Pocket chronometer by Breguet owned by von Humboldt, €157,000 (£136,520) at Dr Crott.

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In its own right, the timepiece would have attracted numerous bids. After all, it was built by Abraham Louis Breguet, undoubtedly one of the best clock and watchmakers of all time. Its original owner, however, made it even more desirable. In 1805, the watch was purchased by the renowned German scientist and explorer Alexander von Humboldt for 960 Francs.

The Garde Temps movement was fitted with Arnold’s spring detent escapement and a helical balance spring. Humboldt possessed a variety of precision watches, made by the most capable European craftsmen of his day, among them Louis Berthoud, Heinrich Kessels, John Earnshaw and Breguet, from whom he bought at least five watches.

The chronometer number 147 in the Mannheim auction remained in Humboldt’s collection for several decades. In 1827 he brought it back to Breguet to be overhauled. It is well documented in his writings and when he was older and his sight was failing, Humboldt commented: “In my opinion the seconds hand of Breguet’s pocket chronometers are unbearably small.”

For over a century and a half its whereabouts were unknown. In 1991 it resurfaced at the legendary Breguet sale held by Antiquorum in Geneva. There it was knocked down for SFr280,000 and had been in the same collection since then.

The guide in Mannheim was set at €120,000 and after the initial skirmishes, two bidders pushed the price in tiny steps up to the hammer of €157,000 (£136,520), with a German collector emerging triumphant.