Stolen Antique Timepieces Recovered

Dozens of rare European antique clocks and watches stolen 24 years ago—including a pocket watch made for 18th Century French queen Marie Antoinette—have been recovered by an Israeli museum, according to media reports.

Thieves stole some 100 clocks and watches in 1983 from Jerusalem’s L.A. Mayer Museum of Islamic Art, Reuters news service reports. The collection included some of the world most valuable timepieces, most from the 18th and 19th centuries. The timepieces were originally collected by Sir David Salomons, the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London (1855), whose daughter Vera Salomons donated them to the museum, which she founded and named for her professor of Islamic studies.

According to the news reports, the museum in 2006 was contacted by a Tel Aviv watchmaker who was asked by a lawyer to appraise a 40-piece collection belonging to his client, a British woman, who inherited it from her husband. The watchmaker immediately recognized the timepieces as being those stolen from the museum.

After a year of negotiating, the lawyer’s client agreed to give the clocks and watches back to the museum in exchange for a nominal fee and the museum’s promise to keep her identity a secret.

The identity of the original thieves remains unknown, though the Israeli newspaper, Haaretz, said authorities believe they include “local operators,” who knew exactly which timepieces to take. Of the 40 timepieces, some were dismantled for their gold and jewels. Five were damaged beyond repair, said U.K.’s The Independent newspaper. Four others were damaged, but repairable.

Eli Kahn, chairman of the museum, told Reuters that while some timepieces were still missing, the most valuable items had been returned. He declined to say how much the clocks are worth.

The museum is restoring the timepieces for an exhibition in 2008.