Napoleon and His Watch

Napoleon figures frequently in New Yorker ads, but, in the December 18th issue, he regained the big time that was once regularly his.  There, on the back cover, the famous conqueror is shown in youthful (and romantic) profile, as he campaigns in Italy in 1796.

The ad, however, proudly reads “Napoleon Bonaparte, from 1798, a client of  Breguet’s.” To make its point Breguet, a renowned French watch company, engages in anachronism: the ad shows  a multitask chronometer (four faces), far moved forward in time from Napoleon’s era. 

The only portrait in which Napoleon cozens up to a time piece is an 1812 portrait of the then emperor in his study, where a wall clock, just hanging off his left shoulder, reads 4:00 a.m., certainly suggestive that he was conscious of the importance of the passing hours.

With or without a Brequet time piece immediately accessible to him, Napoleon, as military strategist, knew that success in battle depended on both space and time. “Space we can recover, but time never,” he remarked in an oft quoted epigram.

Of course, as we moderns miss an airplane connection, we need no reminders from over the grave or from the rear cover of  the New Yorker that time can only be grasped once.

Ray Betts