Watches in the Ottoman Empire
The following 15 lots, 130 - 144, are fine examples of watches made for the Turkish or Ottoman Market.
The first documented appearance of a watch in the Ottoman Empire dates back to 1531 when a Venetian purportedly reported that he had seen a gold ring with watch bought by Sultan Süleyman I in Venice. This first manifestation of Ottoman interest in watches caused Western emissaries to present timepieces to the Sultans in order to obtain favours. Shortly after, local rulers and officials were equally bequeathed with watches and clocks. The amount of watches and clocks in the Empire further increased following an agreement made with Austria in 1547, stipulating the payment of a tribute comprising large sums of money, silver, ornaments and clock to prevent Ottoman aggressions. Manufactured exclusively for the Ottomans, these watches and clocks progressively created a demand for timepieces in the region.
Religion certainly played an important role as well. As Muslims, Ottomans were obliged to pray five times a day, the determination of the prayer times always a concern to religious leaders. As in medieval Europe where the first clocks are believed to have appeared in monasteries to help regulate the daily prayer services, the first clocks were used in the monasteries of the Mevlevi Dervishes in Istanbul.
During the 18th century, Swiss, French and English watchmakers started competing for the Ottoman market and opened branches in Constantinople. To match the local taste, timepieces were decorated with Islamic dials, enamel scenes depicting views of the Bosporus or religious motifs for example, and most importantly lavishly decorated cases. Such watches and clocks became a common feature in the palaces along the Bosporus.
Correspondence between European watchmakers and trade included extensive lists of watches and clocks supplied to the Ottoman Empire. Certain Ottoman miniatures show ceremonies during which valuable gifts were given to the Sultan, such as watches and clocks. The nature of such gifts reflected the idealized values of the giver and the receiver, the value determined by status and prestige as well as political expediency and purpose. Symbols of luxury and richness, these sumptuous objects were highly embellished and studded with precious stones.
Examples of watches and clocks made for the Ottoman Empire are on permanent exhibition in Istanbul's Topkapi Palace. The collection comprises over 300 timepieces dating from the 16th to early 20th century, many diplomatic gifts from Western countries, used in the palace harem and pavilions while the most valuable pieces were kept in the treasury.
The renowned 20th century Turkish author Ahmet Hamdi Tanpynar writes in his novel The Time Regulation Institute: "The watch which is the most intimate friend of its owner, companion to the beat of his pulse at his wrist, a friend at his breast sharing all his joys and sorrows, heated by the warmth of his body and espoused by his organism, and the clock which stands on his table and experiences with him all the happenings of the time span which we call a day, both inevitably come to resemble their owner, and become accustomed to think and live like him."
Watches and clocks may have more sophisticated mechanisms today but in beauty and magnificence those of the past are unsurpassed.
Julien Le Roy, Horloger à Paris
Lots 130 to 133, 136 and 138 are signed by Le Roy or Leroy, a skilled watchmaker from Paris who moved to Constantinople around 1810 in order to become Breguet's agent in the Ottoman Empire. He also imported watches made by other Swiss manufacturers which were sold to the most distinguished dignitaries of the time.
SIGNED LE ROY, HORLOGER DU ROI A PARIS, NO. 29227, CIRCA 1820
Le Roy. A fine, rare and attractive 18K gold and enamel openface verge watch, made for the Turkish market
Signed Le Roy, Horloger du Roi a Paris, no. 29227, circa 1820
Gilt-finished verge movement, chain fusée, engraved and pierced floral decorated balance cock, gold cover, enamel dial, Turkish numerals, gold moon-style hands, scalloped case, translucent green enamel and painted polychrome floral decorated bezel, similarly decorated reverse with trophies of flowers and musical instruments, green and white enamel floral decorated and striped pendant and bow, case numbered, dial with Arabic scripture, movement signed and numbered
49 mm. diam.