The David Salomons Collection of Watches and Clocks
I recently visited the Sir David Salomons Collection of Watches and Clocks, an exhibition that is once again on show at the L.A. Mayer Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem. This incredible display features items that were stolen from the museum 25 years ago and have only recently been recovered. The world-renowned Sir David Salomons collection originally contained 191 watches and clocks. This important, beautiful and rare collection came into being thanks to the wealthy Sir David’s knowledge of, and passion for, horology. Horology is the study of measuring time.I was astounded by the variety of items on display and fascinated by the intricacy of each piece.
About the Exhibits
The collection’s most significant and special timepieces are the ground-breaking group of clocks by Abraham Louis
Breguet (1747-1823). The inventor of some of the greatest technological innovations in modern watch-making, Breguet was
among the most influential individuals in modern horology.
Most of the watches that were returned to the Museum were made by Breguet, including watch number 160, known as the “Marie Antoinette”. Sir David Salomons wrote in his catalogue of Breguet’s clocks:
“To carry a fine Breguet watch is to feel that you have the brains of a genius in your pocket.”
Alongside the 55 items in the Breguet group, Sir David’s collection includes a group of automaton clocks, as well as gold musical boxes adorned with enamel pictures, pearls and diamonds. Also featured are a selection of scientific instruments, such as barometric compasses, sundials and telescopes from the 17th to the 19th centuries. Lastly there is an interesting group of clocks manufactured in Europe, in the 19th century, for the Turkish market.
The Largest Art Theft in Israel’s History
In the middle of the night of April 16, 1983, the Watches & Clocks Hall of the Museum for Islamic Art was broken into and 102 items were stolen. This equated to more than half of the collection, all of which were rare and valuable watches and clocks. Among these antiques were many important pieces by the master watchmaker Abraham-Louis Breguet, including the famous ‘Marie Antoinette’ ‘perpétuelle’, valued at many millions of dollars.
The burglary was considered to be one of the biggest thefts ever committed in Israel.
Twenty-three long years had passed and the police still had no leads that could help them crack the case. The Museum’s directors had given up all hope of ever finding them again.
Finally… a Breakthrough
But then, one day in August 2006, the museum was contacted by an anonymous attorney who invited the directors of the museum to have a look at watches which belonged to her client. Her client claimed to have inherited the watches from her deceased husband.
The 39 watches and clocks that were presented to the directors of the museum were indeed part of the collection. They were packed in cheap, ragged cardboard boxes that had been hidden in a warehouse near Tel-Aviv for many years.
The police immediately started a comprehensive investigation and after a short while succeeded in solving the case. It turned out that the perpetrator of this crime was Naaman Dieler, one of Israel’s most notorious robbers, who had died of cancer a few years ago.
About a year before his death Dieler confessed to his wife that he had stolen the watches. Fortunately, he had been unable to sell most of them.
Once the Israeli police had discovered the identity of his widow, they went to her house in Los Angeles. There, they found false passports and border stamps from various countries, as well as paintings, musical boxes and watches taken in the robbery. All were stored with their original display cabinet labels.
More items were found in a safe in the Netherlands. In Paris, an additional forty-two clocks and musical boxes, among the collection’s finest, were found. Just ten items have yet to be recovered.
Filming at the Museum
The Museum for Islamic Art in Jerusalem is an amazing location to film in Israel. It houses a remarkable exhibition, with every piece deserving individual attention. The museum could be used to showcase Islamic art, illustrate history of art in general, document watches and clocks from different eras or the dramatic story of the heist itself could even be documented.
Filming in Israel
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