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The Royal Family has to deal with a lot of reputation management issues these days, but for those who think this is a modern phenomenon, a fascinating item coming up for auction tells another tale.

In the early 19th century the French watch-making genius that was Abraham-Louis Breguet produced the Tourbillon Watch, a sumptuous gold timepiece that was at the cutting-edge of horological technology. Sought out by the crowned heads of Europe, Breguet had supplied the demands of Marie Antoinette and the Tsar, the King of Spain and even Napoleon.

Much taken by the Tourbillon, in 1808 King George III of Britain – a keen follower of sciences and horology – decided to buy it.

The problem was, England and France were at war and for the King to be seen trading with the French and sending what was the vast sum of 4,800 French Francs across the Channel would have been a public relations disaster.

The records tell us that Tourbillon reduced the risk of the watch being seized by only signing the carriage inside it. Exact details of how it was delivered discreetly into the Royal hands remain unclear – hardly surprising bearing in mind the circumstances – but after all the trouble Tourbillon and his associates took to fulfil the order, it transpires that the king never fully paid for the watch.

The final irony is that Sotheby’s have chosen July 14 as the date to put up the watch for sale. That’s Bastille Day, the event that marked the beginning of the French Revolution and the end of the monarchy across the water.