vacheron Constantin toured India with an exhibit which included two watches of Bhupinder Singh’s from 1916 and now part of the VC collection: a bracelet watch with open work case embellished with diamonds, and a perpetual calendar moon phase pocket watch with alarm and chronograph. Died of ill health 1938, age 47.

Proud Possession of Royalty

27.   The Duke of Windsor: Royal title created for King Edward III following his abdication in 1936 to marry a divorced woman. Title became extinct upon his death in 1972, age 78.
Judging by the use of 1755 as the founding date, this list would not have been printed any earlier than 1950.  Therefore it is really quite surprising that it doesn’t include that most famous of all V&Cs, the Farouk timepiece; presented to Fouad’s heir in 1935.

Proud Possession of Royalty
Another Royal personage that could have been included was Princess Elizabeth, the future Queen of England, who received a Vacheron & Constantin timepiece in 1947.
One can easily follow certain threads in this list to recognize a special relationship with the House of Savoy.  When Jean-Marc Vacheron began his watchmaking dynasty in 1755, Charles Emanuel III was the Duke of Savoy and King of Sardinia.  Victor Emmanuel was crowned King of Italy in 1861, creating the first unified state to rule over the entire peninsula since Roman times.  The House of Savoy continued to rule Italy through the Italian Independence Wars and the First World War. 
Historically, the House of Savoy originated in the 11th century in the Western Alps bordering on Lac Lèman and included territories within present-day France and Italy.  Here is a fascinating historical tidbit: Louis I, Duke of Savoy and native son of Geneva, received the Shroud of Turin in 1453 from the family of French Knight Geoffroi de Charny, who had died in battle a century earlier. It was held by the House of Savoy until the end of WWII, and then bequeathed to the Holy See in Rome.  Theory is the shroud was taken in 1204 by Crusading Knights during the sack of Constantinople.
The Savoy’s Swiss presence began in 1394, when they acquired the bishopric of Geneva, and ended with the Protestant Reformation.  This history is well illustrated by the Tour de l’Ile, once a gate tower to the Savoyard Bishop’s chateau then a prison and guardhouse before being leased by Vacheron & Constantin in 1844.  Positioned in defiance against its walls is the statue of Genevan patriot Philibert Berthelier, who was executed at the tower in 1519 for plotting with the Huguenots in rebellion against Savoyard rule. 

Proud Possession of Royalty

The list demonstrates Vacheron & Constantin’s historical alignment with Savoyard and Catholic factions.  Some may even consider the adoption of the Maltese Cross as their corporate symbol in 1880 more consistent with those associations than representative of an obscure mechanical device.  To exemplify, as recently as 2008 Vacheron Constantin hosted Pope Benedict XVI at a concert in celebration of the Declaration of Human Rights.

Proud Possession of Royalty
Ironically (and history is full of ironies), it was the Protestant refugees fleeing wars and persecution elsewhere in Europe that established the great watchmaking industry in Geneva.  Indeed, it was the Reformer Jean Calvin who exempted clocks and watches from edicts against jewelery and other forms of ostentatiousness, thus encouraging a shift of enterprise to horology and resulting in the world’s first Watchmaking Guild in 1601.
In conclusion, I wish to proclaim that my facts were chosen more for entertainment than historical completeness and nuance.  Still, perhaps now we can consider the phrase Proud Possession of Royalty in a more intimate context.

Have a great weekend smiley

Proud Possession of Royalty
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