Priceless stolen clocks and watches found after 25 years

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An elegant gold and rock-crystal pocket watch, made by Abraham Louis Breguet for Marie Antoinette, has been retrieved a quarter of a century after it was stolen along with 39 other priceless timepieces from a Jerusalem museum.

They were the pride of 100 rare clocks and watches collected by Sir David Lionel Salomons, the son of a City merchant family, who served as the first Jewish Lord Mayor of London in 1855. His daughter, Vera Salomons, presented them to the LA Mayer Museum for Islamic Art, which she had founded in memory of her teacher at the Hebrew University. They were displayed in a separate gallery at the back of the museum. Unseen by a sleepy guard, the burglars forced the rear window bars and climbed in, cherry-picking the best of the collection. The alarm had failed to go off and it was assumed the timepieces had been ordered by a connoisseur.

Their sudden reappearance was almost as mysterious as their disappearance. A Tel Aviv lawyer invited a local watchmaker to value some old clocks and watches, which she said belonged to a client, a British woman who had inherited them from her husband. The client wanted to sell them. The watchmaker immediately recognised them as the stolen Jerusalem treasures and informed Rachel Hasson, the museum's director. Ms Hasson and her chairman, Eli Kahan, visited the lawyer, who agreed they were the stolen clocks and watches, which apparently had never left Israel.

The client's wishes were that she would give them back, in return for money and anonymity.

Of the 40 pieces, five were damaged beyond repair. The thieves had taken them apart and prised out the jewels. Four more were damaged, but repairable. The rest, including Marie Antoinette's watch, as well as a gold carriage clock also made by Breguet, were in good condition. Marie Antoinette, wife of Louis XVI, followed her husband to the guillotine in 1793.

The museum happily repaid the money it had received years earlier from the insurers and informed the police, who are still trying to find the thieves. The collection will go on display in the new year, with a more efficient alarm system and a more alert guard.