Object Lesson: Observing the Passage of Time

Pocket watch of William Richardson Davie. Made in France in 1800 by Breguet; gold, key-wind, key-set with enameled inlay on back cover; 59 mm diameter, 10 mm width. (North Carolina Collection)

William Richardson Davie obviously appreciated a fine timepiece. C.D. Spangler Jr. ’54 did as well.

A cavalry officer in the Revolution and an architect of the fledging federal government, Davie — also the father of the University — was on a diplomatic mission to France in 1800 when he availed himself of a pocket watch made by the Breguet Co., the timekeeper of European aristocracy.

On the occasion of the 225th anniversary of UNC, and upon the recent death of the former president of the UNC System, we take note that Spangler delighted in shepherding the watch back to Chapel Hill in the University’s bicentennial year. For good measure, Spangler, a horologist by hobby, sent detailed photographs and descriptions of it to Breguet, explaining that as a public university, UNC could not justify paying for an authentication. He suggested the company do it gratis, and Breguet cheerfully complied — their number 703 was the real thing.

Spangler handed the watch to then-Chancellor Paul Hardin on University Day 1993, then wrote to H.G. Jones, keeper of Wilson Library’s North Carolina Collection: “This has been one of those serendipitous occasions that held particular interest for me in many ways.” Opening an exhibit of the piece early in 1994 got him “wound up,” Spangler wrote.

Upon his death in 1820, Davie willed the watch to his son, Frederick William; the estate of Emily Davie Kornfeld bequeathed it to the University.

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